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«Karate Do» means renouncing material possessions and searching for knowledge.
«I asked around and found out that there were karate classes being offered somewhere in East Havana. I was told that I had to pay. I cant remember exactly how much it was because it was too long ago, but it was around 50 pesos. Im a divorced mother, with two children and couldnt afford it,» Zoraida said.

Many martial art practitioners in Cuba have to pay for their membership. Some see this as normal. However, motivated by comments about the illegality of this issue, I decided to delve deeper.

«Charging for martial arts classes is not justified because practicing sports is a right of the people. The National Karate Do Federation has the right to charge a membership fee for being a Non-Governmental Organization, but up to this moment, no consensus has been reached, and martial arts are instructed free of charge,» told Salvador Pérez, president of the National Karate Do Federation, to JR.

Carmen Aispurua, a national karate do commissioner, said, «INDER (the National Institute of Sports and Recreation) offers support to all variations of the martial arts, and to those that are practiced and are not registered. They were 51 disciplines, but these decreased to 35 after an evaluation process. They are all recognized by the world organization to which they belong. This was done to avoid illegalities.

«There are teachers who invent a 'martial art and begin to charge for the classes right after, but in Cuba sports instruction is free; so, this cannot be done. Even those who are recognized cannot charge for the lessons because no membership fee has been established up to now. But sometimes even parents themselves are the ones who come to an agreement with the teacher to pay, and they start a business out of nowhere.»

Currently, this organization has 35 registered styles. In Havana, INDER has 39 active sports disciplines. As it can be seen, the number of martial art styles is very similar to the overall number of other sports, with Shotokan, Jujitsu, Joshimon and Wado Ryu being some of the main ones.

According to the commissioner, currently there is a great struggle against illegalities, but they are so many that it is difficult to control all of them; thats why there are those who charge, mainly in Havana.

María, from the municipality of Playa, assures that while her son practiced martial arts, she paid ten pesos per month «for the tatami.» Thats what the teacher told her. Tests cost 20 pesos and the child received the diploma that accredited him to pass to the next level. Medals in a competition also cost 20 pesos.

«Somehow, I dont complain about asking for money for medals and diplomas because thats something the child will remember. However, parents should contribute with what they can, and not be forced to pay 20 pesos per child. If the child wins, its fine, but if not, you loose your money,» the mother said.

María also told us that «karategies (combat uniforms) are sewed by freelance sewers who charge depending on the size of the uniform. For example, my sons cost 12 CUC.
An alternative

One day in the 1990s, Ernesto Guzmán decided to struggle to create a school that would teach Okinawas traditional karate do, without mercantilism or violent competitions. To this end, he needed to contact the original source, the Japanese school of Shorin Ryu.

«This school has distanced itself from the commercialization of Japanese karate imposed by Western culture, which has created more than 400 different styles since World War II,» said the Cuban master.

Guzmán founded the first dojo to teach Matsubayashi Ryu in Cuba on May 4, 1999, in Celimar, in east Havana. It was functioning from 1989, but was devoted to the practice of the Joshinmon Shorin Ryu style.

«For work reasons, I arrived in Okinawa, on November 2002, during celebration of the fifth anniversary of the death of the creator of Matsubayashi Ryu: Great Master Shoshin Nagamine. There were practitioners from all over the world, and the event became a great fiesta and an exchange. This and other trips helped me to acquire a huge amount of knowledge. I took lessons directly from Nagamines son, who continued his work in Okinawa along with Master Eustaquio Rojas,» Guzmán said.

Karate Do, which literally means «the path of the empty hands», actually means renouncing material possessions and searching for knowledge "with a clean and free-of-evil heart", which is always in a constant dialectic relation of change. The term «Do» is added because it expresses the iron will of the art is cultivated within itself. The term «kara» (empty hand) has a close relation with Zen Rough Void, a train of thought of the Zen philosophy, represented with a circular form, which stands for the blood cycle, the moon cycle, the Earths annual orbit around the Sun, and the life cycle in general.

On November 12, 2001 the Matsubayashi Ryu is officially recognized by the Cuban Federation of Karate Do. Today, this art has 47 training centers in Cuba, especially in the western and central regions. According to a census conducted in September 2005 of those people practicing this sport, there are 955 active disciples of Karate Do.

With more than five years in the Cuban Federation of Karate Do, the Matsubayashi Ryu has become a viable alternative for average Cubans. «Although it is true that it is beautiful to see kids and youngsters at the end of training with their diplomas and certificates that will remain memories, the educational, sports and ethical rules of the Revolution cannot be violated to satisfy demands and concerns that are not essential in learning an art so serious and deep in knowledge.»

«Our kids and youngsters should know they belong to an organization that respects and loves them, where they are treated as beloved students and not as clients who buy techniques, ribbons and diplomas,» he said.
Violence vs. patience

«We didnt want children to practice a violent martial art. We wanted it to be different from the movies. We found that in the Akichi Arakaki Sensei Dojo, located on 5th Avenue and 88th in the Miramar neighborhood of Havana, children were taught a style that did not force them fight one another; so we decided to sign up our older son there.»

This was Elizabeth Quinteros first approach to Matsubayashi Ryu. Today, in addition to Danielito "her older son" her younger son, Guillermo, her husband and she also practice Karate Do.

«The Matsubayashi Ryu is not practiced by age group, everybody receives the classes at the same time, » Zoraida Torres Leal says. «This art does not instill aggressiveness or competitiveness at any moment. It is purely defensive and not to show off your knowledge. We practice modesty, simplicity, solidarity and ethics.»

One of the principles taught to everyone initiating in martial arts is that there is no first attack. «Children practice karate naturally. If they are explained from the beginning that this is a purely defensive technique "together with the complementary knowledge about their peers, the knowledge of world and Cuban history, and the need for solidarity with their peers" the children become non-violent,» Ernesto Guzmán explains.

However, opinions about matches are divided. Salvador Pérez Quevedo agrees that the martial arts are purely defensive but he thinks that matches «do not generate violence at all.»

«In Cuba, children begin to participate in matches after they reach 10 years of age. Before, they only perform in exhibitions of physical ability. However, the matches are conducted from the sports point of view and with all the protections required. If a child is in a match, we have to be very careful and make sure that they are wearing all the needed protection.»

For Eustaquio Rojas, a teacher of Matsubayashi Ryu with 40 years of experience in Japanese martial arts, children are not aware of danger and they do not know how to avoid it. Sometimes, in the heat of a match, parents and teachers scream inappropriate words that have an influence on the childrens behavior towards society. They scream at the children things like 'Beat him or 'Kick his ass, and if one of the children comes out of the match with a bruise, they are told to get revenge.»

«The matches among youngsters are rougher, and most of the time they study together and then the 'revenge come in the streets. Parents send children to these schools because they believe it guarantees their future defense, but they ignore the psycho-physiological consequences of these matches,» he said.

The rules of martial arts are clearly defined, Carmen Aispurua says, and the violence it generates falls on the teacher all the time. If the teacher yells at the child or hits them, or if they are afraid to fight in a match and their parents goad them, the children assume this is «proper» conduct, and this creates aggressive patterns in their behavior.

«INDER is promoting the rescue of martial ethics, based on rules and not on aggression. This has the influence of the president of the group, who picks all the teachers. The parents who take their children to the dojo approve of those attitudes,» he says.

The tradition of practice without fighting seems to show results. «Ive changed a lot, Michel Ramos said, I now face problems with more decision and analysis. I used to be very aggressive; I could explode over anything and start arguing. Now I respect and help people, so that they treat me the same way.»


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