KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Every night, among the hum of tread mills mixed with the tang of sweat in Forward Operating Base Wright’s small cardio room, Soldiers, Sailors and local nationals gather to practice Judo Karate with instructor Dr. Shams Kamalpuri, Speer clinic doctor.
Prior to Taliban rule, Kamalpuri had built a reputation for himself in the country after creating five Judo clubs with more than 800 Afghans participating in them -- before seeing everything he worked for whisked away by the imposing Taliban regime.
“When I was in the fourth grade I started training in Iran because there were no martial arts instructors in Afghanistan,” said Kamalpuri. “I competed in the surrounding countries like Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Iran, and I won 32 tournaments.”
In 2000, the Taliban arrested Kamalpuri for teaching martial arts and beat him to the point that metal rods now hold together the bones in both of his arms.
“They said I was teaching violence and that it was against the teachings in the Quran, and yet they used violence to beat me and destroyed my property,” said Kamalpuri, after the Taliban destroyed his Dojo. “They kept me in jail for three months while they did this.”
After his run in with the Taliban, Kamalpuri was forced to leave behind his old life as an instructor and chose to go to school, becoming a doctor where he now works in the Speer clinic at the FOB.
The class he teaches to his hodgepodge of students could be compared to mixed martial arts, as it blends the striking from Karate with the throws and grappling of Judo. Kamalpuri began teaching the class to two interpreters who worked on the FOB and now it includes a mix of Soldiers, Sailors, interpreters and workers from the Philippines.
“I was hitting [it] heavy, and I saw Shams (Kamalpuri) and two other interpreters practicing so I asked, ‘Hey do you mind if join?’ He said something to the interpreter and the interpreter said sure no problem,” said U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Frank Concolino, Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team force protection specialist hailing from Farmingville, N.Y. “I had a great time training with him so I invited some friends from the PRT, and we all started training together.”
Communication in the class is often primitive as Kamalpuri counts out punches and kicks while demonstrating the movements.
“He really works hard to teach us, since we can’t speak Pashtu and he speaks very little English,” says U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel Rubio, FOB Mayor’s assistant from San Diego, Calif. “But the interpreters in the class help out and translate and (by) training with him the last three months we are learning how he communicates. It becomes more and more natural every day.”
For the Soldiers and Sailors, they get a great workout and a first-class opportunity to hone their skills. But that pales in comparison to what their teacher gets -- a chance to revive a passion that the Taliban could not take away.
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