The sensei bow to their students and to each other, and with that — the session begins. At home, the students speak Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, or Amharic. But here, they share a single language: The language of respect. And on the mat, that language sounds a lot like Japanese.
“Budo” is a general term for the traditional Japanese martial arts. And the dedicated group of instructors behind the organization Budo for Peace believe these martial arts can help students develop skills in not only self-defense, but also self-improvement and ultimately, in social harmony as well.
And it seems to be working. At the door to the dojo (the training arena) in the Bedouin village of Abu Quidar, the students remove their shoes, then, they walk onto the mat and stand together holding hands for preliminary stretches. When the session is over, they all set out for a tour of the village, the highlight of which is a shared meal. In a few months, they’ll do the same thing, but this time in the Jewish town of Kiryat Gat.
The nine different clubs that make up Budo for Peace work to channel the values of Budo toward the goal of equality. In training sessions, students learn that every opponent is also a partner. They’re encouraged to confront their own anxieties and fears, but also to strengthen the muscles required for tolerance and open-mindedness. Indeed, to watch Budo for Peace in action is to see boys and girls kick down metaphorical walls and build both self-esteem and lifelong friendships in their place.