Sri Lankan Karate Master makes country proud in Europe
By a Special Correspondent
COLOMBO – Former national karate champion in kata and kumite, Shihan Athula Minithanthri, has not forgotten his roots and what his teachers in Sri Lanka taught him despite being based in Europe for more than three decades.
A committee member of the founding group of the Sri Lanka National Karate-Do Federation in 1975, Germany-based Shihan Athula, who emigrated to Great Britain in 1987, is offering his services to the land of his birth.
He started learning karate when he was 10 years old under the Sensei Bonnie Roberts.When he was about 12 or 13 years old, he received an opportunity to teach beginners in his karate class.
“Lots of karate teachers today have forgotten their first trainer who gave them a proper foundation in karate. If you ask from them ‘who is your karate teacher’, they want to name Japanese masters. But they forget without having a good foundation no one can became a good karate teacher or even to become an international representative,” said Shihan Athula who received an ‘Award of Honour’ from the German National Karate Federation in January.
“It’s like without having a good foundation, no one can build up a proper house. Another example is some people like to read books. If you go to another bookshop to buy some more books, it doesn’t mean the new bookshop taught you to read books. The first teachers in our life who taught us to read are the ones who showed us all kinds of possibilities. Therefore, we should not forget them at all in our life,” said Shihan Athula who completed 50 years in the sport having begun his karate life on January 31, 1970.
“Also a real karate master should not forget his or her roots and where they were came from. But sadly most of our Sri Lanka karate teachers forget that,” said Shihan Athula who became the youngest 3rd Dan holder in Sri Lanka in 1980.
He developed many karate schools in Sri Lanka, having karate dojos in almost every city under his guidance.
But his life changed in 1987 when came in contact with the legendary Soke Teruo Hayashi. After meeting him several times, Shihan Athula left Sri Lanka for a short visit to Great Britain. There he met Britain’s education minister Sir Rhodes Boyson and started teaching Shitoryu Karate.
His first dojo was at Greenwich University. In just two weeks, he had more than 70 members, including bodybuilder and Mr Handsome, Ken Martin. Within a short period, Shihan Athula expanded his dojos to many other cities in Great Britain.
He also represented Great Britain as a head coach cum participant with his Karate team to Shitoryu World Championship in Rome where he won a gold medal in Kumite under 60kg. This was an unforgettable moment in his career.
Among his products during his teaching days in Great Britain was ‘cage fighting’ world champion Paul Saunders.
However, since it required travelling by air to other European countries from Britain, he decided to move to Germany. “When I am in Germany, I can drive to 11 countries without any problems. It is much comfortable and easy for me than flying,” he said.
From humble beginnings, he now has several karate dojos in Germany.
“It was very hard for me, as a small Sri Lankan, to integrate to the German Karate Federation. Now I am a very important referee for Shitoryu or Ryuei-ryu Kata as well,” said Shihan Athula who has produced many district, national and international champions as well as a world champion.
In 2001 he went to Tokyo, Japan, with a team representing Germany as a head coach to participate in the Ryubukai World championship where one member won a silver medal in the female Kumite category.
Last year he came to Sri Lanka with 15 members from Germany to participate in the Sato-Ha International Championship at the Sugathadasa Stadium. “A 51-year-old member participated in kumite and won his bout 8-0 against a young opponent. Five members participated and four of them won gold medals and one was disqualified, forgetting to bow. It was a great honour for me to show my teaching quality in my motherland,” he said.
Shihan Athula is in the technical committee of the German federation for Shitoryu and is also an examiner for Dan tests in every style in karate.
Since 2005, he has been working as a European Chief Instructor to the Japan Karate-Do Sato-Ha Shitoryu and in January 2018 was nominated a Permanent Director of their Japanese Karate Federation.
He has also created his own association called Dhammika Karate-Do, which has representatives in Sri Lanka, India, Israel, Palestine, Iran, Ghana, Portugal, Germany, and several other countries..
“In ancient times, martial arts began with Buddhist monks in India. Monk Bodhi Dharma is a very popular person who brought it to China. Therefore, thinking of the history and also the meaning of Dhammika, I used it for my Karate Association,” said Shihan Athula who has turned down offers to be national coach of other countries.
“I am very happy to stay in Germany sharing my knowledge and experience with the German federation. However, if I get any chance to support my motherland, then I will not think twice to do my very best to my country Sri Lanka without fail,” said Shihan Athula who is also a lyricist and played a small part in a Hollywood documentary film made about Shihan Demur’s life story.
“As a Sri Lankan I am very proud about myself as well as for my country where I have main roots in my life,” said Shihan Athula.