Martial arts alive and kicking in Estonia

  • 2004-10-13
  • By Andrei Tuch
TALLINN - If you were a schoolkid in Estonia in the 90s, there wasn't very much you could do in the way of fun. Homework was, for obvious reasons, out of the question. Videogames were largely limited to arcades, which were expensive, and home consoles sucked. So parents started buying PCs, which led to the current status of Estonia as the posh place to outsource IT work, but that still didn't take care of everyone.

The other option was sports. But anyone who's lived in the Baltics for more than a year knows why you can't keep up a year-round soccer-training schedule; there are approximately two- and-a-half skating rinks in the country, so hockey isn't a feasible option; and basketball is just for tall kids. So the only sport that was accessible to just about anyone, and that could be done in any school gym or recreation center was martial arts. The proliferation of Jackie Chan movies on scratchy videotapes no doubt also helped.

Martial arts were all the rage back then, a fact that few young people nowadays realize. Suddenly all those guys holding a certificate in sambo, as well as a whole load of self-taught moves learned from doing dropkicks in front of a mirror, made a living out of training little kids to kick others' asses. And not just guys, either - my judo sensei was a woman, and she was the best instructor I had.

Fast forward a few crappy winters, and the little ones are all grown up and ready to show what they're made of. While Indrek Pertelson and Aleksei Budolin reliably bring back medals from high-profile competitions, the youngsters aren't doing too bad either in minor and regional competitions - even hosting the occasional one. That is what's happening on Oct. 18, with The Way of Young Masters, the fourth such event in as many years. I mean, you can literally feel the Jackie Chan influence.

The name of the game is taekwondo, since that's the federation organizing the festival. However, the star attraction is a professional boxing match between Latvia and Russia's featherweights. Literally, not metaphorically - I weigh more than 67 kilograms, but I know either of those guys could destroy me without breaking a sweat.

There are also three fights scheduled between Estonian blackbelts sporting kudos from European championships, and their opponents from Russia. Local boys will be taking on southern neighbors in karate matches, plus an all-domestic lineup for thai and kickboxing. Apparently there will also be something called "Russian style;" I'm probably wrong, but for some reason the image this conjures up in my head is that of the national sport of village-on-village brawling- perhaps the only team-based organized fighting sport out there.

Other showpieces will be the latest, greatest trendy thing to send fitness aficionados into a frenzy - capoeira, the Brazilian art of martial dance. Sounds ridiculous, but it's actually quite exciting to watch. Musical entertainment will be provided by a group of fans of Korean culture, national dress and all, and of course Korean food will be there for everyone to enjoy. I've been given assurances that no dogs will be hurt in the making of the event. o

The Way of Young Masters - martial arts show

Kalev sports complex, Tallinn

Prices 125 kroons (8 euros)


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