Glamourised by the likes of Michelle Yeoh and Jackie Chan, youngsters all want to learn karate. There is a special magic in being able to say 'haii-yaaa' and exhibit a picture perfect flying kick. Those childhood dreams can now come true- all you have to do is join a karate class.
It is hard to explain Nepal's fascination with the martial arts, but it has something to do with the four karate associations- Nepal Karate, Nepal Wa Do Kai Karate, Shotokan Karate and Nepal Goju-Ryu Karate-do that have been promoting the sport.
In 2004, the Nepal Renbukai Karate Association (NRKA) was established to bring together all karate clubs and dojos in Nepal. As Rajendra Chettri, general secretary, says, "Our mission is to establish them within the Sports Council to make sure that players play by international rules."
Aiming to start work as soon as possible, NRKA has scheduled a tournament for 10-11 August as part of the Birthday Cup celebrations. Called the First Friendship Karate and Kickboxing Tournament it will highlight karate, kickboxing and hapkido.
Kickboxing, in Nepal, became popular as a sport in 1985. Many players since then have chosen to learn both kickboxing and karate. Hapkido, on the other hand, is a South Korean martial arts technique that came to Nepal in 1998, initially practiced only in the club circuit. NRKA's tournament will be the first to host a hapkido event in Nepal.
Though karate as a sport has been quite popular in Nepal, lack of tournaments and sponsorship in the two decades have hindered it's development. Says Prabhajan Singh, president of Renbukai, "The biggest hurdle is the bad reputation karate as a sport has earned, thanks to corrupt officials who asked for sponsorship but never conducted tournaments."
Vice-president of Renbukai, Anil Neupane, adds, "We need to provide players with better earning opportunities and if possible, an alternative profession." But not everyone agrees: some think side jobs will distract players. Kickboxing gold medallist of the 10th Asian Games, Narendra Maharjan, 24, is not worried about money. "Right now, my problem is training. As long as I get good regular training from my gurus, I am not bothered about money," he says, adding, "maybe later."
Maharjan is keen to showcase his hapkido talents as he adds, "The only complaint I have is that the government should recognise sportsmen. After all, we come from all corners of Nepal to play and it would be nice to receive credit for our hard work."
Mamita Shrestha, 28, has been into karate for 10 years and has won a pile of medals. "Yes, players face money problems," she says, "some don't even have money to pay for transportation, and it is only after they take part in international tournaments that they receive recognition and get hooked on karate."
Shrestha, one of the first few Nepali women to learn karate adds, "There weren't many women then so we got special attention and opportunities. I earned my black belt within a year."