New Zealand Law Society - Lawyer Karateka!

Lawyer Karateka!

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Taufil Omar with Kancho Sato San
Taufil Omar (R) with Kancho Sato San

Auckland lawyer Taufil Omar shares his life-long experience in karate and a recent trip to Japan where he helped his team win a medal. And as he explains, the sport helps him in his daily work routine.

We all grew up wanting to be someone else, looking up to a role model or skill set that would set us apart from the masses. My growing up was done in Brisbane and then in Fiji. I was introduced to martial arts in the form of taekwon-do, referred to by my parents as “karate”, in a small town called Labasa, on Vanua Levu, one of the two larger islands in Fiji.

As a kid, I was amazed by the legendary Bruce Lee and other prominent martial artists. Obviously, my folks saw some benefit in my participation in sports, learning self-defence and discipline and also gain some self-confidence. One of my uncles was an amateur boxer in the 1970s and was a tough cookie. I am not sure if that was also an incentive to make me a bit “tough” like my uncle, Mohammed Rafiq, who is now involved in boxing promotions and scouting young boxing talent in Fiji.

Fast forward a few years, I was still stuck in the earlier green to blue belts, and as a teenager I was distracted by football, touch and other activities. I withdrew from the martial arts scene towards the end of my first year at uni and thought that may be the end of my love for the sport.

I moved to New Zealand over 20 years ago. A few years ago a friend mentioned that Syed Mohiuddin was a 2nd Dan in Budokan karate. Syed is originally from Hyderabad in India and has been practising karate for more than 30 years. He is also the director of an Auckland-based IT company specialising in digital marketing.

My immediate reaction was to show my enthusiasm for martial arts and we ended up pushing the now Renshi Syed (“renshi” being the term for a senior teacher) to start an adult’s class on Saturdays after sunrise, the time most of us could make due to work, young families and other commitments that most professionals have. Renshi Syed is now a 4th Dan black belt.

The club has grown to include other classes that Renshi Syed started in conjunction at the New Windsor School, the Mt Roskill Intermediate School, and the Bay Roskill Sports Club and there are more than 120 students in all. The Budokan Karate Club is one of the fastest growing clubs in Auckland. My firm KiwiLawyers has been sponsoring the club over the years to allow for youth as well as the old to take part in sports, gain self confidence and discipline and achieve personal milestones. It has been a tremendous journey.

The home of karate

Budokan karate has since joined with Seishin Kan Shorinji Ryu Okinawa karate, a karate style with its headquarters in the city of Fukuoka and lineage to Kyan Chotoku, one of the five main grandmasters where different karate styles originated, via Kancho Yoshitoshi Sato San, an 84-year-old legend in Fukuoka. This was made possible via the inspirational Hanshi Chris Dessa of Seishin Budo Kyokai in Auckland. Kancho Sato San, a 10th Dan, is the President of the All Japan Shorinji Seishin Kan Karate Do Renmei. Hanshi Chris Dessa is a 9th Dan black belt graded in September 2017.

Taufil Omar training with the locals, Sensei Fujomoto San is next to him
Taufil Omar (L) training with the locals, Sensei Fujomoto San is next to him.jpg

I was honoured to meet these people as part of my martial arts travels. I achieved my 1st Dan Shodan black belt in budokan karate (1st style) under Renshi Syed in November 2017 after being graded by Renshi Syed as the main examiner together with Hanshi Chris Dessa and Sensei Ray Irving, a 7th Dan black belt in Shotokan karate in Auckland as moderators.

Hanshi Chris then chose a few of us to participate in a tournament in Japan known as the Okinawa Shorinji Ryu Seishin Kan Karate Do Tournament which is in its 70th year. Preparations included being graded for my 1st Dan Shodan in Seishin Kan Shorinji Ryu Okinawa Karate (2nd style) starting with grading for my brown 1st kyu and then in August 2018, for my black belt. Along the way, Hanshi Chris set up the gradings which included Renshi Peter Thompson, a 4th Dan from Invercargill, together with his students and later the world champion Carl Van Roon who is a 4th Dan in the seishin style. This was all leading up to preparations towards the tournament in Japan.

The team arrived in Japan for a stay of around 14 days. We visited Okinawa and the previous Grandmaster Kancho Joan Nakazato’s (10th Dan) Dojo. Due to Kancho Sato’s contacts, we were also able to practise at the new, purpose-built ¥63 billion Okinawa Karate Kaikan. It was all surreal being in Okinawa and the home of karate with a legend of karate himself.

Hanshi Chris is himself a legend. He has dedicated his life to karate and still resides in Sandringham, Auckland. He is an amazing person with so much positive energy. Hanshi Chris has also been advocating for some years to put in place a proper legal regime to regulate the martial arts industry in New Zealand so that only genuine martial artists can function and to reduce fraud and other criminal activities in New Zealand. His concern over the years has been fraudsters cashing in on unsuspecting parents and students. A passionate karateka who has karate’s wellbeing in his heart and soul.

The tournament was held on Sunday, 4 November 2018 at the Sports Complex in Fukuoka. As is well known, the Japanese do things at the highest level of excellence and the experience of visiting Japan, the training and the tournament were no exceptions. The team also trained with the locals prior to the tournament. Sensei Akinori Fujimoto, 4th Dan Ho, was one of these inspirational individuals. A beautiful person and an example as to why karate has been preserved over the centuries. I was also honoured to meet Hanshi Masatoshi Mitarai, 8th Dan, and share dinner with him at the end of the event.

Bronze medal winners & trophy award

On the day I was full of nerves. I prepared by having the usual freshly baked buns, sea weed, pan fried mackerel, miso soup and orange juice beforehand. There were about 150 participants and the tournament was well organised, everything running to time, punctuality being the essence.

I reached the quarter finals of the ‘Kata’ competition and lost to Sensei Fujimoto’s son. In the open men’s ‘team kumite’ (full contact sparring with protective gear), we won all our rounds, and only lost to the silver medal winners in the open category. In the bronze medal round, I was honoured to beat the senior individual kumite champion of 2017 and helped knock his team out of the competition to gain third place for New Zealand. I received Kancho Sato’s trophy award for freestyle kumite.

Being at the competition itself was enough really and to win awards was simply the icing on the cake – especially when I really am no longer a “youth”.

Karate really does help to relax and take one’s mind off the usual daily grind and I personally came back to martial arts after a break of more than 15 years. It calms one down and provides great health benefits. One may be able to give back to the community by assisting the younger ones when the competitive days are over. I believe the art has a positive impact on a sole practitioner’s life.

Taufil Omar is a solicitor with Auckland firm KiwiLawyers.

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