There are many reasons to walk by the Southern Avenue Lakes in the morning. The tranquil waters and a well-maintained walking path is chief among them. People are known to form their own running groups, yoga cliques and even laughing clubs. Nestled amongst trees, in a grassy enclosing, is a small, inclusive karate class. If you take the entrance opposite Menoka cinema hall, you’ll see a small group of children throwing their fists up and shouting “kiai” in unison — they’re Kartick Halder’s young karate students performing the first kata (“an exercise consisting of a sequence of the specific movements of a martial art”).
A glimpse of Halder’s students demonstrating Heian Shodan, also known as Shotokan Kata 1
Kartick Halder has been teaching karate and kickboxing by the Lakes since 2008. He was 16 when he started to learn the martial arts form and in five years he had earned his black belt under the Shito-Ryu Karate-Do School of Bengal.
Now he has almost 40 students who learn at Rabindra Sarobar with him and are also enrolled at Kolkata Martial Arts Academy which he established in 2010. It is located at 6A Chandra Mohan Lane, near Kalighat. “We work with heavier equipment there, which we can’t carry to the Lakes. But outdoor practice is both necessary and beneficial than an artificial indoor space,” explains Halder.
Halder funded his own pursuit of martial arts by taking up a day job as a waiter, but now he is able to do this full-time, taking classes in the academy, by the Lakes and some personal training. “Most of my students are from impoverished families. Many of them are good but can’t proceed very far because they lack the funds. My classes are priced very low because I want to be able to support them as much as I can. After all, I too am from a poor family,” says Halder, who grew up as an orphan in Anath Ashram, Uluberia.
Riya Paik, practising the kick-punch combination, is in Class IX and has earned an orange belt in one-and-a-half years of learning karate with Halder
With the ministry of youth affairs and sports supporting the development of kickboxing, Halder feels that there is more potential for it as a sport in India, than karate. “There are many styles in karate and there is too much disunity. Everyone is forming their own academy. I do like kickboxing but karate comes with a certain discipline, which is why I teach a combination of both.”
“I insist that the children keep studying. It’s important. They will do better if they keep studying,” says Halder. Some of the kids do in fact have non-karate ambitions. Tathagatha, 13, wants to be an engineer and 11-year-old Suhana (in pink) wants to perhaps be a lawyer. Ritika, Halder’s 12-year-old daughter, might be a tad camera shy (second from left) but she’s already earned herself a green belt and would like to join the army.
However, one does not have to enrol at the academy to sign up for classes in the serene outdoors. Follow the sound of “kiai” by the Lakes this weekend if you want to channel your inner Po.