You might have seen karatekas demolishing whole stacks of bricks or ice blocks with their bare hands. Last year, Peter Chong of Singapore, then 71, gave the impressive stunt a gravity-defying twist. He pulverised ten ice blocks with a single blow, but his feet were firmly planted not on solid ground, but on two trays of chicken eggs.
The general idea was that the eggs should not break, and the ice blocks should. The eggs survived Chong’s feat. ‘’The important thing is that the lower part of your body should not shake, or the eggs would break,’’ explained Chong, who is in the city for the four-day International Martial Festival starting on Thursday at Chandrasekharan Nair Stadium.
A direct student of Masutatsu Oyama, the founder of the Kyokushin style of karate, Chong is an eighth degree black belt and heads the ‘Middle East and Asia’ activities of Kyokushin. A diminutive man with a ready smile and an iron handshake, Chong is your definitive Kyokushin master, conveying an impression of great physical strength.
‘’Kyokushin is very hard karate. You learn to take punches, endure pain. Our philosophy is to use karate to create harmony,’’ said the former officer of the Singapore police force and current president of the Singapore Karate-Do Federation.
The teaching of Karate is changing with the times as a new, impatient breed of students sign up for classes now, but Chong is not too keen on awarding black belts to the very young. ‘’Children should be at least above ten years when you award them ‘shodan’ (first degree black belt). But the ‘nidan’ (second degree) should be awarded only when they are 17,’’ he said.
‘’Instructors need not teach young children too many ‘kata’ (set patterns of techniques some of which are very old). But they must be taught the ‘bunkai’ (applications of each technique in a kata) also. Knowing kata and not the bunkai is like dancing,’’ he said.
Chong went to Japan to train with Oyama Sensei in the ‘60s. ‘’He was completely on the martial way. And he was very strict. When I arrived in Japan, he greeted me saying ‘Welcome to Tokyo, No Woman!’ A mild warning lest the youngster from Singapore bunked karate sessions!
Peter Chong cites kalaripayattu as an example of India’s centuries-old martial arts heritage, but adds that Indians did not promote these arts well. ‘’Japan did it well,’’ he said.
Peter’s two sons James and Jackie are also into karate, and the latter holds a fifth degree black belt.