Pakistan police and women take to Kyokushin karate

KARACHI - Clad in crisp, white karate robes, around 50 boys and girls face the instructor. Their expressions are solemn, deep concentration etched on their faces.

Taking a cue from the instructor, they throw punches in unison, punctuating each strike with a throaty roar as if to ensure that their lungs, too, take in the action. Despite the reverberating roar in the gym, or dojo, the instructor, a bearded man in his mid-thirties, can be heard keeping count of the punches: "Ichi, ni, san, shi … ."

Outside the dojo, which is located along a narrow street in Karachi's Gizri neighborhood, the counting in Japanese would surely ring out as strange, but inside is a different world. This is the Pakistan headquarters of Kyokushin karate, one of the most popular forms of martial arts in the country. A full-contact style, Kyokushin has been practiced in Pakistan since 1974 when Inamullah Khan, respectfully referred to as a Shihan, or a master instructor, established the first dojo here.

Famous for its intense workout sessions and what Shihan Hidyatullah Khan, Inamullah's son and the current grandmaster, calls "its usefulness beyond the ring, in real-life situations," the style has been popular since the early 1980s when Bruce Lee's action movies became a staple for local youth. More recently, the broadcast of American UFC Mixed Martial Arts, which is shown on several sports channels across Pakistan, has spurred new interest in the sport.

Hidyatullah said there were at least 500 Kyokushin dojos in Pakistan, where thousands of people of all ages train.

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