Last year, to be exact on August 31st, 2015, if you had told me that in a about a year’s time I would be sitting next to two, one Turkish and one Scottish, World Karate Champions, that I would be doing Karate with orange belt, and maybe more importantly, that what they talk about would sound meaningful to me, of course I would not believe you.
However, in 2016, on August 3rd in Fethiye, on a night that seems to be cooler than the nights before, I am sort of baffled by and positively surprised at myself as I am sitting on a stool next to these two Karate masters at the end of the training, at my Karate teacher Mr. Ömer Habeş’s Dojo. I had just completed a training where I was both taking part in the training and translating for our visiting Shihan from Scotland, Mr. Alistair Mitchell. Me, Zeynep. Although I was feeling that I was not even close to begin to comprehend what Karate is, which was a point that our teacher had pointed out at times and that I could only agree with, I had started to do Karate which I had loved since I was a kid for some reason. I was doing it.
I was doing punches. Different kicks. For example, I was able to lift my legs like I could never before in my mawashi geri kicks. The list of the names of the techniques that I know was getting longer. I was beginning to comprehend the existence of Karate’s way ‘Do’. I was reading the books by Master Funakoshi, who is known as the person who made Karate known in the World as Karate. I was listening to my own Shihan, my teacher Mr. Ömer Habeş attentively. I was realizing that Karate was making me stronger as well as calming me down while strengthening me.
Last year on August 31st, a new page called Karate opened up in my life. And since that day on, almost every day, I am grateful that Karate is in my life.
On the night of the August 3rd, as I was translating for my Master Teachers, Shihan Ömer Habeş and Shihan Alistair Mitchell, I felt myself again in a movie scene. This was not my first time to translate for them. When Shihan Alistair Mitchell was in Fethiye last May, I had had the chance to translate a few times in and out of Dojo. In this new visit in August, the two Shihans were having long conversations and this was giving me a chance to peek in through, the sort of mystical, doors of the world of Karate.
I probably would be needing more time to be able to go through those doors, yet, to be able to listen to two Karate people who have given their lives to Karate, to be part of their deep conversation in a sense, was such a great luck. I was feeling maybe more lucky than ever as I was translating. It was as if I was watching a movie and I was so close to that movie, as if I was watching it from inside the scenes.
What did the Masters, the Shihans talk about?
First of all, they were two people who understood each other very well. Even though they were speaking two different languages, even though they belong to different religions or nationalities, they were two people who very apparently understood each other very well. They had represented their own countries at the very top level, earned medals, became World Champions as sportsmen; however, there was something that they almost shared in every conversation that I had translated. They were not Karate sportsmen. They were Karate men. They were people who did Karate. This was a very very important distinction that needed to be understood to be able understand them.
Shihan Habeş said that what disappoints him or makes him sad the most is having a student leave the Dojo, leave Karate, or continue to train with another teacher. “It makes us sad,” Shihan Habeş said. He told that it is as if one leaves his father to go to his step father. He told that this slows down one’s training, one’s path. An even if they unite afterwards, there is this heartbrokenness that cannot be totally mended. Shihan Mitchell was feeling similar things. That it is not possible to win every student, but that they hope and work for this.
As they were defining what being a good teacher is, Shihan Habeş talked about the importance of being a good person. Shihan Mitchell emphasized many times that they are working and trying to be a good person. They agreed that a good teacher should surpass his own teacher and also should raise and train students that will surpass him. It was difficult to be a good teacher. But maybe it was even more difficult to find a good student.
At the end of the training in our Dojo on August 3rd, Shihan Habeş had mentioned something that he had shared with us a few times before. “Maybe very few of you will continue to do Karate. Maybe one in a thousand will continue. And maybe that person will someday pass on the knowledge that we share to others.” He was sharing that most of the students that a teacher spends a lot of effort to train would be leaving the path of Karate.
So were all the efforts wasted then?
“Efforts are never wasted,” said Shihan Habeş. Shihan Mitchell shared a story from his own life. About 15-20 years ago, two young boys aged 14, 15 who were students of a friend of his, came to his Dojo. Of these two boys, one went on with his Karate training, had a good career in the army and had a good family. Yet, the other kid got into alcohol, drugs and gangs and went into dark time in his life. Shihan Mitchell told us, “I said to myself, we lost him. We lost this kid.”
Well, years pass and one day Shihan Mitchell receives a message in Facebook. From that kid that was lost. He introduces himself and continues to tell that for three, four years he had done really bad things and were in the dark. However, this kid when he reaches the age of 18, remembers Karate. He remembers what did with Karate, the principles and teachings of Karate that Shihan shared with him. And he decided to leaves this bad life; he decides to change his life. He moves to Japan, does Karate, marries a Japanese lady, has a great family, becomes a Karate teacher, opens up a Karate Dojo and works to train his and other kids as champions.
What affected Shihan Mitchell the most was what this man now in his thirties said. He said, “Karate saved my life. I remembered the things that you said, the things that you taught. I tidied up my life. Thank you.” His sharing this so many years later was obviously very meaningful to Shihan Mitchell. “I had thought that we had lost him,” Shihan Alistair Mitchell said. “But we hadn’t. We were successful.” Shihan Ömer Habeş added that he had similar stories, similar examples in his life as well.
To help children and young people become good people, help them improve themselves, being good role models for these kids were their common goal. These two kind and calm, peaceful warriors had so much life experience. Shihan Alistair Mitchell said with his calm gentle smile, “We had to give so much effort to learn. Wish we can find a way to pass on our knowledge, what we have learned over thirty years to the younger generation, so that they do not lose the time we lost.” Shihan Habeş was saying “We learned by trial and error. There were only a few good teachers around the world and how would we get the chance to meet them.”
They were sharing that it is now possible to reach all top level Karate information through a smart phone. “There is no excuse for bad Karate” Shihan Mitchell said. Indeed, in their times, under their circumstances, to be that successful, to live and to do Karate as successfully as they were able to do, they must have really given it a lot of effort.
That night I had the chance to listen an important story about the life of my teacther Shihan Ömer Habeş for the first time. As he was telling it to Shihan Alistair Mitchell. Actually they were talking about being a good person, doing goodness, trying to keep others especially students from bad examples, pushing them, leading them towards the good. They were talking showing the direction and also that each students has to walk the path himself. Then, one topic led to another and we learned that Shihan Ömer Habeş, while he was living and training teams in Germany, for over ten years, he gave seminars on weekends and with the fees of these seminars we helped support many different organizations. Some were for the rehabilition of alcoholics and drug addicts in Germany. He sent donations to different causes in Africa. He tried to support many people from many different backgrounds.
He continued to explain, “I did not know about racism, but saw it in Germany. That’s why in all my seminars, I started by saying that ‘No Karate person around the world is racist.’ That was my headline.”
Shihan Ömer Habeş gets to see and experience racism in many different forms as a Turk living in Germany. With that personal life experience, he spends a special effort to if U may say obliterate racism. He helps people from different walks of life and backgrounds.
So much that, one day the chief of police of the state that he is training the Karate Team of gives him a call and tell Shihan Habeş that he has a letter from the President of Germany. The chief of the police department, who is also a friend and a student, makes an official visit to Shihan an gives him the letter that is inviting Shihan Habeş to the capital Bonn to visit the German Parliament and the President. In about three months, on the day invited Shihan Habeş goes to Bonn with the members of the parliament from that state. The head of the German Parliament welcomes him to the Parliament and he gives a speech at the Parliament. At the end he is exposed to a what he calls a sad question by a journalist who seems to be racist. A question that is unfortunately applauded by some in the crowd. Yet, Shihan continued to tell us “We Karate people need to think fast” and told that he gave a reply that made the members of the Parliament give a standing ovation.
The question is really a sad question. The journalist asks, “As a Muslim aren’t you sad for the massacres of Usame Bin Ladin?” It is hard to grasp what kind of thought leads one to ask such a negative question because of his religion, to a person who has been invited to the German Parliament for his humanitarian work for people of different nationalities and religions. However, the question is indeed stated. And Shihan Habeş, with that quick thinking that he was mentioning gives this reply, “As you feel very sorry as a Christian for the massacres done by Hitler, I also am very sorry. Yes, I am very sorry.” Shihan said that for about five seconds there was no sound in the Parliament and afterwards came the applauding and the standing ovation.
In Fethiye, on August 3rd, on a night that seemed to be slightly cooler that the nights before, coming out of our training in my teacher Shihan Ömer Habeş’s Dojo, I did a translation for two World Champions.
They understand each other very well, they really respect each other, and make it known through their words as well as through the unspoken that is reflected in their eyes, they have very similar life adventures with their unique stories. I am feeling very very lucky to have had the chance to get to know and to have as role models these two good and valuable people,