Seven UAE youngsters from the Joker Karate Club in Abu Dhabi showed their grit at the Shotokan Karate Championships in Istanbul and returned home with a few medals.
UAE karate kids win medals and get their kicks in Turkey
In the 1980s film The Karate Kid, a scrawny boy named Daniel LaRusso masters the art of self-defence thanks to the unorthodox methods of his mentor, one Mr Miyagi. Balancing on fences for hours on end. Trapping flies with chopsticks. And of course, washing his master's car.
"Wax on, wax off," as the legend goes.
Sadly, it is a hopelessly romantic notion, one that is, like much of what took place in the 1980s, flakey.
Just ask the kids of the Joker Karate Club in Abu Dhabi. Forget Hollywood mysticism; for them, the reality is far more prosaic. Karate is all about hard work, military-like discipline and academic excellence.
And the results prove it.
At least for seven youngsters who represented the UAE at the World Shotokan Karate Championships in Istanbul earlier this month.
For nine-year-old Abdulaziz Al Ameri of the UAE and his 11-year-old sister Sarah; the Palestinian Assil Fathallah, 14; the Jordanian Saif Al Din Khalil, nine; the Lebanese Noura Rakab, 11; and George Ibrahim, 11, and Abdullah Al Akhras, 20, both of Syria, the Turkish adventure was an eye-opener, the first time so many had fought outside the UAE.
For their coaches, it was years of hard work finally paying off.
The Joker Karate Club was founded in 2004 and, despite its name, no one is left in any doubt that teaching martial arts within its walls is serious business.
"Our mission is to produce champions," says Yasser Amer, manager and supervisor of the club. "Not just to make money."
Few would disagree with him, or would dare to. He is a Black Belt 6 Dan Shokotan karate champion with several pan-Arab and Mediterranean titles to his name. He arrived in the UAE 13 years ago to train cadets at the capital's Police College. Now, he is overseeing the rise of Abu Dhabi's Karate Kids as well.
He says his kids have won "many awards" but concedes the capital lags behind Dubai, and even Sharjah, when it comes to karate competition. Now he believes this group has taken a major leap with their performances in Turkey.
"The event was extremely competitive," he says. "There were teams from Italy, Russia, Spain and Turkey, all excellent karate teams who have participated in the tournament before."
Despite their inexperience, the Joker Club representatives can be proud of their showing, according to their coach.
"They competed ferociously, and showed no nerves at all," Amer says. "I was surprised, and so were most of the parents, at just how high their standards were."
Assil Fathallah, a gold-medallist at the 2011 Dubai International Karate Championship, excelled, winning a bronze medal in the girls division. Saif Al Din Khalil, was fifth in his division.
Then there is Al Ameri, gold-medallist in the Under 35kg weight category at the Emirates Karate Championship 2013, and one of the school's most promising fighters.
In Istanbul, the nine year old reached the last eight in his division before bowing out to a vastly more experienced opponent.
"I enjoyed fighting there," he says. "I lost in the end, but I learned a lot from my opponents, they were very good and very strong. Too strong."
For Al Ameri, whose devotion to karate is matched only by his love for football and FC Barcelona, losing did not come easy.
"When Abdulaziz lost to an Italian opponent, he was crying; to me that shows the desire and hunger that he has, he expected to win," Amer adds.
The group was a product of a carefully tailored international-standards programme devised by Amer and his team of five trainers, all of them Arabs. Such attention to detail is applied across all of the club's activities.
The Joker Club is open to individuals from the age of three to 60-plus, and has between 100 and 150 students, of all nationalities, studying karate.
"We are the only school that tutors children in kindergarten," he says. "And we also have a 55-year-old surgeon that recently became a black belt."
But it is stronger collaborations with schools that the club is keen to foster; a system which rewards academic excellence has already been implemented.
The club gives priority of entrance to students with high grades, and they are required to maintain those standards. Those who excel are given priority to participate in tournaments.
"We stress that academic and sporting excellence are linked," Amer adds.
It is a sentiment Mr Miyagi would have agreed with. At least, after his car had been washed.
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