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Inaugural Pawtucket Martial Arts Festival held at YMCA

September 22, 2013

Robert Lapointe, right, splits a board held by Dan Bandieri during a demonstration presented by the Rhode Island Uechi-Ryu Karate School at the Pawtucket YMCA, part of the annual Pawtucket Arts Festival Saturday. (photo by Ernest A. Brown)

PAWTUCKET — It was a big day for 11-year-old Alec Mustafayev of Providence. He focused all of his karate training and on the second try, broke a board in half with his bare hands while onlookers clapped loudly. It was all part of the various techniques on display at the first Pawtucket Martial Arts Festival held Saturday morning at the Pawtucket YMCA.

The festival was the idea of Otto Liebman, who runs Ocean State Kokikai Aikido, located on the 4th floor of the Pawtucket YMCA at 20 Summer St.. Liebman is an instructor Aikido, a modern Japanese martial art, and his school offers classes for adults at the Pawtucket facility.

“I invited four Pawtucket-based schools to participate. I thought it would be good to share with the community the foundations and principals of the different styles of martial arts,” said Liebman. He likened the display to “a painter having a gallery.”

The Pawtucket Martial Arts Festival drew about 50 people of all ages, and Liebmann said he hopes to make it an annual event. Along with Ocean State Kokikai Aikido, three other schools participated: Aikido Martial Art, 545 Pawtucket Ave., the Rhode Island Uechi-Ryu Karate School in the R.I. Martial Arts Center, 44 East Ave.; and Mark Bram's Internal Arts in the Hope Artiste Village, 999 Main St., Suite 714.

The event featured dramatic demonstrations of training and skills from each of the schools, showing the differences in styles. There was Tae Kwon Do from Korea, Kung Fu and Tai Chi from China, Karate and Aikido from Japan, and mixed martial arts from the United States. The audience appeared mesmerized at the strength and agility displayed by the practitioners, as well as the more vivid examples, such as being able to withstand wooden planks being broken against bare forearms and shins without even a wince or pain.

Everett Crisman, senior instructor in the traditional Okinawan karate at the Uechi-Ryu Karate School, explained about the effectiveness of moves that involve focusing strength in a small body part, such as a toe or bent index finger, and said that anyone can learn to break a board with their bare hands through practice and a little training. He cautioned, however, that those in the audience, especially the children, should not attempt these acts at home, noting that it takes training and practice to avoid being injured or experiencing pain.

Paul Sheedy, an instructor with Aikido Martial Art, said he thought the idea of a martial arts festival between the schools was a good one on Liebmann's part. “It's great to make a connection to karate by us working together collectively,” he said. “And everyone watching has been captivated,” he noted, of the varied aged audience.

Mark Bram agreed, saying that it is good to show the various options available to people. “It gets people to understand what the martial arts are all about. It teaches you how to live life and be relaxed. Be in 'the now.' He said he teaches Tai Chi Chuan, which is a “grand ultimate boxing” style of martial arts, and works one-on-one with his students. “You don't fight until somebody breaks your space, real close.” he said.

Liebmann agreed, noting that just about everyone who had arrived at the beginning of the two-and-a half hour showcase had stayed for the entire time. “Everyone seems really engaged. They are learning about new worlds. That's what it's all about.”

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