|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
The Rediff Special/ Akundi Madhusudhan in Hong Kong
Vizag to Hong Kong, a master's journey
October 03, 2006
He is Master Srinivas Suresh Kamal -- founder of Planet Yoga of Hong Kong (www.planetyoga.com.hk)
While the cricketing greats learned their trade in the cricketing Mecca of India -- Mumbai -- Master Suresh Kamal cannot boast of such a past, and hence his rise to yoga superstardom in South East Asia is all the more interesting.
Master Kamal is a native of Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, a relaxed and scenic small port city on India's eastern coast, which does not occupy any space on the Indian sporting, martial arts or yoga map. And this is where I met him for the first time, in the year 1993.
Dragon Fist Martial Arts School was the most popular martial arts school in Visakhapatnam (also known as Vizag) during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
It was the most popular school because of three things. It was the first school in Vizag to introduce kick-boxing and not just teach basic, bland karate. Kick-boxing has a more street-fight quality to it compared to karate, which is basically for exhibitions and competitions with rules.
The second reason for its popularity was its master -- Suresh Kamal, who was well-known among martial art enthusiasts of our small city as a teacher who put equal emphasis on the art as well as body-building and aerobics.
His pictures occupied prime space in the main notice board of the most famous and biggest cinema hall in Vizag. He was easily recognisable with his well-sculpted body and pony tail, zipping across the city on his silver-colored Ind-Suzuki motorcycle with a small sticker of Bruce Lee on the number plate.
The third reason for its popularity was it got Visakhapatnam perhaps its first mention in the Guinness Book of World Records when Master Kamal's student, 10-year-old M S Sailaja, rolled her way into the record books with her feat in Limbo Roller Skating.
This was in 1990. It was a time when Visakhapatnam/Vizag was seeing a meteoric rise in its economy and overall development and Vizagites hailed this record as a harbinger of the times to come for our beloved city.
In 1993, I was in my second year engineering and 19 years old. I was one of those kung-fu crazy teenagers who grew up on a steady diet of Bruce Lee movies and Chinese kung fu flicks.
I convinced my parents and decided to enroll in a martial arts school. I found myself one morning at 6 am at the doorstep of Dragon Fist Martial Arts.
Dragon Fist school was an extension of Master Kamal's modest home -- a single-storied house with asbestos sheet roofing -- a testimony to his humble background.
The open mud-ground in his compound served as the training ground for the school. A small asbestos sheet-roofed shed at the back served as the gym with weights and benchpress.
When I entered the school for the first time that morning, Master Kamal was sipping his morning cup of coffee, dressed in a brilliant blue outfit while his main instructors were making the students do push-ups.
I found male and female students of all ages and surprisingly, three Palestinian nationals too. I changed quickly and started my routine along with the others.
At the end of my first day, I nearly fainted out of exhaustion and this was the beginning of many such exhausting days.
The training was intense under the watchful gaze of Master Kamal, where one typical training session consisted of 30 minutes of aerobics, 15 minutes of push-ups and stretches and 30 minutes of kicks, punches and blocks.
Then we ended up the training routine by getting out our boxing gloves and sparring with other classmates. This was the time to take our daily dose of lip-cutting face punches and rib-shattering side kicks.
I trained at the Dragon Fist school for three years. In that time, I saw first hand the immense talent of this little master as he used to regale us with his whole repertoire of kick-boxing, gymnastics, aerobics and yoga asanas.
He set up Indian records for five-hour continuous aerobic sessions as well as breaking six cuddapah slabs (thick hard black slabs used for flooring) with one mighty blow of his arm.
After he completed that feat, one of the leading character actors of south Indian cinema, the chief guest during a function, hailed Master Kamal's feat and said, 'I wish Master Kamal would bring laurels not only to our small city, but to India at a bigger world stage.'
Being his student at that time, I was a spectator during the show and wondered, perhaps in a pessimistic way how this immensely talented person can showcase his talent for martial arts, yoga, gymnastics and aerobics to a worldwide audience. After all, Vizag is hardly a place on the Indian sporting map.
I left Dragon Fist school in 1996, finished my engineering and left Visakhapatnam to pursue my career in other parts of India and the world.
I returned in 2001 to Visakhapatnam and wanted to visit Dragon Fist school. I was disappointed to hear that the school had shut down and enquiries with the shopkeepers around the school yielded no result about the whereabouts of my master.
I tried to get in touch with some old fellow kick-boxing students, but even they had moved on in life and I was left wondering what happened to my master. I went to the cinema hall to see if I could still find photos of Master Kamal, but to no avail. It was as if my master had just disappeared.
In November 2005, I got an offer to work for a multinational corporation in their Hong Kong office. I readily took up the offer since Hong Kong offered me a chance to see South East Asia and also live for some time in the same city my idol Bruce Lee lived and died.
In March 2006, I walked into the pantry of my office to have some coffee and catch up on my daily news. I was flipping through the pages of the South China Morning Post when I noticed an ad -- Planet Yoga by Master Kamal.
In the ad was the unmistakable arresting smile of my master in a yoga pose. I could not hold my excitement any longer and I called up Planet Yoga to confirm.
I told them who I was and why I needed to meet Master Kamal and see him again in the flesh and blood.
They asked me to come at noon to the Planet Yoga centre in central Hong Kong. I made my way there at 12 pm sharp and waited for him.
He arrived and he was soon greeted with a lot of namastes from many Chinese students.
I thought to myself -- here is my master, not only a yoga teacher, but a cultural ambassador for India's ancient yoga system. I had finally met him again, after 10 years.
He showered me with all the warmth he was known for and I felt great meeting him again.
I made enquiries about Master Kamal among my colleagues and friends in Hong Kong and was pleasantly surprised to know that almost everyone knew him.
His posters hang prominently in Hong Kong and he is considered the yoga superstar of Hong Kong. He has set up yoga schools in Singapore, Thailand and in Hong Kong and shuttles across various countries to offer valuable tips on yoga and martial arts.
In Hong Kong, the city of my martial arts idol, I finally met my master and learnt a lot more about him than I ever knew.
His success was based not only on his immense talent, but a lot of hard work combined with a die-hard attitude to show his mettle to a world audience. He has finally found that audience and he is now their rock star.
That night, I kept wondering what an uncanny coincidence brought me to meet my master again after 10 years in the city of Bruce Lee -- an idol for both of us.
But what brought a smile to my face were the words of the film actor who hailed Master Kamal's major feat in that Indian city in 1995 -- 'I wish Master Kamal would bring laurels not only to our small city, but to India on a bigger world stage.'
Master Kamal has not only lived up to those words, but has shattered the wildest imaginations of our city folks.
His is a sheer rags-to-riches-to-fame story. He has made Vizag proud, but more than that, he is shaping up to make India and its ancient yoga system well known in this corner of the world. Move over Sachin, my master has arrived.
The Rediff Specials