Karate clan chops up competition in Nagoya tourney

By Judith Stiles

It’s difficult for a 6-year-old child to understand the abstract concept behind seido karate, a martial art in which the body, mind and spirit are simultaneously developed to realize one’s full potential as a human being. However, when sisters Noa and Daniela Azulai of Greenwich Village walked through the door of their first karate class in 2001, they took to the program like ducks to water, and seemed to understand the essence of seido karate in a visceral way. Daniela, who was then 6, was experiencing post-traumatic stress problems after 9/11, so her mother, Melissa, enrolled her in a martial arts class, hoping it would be therapeutic.

According to seido karate’s founder, Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura, “Karate is a way of life, a way of being.” The strenuous physical karate training, combined with the power of Zen meditation, has taken Daniela and her younger sister Noa on a journey of recovery, empowerment and spiritual growth. This path also led them to earn black belts less than six years later.

Soon after 2001, seido karate became a way of life for their mother Melissa, too, when she also took up martial arts at the 61 W. 23rd St. dojo (martial arts training center). Last December, after years of hard work and training, Daniela at age 12 and her sister Noa, along with Melissa, were invited with 400 other black belts to compete in the seido karate Japan International Tournament in Nagoya, Japan. At the prestigious competition, Melissa and the girls faced a panel of seven judges in their respective age groups. After performing their original kata (routines), Daniela earned first place, and Noa second in the youth group, while Melissa won the womens’ division. Daniela described the enormous pressure of the event, saying, “I got kind of nervous before the competition, but once it began all the nervous energy washed off and I felt really good.”

In each age division the judges evaluated technique, execution of forms, correct movement and attitude and spirit. Although the kata were performed solo in front of the judges, the routines should have looked and felt like the performers had an opponent.

“Believe me, this does not happen every time. There should be an aura to the kata, and observers should be thinking, ‘I can see the fight,’ ” explained Melissa. “It should be like a moving meditation. For months you work hard to polish the kata, and then at the moment of performing, the rest of the room should cease to exist.”

The international tournament was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for the Village trio, but the benefits of seido karate have shaped their daily lives. Melissa and the girls are part of a strong family-like seido community and are guided by three principles that founder Nakamura established: respect, love and obedience. Another member of the seido community, Kyoshi Billy Macagnone, likened his seido experience to the “magnifying glass theory,” which he describes in depth on the Web site seido.com. He writes that the focus of a magnifying glass held in sunlight yields fire, and in the same way the intense state of being focused while doing karate yields many “benefits, physically, energetically, emotionally and spiritually.”

These days seido karate means much more than winning awards and black belts for the Azulais. Melissa now teaches women karate and self-defense, while Noa and Daniela study dance, play soccer and basketball, using their karate wisdom to excel in these activities. For the most part, they have put the trauma of 9/11 behind them, and like any lighthearted young girls, Daniela and Noa giggle a lot, which the serious business of seido karate has given them the freedom to do.