As Abdul Rahman al Haddad demonstrates the power of a karate blow, there is a loud smack which makes heads turn as both hands come into forceful contact.
The Canadian of Syrian descent became the only Arab awarded the seventh dan, one of the 10 proficiency levels of black belt, by the Japanese Karate Association (JKA) last month as a result of his prowess. Mr al Haddad, who will celebrate his 60th birthday in two months, succeeded in Tokyo where four Japanese opponents failed, proving age is no obstacle to achievement. He has already started preparing to reach the next level.
“I knew I was going to get the award because I am very serious and trained for years,” he says. “Only in karate can you use your body, mind and spirit all at once.”
The JKA jealously guards the dan, which explains why its examination process, which attracts thousands of karate experts from around the world, is held only once every several years. Only Ueki Masaaki, the chairman of its board of directors, holds a ninth dan status.
It took Mr al Haddad nine years to move up one dan to the seventh level after reaching sixth dan status in 2001, the prior time the JKA held an examination. It took considerably longer for him to master his art.
It was in 1969, when he was 18, that he learnt that a man called Hideki Okamoto was in his hometown of Damascus to teach karate.