The story of Karate Shah


You enter the Baoli Bagh, an old relic from Rangit Singh’s rule of Punjab, and to your left is a small area cordoned off by a lining of bushes and a single line of barbed wire. A board is mounted declaring this is the Pak Martial Arts Karate Club. It is run by Mazhar Shah (a.k.a. Karate Shah), a much-travelled and famed Pak-indo practitioner. Mazhar grew up around the Baoli Bagh. He tells of a time when he used to sell shoes at a kiosk outside the Bagh. This was when he was a child. Then his life’s journey took a turn. He learnt karate and became a proponent of what he calls ‘Pak-indo.’ He tells of his journey to learn Karate, “I was taught by Javed Kamran, the first karate teacher in Pakistan.
In 1973, Javed came to Pakistan and subsequently karate came to Pakistan. He had me and six other students. I was the most junior but I made the most name for myself.” “Most students of karate are disillusioned by the sport one they get hurt. My passion grew the more I got hurt,” Mazhar said, “and I became so good that I began to be invited to competitions outside of Pakistan.” “I was very famous, let me show you,” he says and tells me to follow him. A personal history in pictures: Mazhar takes me to a little room in his karate club. Here he keeps his prized possessions. His most prized possession he brings out. And it leaves me stunned. He brings out his photohistory and each of the news clipping run on him.
This is his history. He says, “this is what I have left to show people who I am. These are my most prized possessions. This is my history.” He quickly runs me through pages of old urdu newspapers where photographs of him performing at international karate events have been carried on the front page. He shows me independent features run on his life story. I, of course, am both making notes and photographing him. He shows me photographs of him in Saudi Arabia, where he worked as a security guard to Saudi princes, and the United States, where he took up a gym instructor’s job with the Kentucky University. He shows me photographs of travels throughout the world and his many fights with known fighters. And he says he was better than most.
He has fond memories both countries where he spent more settled time. In 1980, he shifted to Saudi Arabia. Of this time, he says, “I shifted to Riyadh in 1980. I was the life of the Pakistani community there. I would organise meetings. I would raise the Pakistan flag and celebrate August 14.” “When I was in Riyadh, a Nawa-i-Waqt reporter visited my club and ran a story on me,” he says and subsequently shows me the clipping from his files. “I have proof of who I am,” he says, “these photographs are the proof.” If nothing else the news clipping reveal Karate Shah was a much cherished sport icon in his home country during his travelling years.
Upon return: a movement into film: “After two years in Saudia, I went to London. Then I flew to Chicago. Then I flew to Rochestor, Minnesota where America’s biggest hospital was located. Then I went to Kentuky and taught at the Kentuky University for six months. Then I left for France. Then I left for Germany. Then I returned to Saudi Arabia and then came back to Pakistan in 1991,” he tells.
“When I returned I bought an expensive camera and became a cameraman,” he said, “I worked with the film industry but I was never able to earn much from it.” “Film was a passion,” he says, “and I am driven by my passions. I wanted to do film-making so I started film-making.”
“This was not where my interest in acting began,” Mazhar reveals, “back when I was 16, I worked in a drama. I am an artist at heart.” A return to the Baoli and new students: After a short period as a cameraman, Mazhar returned to the Baoli Bagh, which he had frequented in his childhood. His relations with the head of the market committee and willingness to take care of a portion of the neglected bagh. Here he set up his current karate club, where he trains a group of students again. Amongst these students is Hafiz Muhammad Atif. Atif comes to the club diligently at half past three every day. Before class begins Atif cleans up the club’s ground and the Baoli Bagh’s small entry. After this, lessons begin.
Atif is a very accomplished fighter and Mazhar tells that he was recently crowned Punjab champion. “This is my legacy, my students” he says, pointing to Atif, then, he pauses… “and this,” he says, pointing to the photos and newsclippings he has compiled. “Sometimes I think of burning all this memory of mine that I have preserved outside the Punjab Assembly,” Mazhar concludes on a grim note, “to tell the rulers that they have given a sportsman like myself nothing. But I am hopeful in life and self-sufficent.” And, yes, this Karate Club at the Baoli Bagh is his continuing legacy.


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