Idlib: Martial arts practitioners suffer lack of capabilities, sports interest

Dan-ranked practitioners in Karate tests in the northwestern Idlib region - November 2023 (Enab Baladi/Anas al-Khouli)

Dan-ranked practitioners in Karate tests in the northwestern Idlib region - November 2023 (Enab Baladi/Anas al-Khouli)


Enab Baladi – Hassan Ibrahim

Working hard in the blacksmith profession for 12 hours a day did not prevent the young man, Mohammad Said Akkash, from practicing his favorite martial art, karate, in the northwestern Idlib governorate.

Despite his hard work and home obligations, the 20-year-old was able to pass the skills test and obtain the Dan-rank 2 with a grade of more than 80%. He hopes to participate in world championships.

In northern Syria, team sports in general, and individual sports, in particular, suffer from a lack of interest in them and a lack of international recognition for the federations formed, which forces the coaches of these sports to look for other jobs to earn a living.

Akkash has been practicing this sport since his childhood, and relies on the arduous profession of blacksmithing to secure his living. He told Enab Baladi that he chose this sport over others because of his intense love for it and to learn self-defense.

He added that players in the north suffer from harsh living conditions and find themselves forced to work to secure their livelihood, considering that sports are a hobby and players cannot, under any circumstances, devote themselves to reaching advanced degrees in it.

Martial Art Ethics

Karate, also karate-do, is a martial art developed in the Ryukyu Kingdom. In this Japanese sport, hands, feet, knees, and elbows are used as weapons. It is a defensive sport characterized by high morals among the players and its strict principle that “karate develops moral character.”

The arrangement of the belts varies from one school to another or from one country to another. The player’s jacket is tied with a belt, and this belt is of different colors to indicate the level of combat skill that the person has reached.

The degree of white belt is considered below a degree or starting degree and does not require any acceptance or promotion tests. The player holds a white belt from the first day he enters the karate club.

Karate tests to award belts in Idlib city - November 2023 (Enab Baladi/Anas al-Khouli)

Karate tests to award belts in Idlib city – November 2023 (Enab Baladi/Anas al-Khouli)

No material or logistical capabilities

After Akkash passed the black belt test with the Dan-rank 2, he hopes to participate in international and global tournaments, and that the sport of karate will receive attention to participate in the tournaments held in Turkey, similar to the game of judo, pointing out that he wants to transfer what he learned from this game to other players depending on the available conditions.

Mohammad Ahmed Maznouk, 50, a karate coach who won the Idlib Governorate Championship and the bronze award at the republic level in 1998. He left karate training and went to the profession of teaching chemistry to high school students, and the sport became just a hobby for him.

Although the coach is busy pursuing his graduate studies in chemistry, he is always keen to attend karate competitions and participate in tests to renew what he has previously learned.

The coach told Enab Baladi that the sport of karate in northern Syria suffers from the lack of designated places for it, the high transportation costs of players that prevent them from practicing the sport, and the inability to participate in foreign tournaments, which makes parents stay away from it, and only care about sending their children to sports that enable them to participate internationally.

Martial arts players face difficulties in securing their supplies in terms of clothing, shoes, and transportation amid a deteriorating economic and living reality in a region that includes 4.5 million people, 4.1 million of whom are in need of assistance, and 3.3 million of whom suffer from food insecurity.

With the abundance of labor and the decline in job opportunities, there has been no change in the wage of workers in northern Syria, and the worker’s daily wage does not exceed 70 Turkish liras at best (less than $3).

Lack of sports interest, Bombing is a reason

Parents’ interest in educating their children and providing them with job opportunities prevents some families from encouraging their children to practice sports on a regular basis, and sometimes even parents prevent their children from exercising.

Coach Waseem Satout, 42, comes from the Aleppo countryside. He is the head of the technical department in the karate committee in the Sports Directorate of the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG). He has practiced karate since he was seven years old, and participated in major tournaments. He told Enab Baladi that the sport faces a lack of awareness of its importance.

Satout added that the committee worked to organize the first sports championship in northern Syria for the sport of karate in early 2014 and built hopes for the children who were initially trained, but the dropout rate from the sport was high due to the players’ search for jobs from which they could earn their living.

After the displacement of the people of Aleppo to Idlib, Satout sought to form a karate federation in Idlib, but he collided with a difficult living reality that forced the coaches of this sport to leave the training profession and look for other work. The repeated bombing of villages and towns and the displacement forced the players to move away from exercising.

Satout founded the Al-Jeel (Generation) Club, which includes eight karate coaches and 300 players, but the bombing of the villages of Sarmin and Jabal al-Zawiya, south of Idlib, and high transportation costs prevented some of his players from being able to participate in the belt-passing tests held in the city of Idlib.

Satout hopes that conditions will improve and that the rest of the players will participate early next year.

Regime forces and Russia continue to bomb areas in northwestern Syria despite the existence of ceasefire agreements, and they escalated militarily in northern Syria last October, killing more than 70 people and wounding 349 others, and damaging more than 40 health facilities, 27 schools, and 20 water networks. 

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the bombing affected more than 2,300 sites and led to the displacement of more than 120,000 people, marking the largest escalation in northwestern Syria since 2019.

Tests and hopes for external participation

The head of the Supreme Technical Committee for Karate, Saed al-Haj Khalaf, spoke about the existence of efforts and communications to organize tournaments, to form a national team representing all regions of northern Syria, and to participate in karate tournaments in Turkey.

Al-Haj Khalaf told Enab Baladi that the city of Idlib witnessed passing tests for 20 brown belt players and three black belt players, Dan-rank 2, and 80% of the players were able to pass the tests successfully.

The head of the committee stated that the test includes five subjects: Kata, 40 points; Kihon, which is a set of regular movements, 20 points; fighting 20 points; the theoretical test, 10 points; and balance, 10 points.

The player must obtain 60 points to pass the test, and if he fails, he will repeat only the subjects he failed in, in the upcoming tests within the sports calendar prepared by the committee, according to al-Haj Khalaf.

For his part, coach Satout said that Turkey was interested in supporting individual sports in northern Syria, but considering that those responsible for the sports file in the “revolutionary entities” are judo coaches, attention was automatically directed to the sport of judo and not to the rest of the individual sports.

Satout added that there are advanced levels of emerging players in the sport of karate, and he hopes that these abilities will be highlighted, so that they will have the right to showcase their skills in international tournaments.

He believes that poor countries or those suffering from wars should pay attention to individual sports in general because these sports do not need a lot of support, unlike team sports, and one player can represent the region and win titles.

Judo is present

Compared to other individual sports, judo, the unarmed modern Japanese martial art, enjoys a presence in tournaments held in Turkey, and Syrian players have proven their worth in this sport despite the difficulties they have faced.

Last August, 24 players from the buds, cubs, and junior categories arrived in the Turkish state of Sakarya as part of the Free Syria Team to participate in the Sakarya International Judo Championship. The team ranked third in the overall standings for the junior category, with two golds and two bronzes.

The player, Mohammad al-Mulqi, weighing +45 kilograms, and the player, Mustafa al-Mulqi, weighing +50 kilograms, participated in the Victory Day Karate Championship that took place in Gaziantep state and they won first place with two gold medals last August.

In 2022, 15 players from northern Syria participated in the Sakarya tournament, taking first and second places and winning seven gold medals.

In July 2022, the Free Syria Team achieved second place overall in the Kocaeli International Judo Championship, which was held in the Turkish state of Kocaeli, with 20 players coming from the Idlib and Aleppo governorates.

The player Yazid Shaheen won a gold medal with a weight of 26 kilograms in the junior category, the player Zain al-Din al-Khatib won a silver medal with a weight of 34 kilograms in the same category, and the brothers Mohammad and Abdul-Raouf Asad won a bronze medal with a weight of 22 and 26 kilograms in the children (buds) category.

Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Idlib, Anas al-Khouli, contributed to this report.



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