BENGALURU: With a 110 kg frame and at 5 ft 10 inches, Praveen Ranka may not come across as a Karateka —the 56-year-old could easily pass off as a successful Marwadi businessman. Having inherited an affluent past, but apprehending the vacuity of a life without struggle, he has dedicatedly built his business while devoting much time to his obsession, Karate. As soon as he dons his martial arts suit and weaponry, he is in total control of his body; flexibility and rigidness in complete harmony as each punch jolts the air waves with its massive strength.
Karnataka’s first civilian to be awarded with a Black Belt in 1984, Ranka is today one short of the highest degree in Karate. “I am now at 9th dan (rank), the highest being the 10th dan. I will have to wait for another five or six years to reach there,” the convivial Hanshi (Japanese title for 9th degree black belt) chuckles.
Having consolidated his packaging business and construction unit, Ranka has devoted his entire time to teaching the ‘art of empty hands’. He has established a full-fledged fitness centre complete with a gymnasium, training arena, and yoga space. Having named it Palestra, Greek for gymnasium, Ranka is now looking forward to setting up a residential academy devoted to martial arts.
Terming his pursuit as not just passion but devotion towards the art, Ranka asserts that the satisfaction he gets from seeing the transformation of any student, from an infirm person to a confident personality, is what drives him to reach as many people as possible. “I have conducted over a thousand outreach camps and taught over 10 lakh students since I started teaching in 1981. I also started to train police personnel in 1999,” he informs and adds that the streets have become veritable zones of dysfunction and to be prepared, trainees are taught hand-to-hand combat, street survival techniques and unarmed combat.
But while he has developed confidence among his many students, Ranka recollects that his journey into the world of Karate began because of his own inferiority complex. “I was an obese child and confidence was a difficult trait for me. In the 1970s, we did not have many solutions to lose weight unlike today, but thanks to a few Bruce Lee movies, I started developing a liking for the art,” he recollects.
At 14 years of age, Ranka started practising Karate, and even though the dropout rate was 99%, he persisted and went on to train under martial arts experts of those days, including the veteran of Indian Karate, Dr R V T Mani.
Having mastered other forms of martial arts, including Pankration, which is a combination of wrestling and boxing and Kalaripayattu, Ranka is today trying to create awareness among schools so that they incorporate the combat practices into their curriculum. Even though he faced an uphill task of convincing schools, he now trains students in 12 schools in the city. “Students in standard 4th to 6th are ideal candidates. So, schools should weave in classes at that age itself. I make them understand that it is not just self-defence but more of self-awareness. The kind of confidence that develops in children is very high,” he says.
But he laments that self-defence has become very topical. “After the 2012 Delhi rape case, many girls came forward showing interest in learning the art. I held about 150 camps during the time and the response was huge. But soon, the interest died down. Why should you wait for any untoward instance to happen? One should be prepared, but not many are willing to take up the gruelling art form,” he says.
Another aspect which worries Ranka is the competition form of the art. According to him, with Karate being shortlisted for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics, there is a renewed interest in the sport. “But we are late. I do not doubt our capabilities, but compared to many other countries, our standards are still low. The art in its sports form needs complete dedication, without any hindrance. In India, the martial arts associations responsible for Olympics are busy fighting their own agenda rather than preparing Karatekas to fight in the ring,” he rues.
Irrespective of the worries he has about the art and the sport form of Karate, Ranka is treading his path of spreading its benefits. Conducting free classes in rural government schools on a regular basis, he also donates notebooks and other essentials for needy children. And as he spreads the art form among the youth, Ranka lives with the joy of knowing that he has armed another individual with the gift of confidence.