|Haimanti Pal during a practice session at the Calcutta Judo and Karate Club. Picture by Arnab Mondal
Haimanti Pal, 37. Biology teacher, mother, and the only Indian woman with a black belt in aikido, a Japanese martial art that stresses on self-defence along with spiritual harmony.
A typical day for Haimanti begins at 6am, when she takes her sons (12 and seven years old) for a swim. Back home, she gets them ready for school, finishes household chores, teaches a batch of students and takes the kids to various activity classes after school.
Haimanti’s slender frame, long hair, sindoor and calm disposition would have few believe that she packs a power punch with ease. Her journey in martial arts began in 1990, when she was in Class VIII.
“I come from a very ordinary family. I went to Sakhawat Memorial Government Girls’ High School, where few learnt martial art in those days. But my cousin Abhijit was a sensi (martial arts teacher) and he encouraged me,” said Haimanti, who earned a brown belt in karate in 1995. That’s when she took up aikido.
“I continued learning aikido till 2000 and then quit. I reconnected with it after a long gap of seven years. It is a martial art that seeks spiritual uplift along with self-defence. We are not in conflict with our opponent in this case. We try to channelise the opponent’s energy through some moves and mind control and get the better of him,” she said.
“Ai” means harmony, “ki” means energy and “do” means way, explained the Presidency alumnus during a practice session at the Calcutta Judo and Karate Club on the Maidan.
It was Haimanti’s son who brought aikido back to her life in 2007. “I had brought my then five-year-old elder son to learn the art here. He got scared and started crying. Other students invited me to join in and thus my aikido training resumed,” said Haimanti. Her son may have left the discipline for badminton but Haimanti hasn’t turned back to aikido.
In between training under Third Dan sensei Avijit Mitra, Haimanti also keeps herself involved with Calcutta Police’s Project Sukanya.
“I teach aikido at a school under the project. It is good to see so many girls interested in various forms of martial arts,” she said before explaining how the aikijo (wooden stick) and aikiken (wooden sword) techniques are used.
“Mind control is also important in this form of martial art. We use our internal energy. This art is not easy to master as it is a lot about spiritual uplift. But there is no age bar. Women of any age can start learning aikido. After all you are not required to just hit the opponent,” said Haimanti, who won her black belt this January when a sensi from France, Eighth Dan black belt Cognard Hansi, conducted a camp in the city.
“I was very nervous but my sodan (performance) went off well,” smiled Haimanti, adjusting her black hakama (traditional Japanese skirt-like attire tied to a belt or obi, worn over DoGi or the white karate dress) before the next round of practice.