Program Promotes Arab/Israeli Peace Through Martial Arts
Learning to get along through fighting? The idea might sound strange, but Danny Hakim, founder of the Israeli NGO Budo For Peace, believes that martial arts have more to them than just fighting techniques. “That’s the contradiction that people who don’t know much about martial arts straight away laugh about,” says Hakim.
The Budo for Peace program aims to strengthen participants’ physical, mental and cognitive abilities and break down barriers, by teaching traditional martial arts such as Karate, Judo, Aikido, and Taekwondo. The program operates within Jewish, Muslim, Arab and Druze communities in Israel, Jordan and Turkey.
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The founder, who comes from Australia, has been practicing martial arts since his grandmother gave him karate lessons as a Bar Mitzvah present, aged 13. Since then he has gone on to be a successful karate practitioner with several medals from international events.
The idea to use martial arts as a way to promote peace between people came up while Hakim was practicing with the Australian Karate Team. The team had people from various backgrounds: “I was the token Jew,” he says, “and there were also Lebanese and Iranian Australians. We bonded and became good friends using the philosophy of martial arts, which is really not about hitting someone. It’s about self-control and about feeling harmony.”
Harmony and respect
The Japanese word budô, loosely translated as “martial arts,” literally means “to stop conflict,” and that is exactly what the organization is aiming for.
“When you feel harmony within yourself, it’s easier to feel harmonious with other people. Also, martial arts are about respect to yourself and to others,” Hakim says.
The Budo for Peace (BFP) groups include about twenty students, who meet with their local instructor twice a week for 1.5 hour-long lessons. Each session consists of one hour of physical training and a 30 minute educational program. Participants are asked to pay a minimal monthly fee of around 30 NIS ($8).
The two year-long educational program includes discussions, activities and role playing to teach the students about Budo values – the inherent code of behavior found in all traditional martial arts.
The program assists students in acquiring tolerance, participating in co-existence programs and learning how to prevent bullying and violence in everyday life. Students are encouraged to help out in their local environments, some help clean local beaches or parks, others visit children wards in hospitals.
Today, BFP has twenty clubs throughout Israel and additional clubs in Jordan and Turkey – annually reaching around on thousand youths from Israeli, Palestinian, Bedouin and Druze communities.
“The real highlight is when I go to the desert and I see these Bedouin kids, who have nothing and they come and they bow, and we match them with kids from the cities. They practice and laugh and have fun together. That’s probably the most inspiring thing, when I see these kids together,” says Hakim.
The Twin Dojo program that operates as part of BFP pairs each community up with another nearby community of a different ethnic background, thus helping to break down pre-conditioned stereotypes.
The groups begin by participating in a joint martial arts training session. Once they have warmed up, they are led in interactive ice-breaker games. Parents who attend the session also get to meet parents from other communities.
In addition, BFP is focused on female empowerment and has an equal number of female/male participants. It also provides self-defense training for adult women.
The program is inspired by a documentary film called Shadya, which was produced by Hakim himself. The film tells the story of an Arab-Israeli girl named Shadya from a traditional Muslim home in an Arab village in the Galilee. Under Hakim’s training, she becomes a mentor for girls in her village, a world karate champion representing Israel and a BFP instructor. The film won first place in the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam in 2005.
Photos by Rinat Halon