Mixing language and martial arts

STUDENTS at St Philip’s Christian College Port Stephens are taking their interest in Japanese beyond the classroom to martial arts.

The school of 700 pupils introduced the language to its curriculum in 2011 when it hired its head of Japanese, Stephen Grant, who had lived and worked in the country for 10 years.

Now the language is compulsory for students from kindergarten to year 8, and available as an elective for students in years 9 and 10.

Mr Grant said he hoped the subject would be available for students in years 11 and 12 from next year.

‘‘There are now kids in years 7 to 10 with higher proficiency than many senior students of Japanese in some other schools, especially in terms of Kanji [Chinese characters used in Japanese writing] knowledge,’’ Mr Grant said.

‘‘Learning any language is great for reflecting on your first language and rediscovering things like verbs – and encouraging kids to look at the culture too opens them up to a wider experience.’’

All students need to show proficiency in the language and culture to progress through the coloured belt grades in the school’s unique martial arts program.

‘‘When I came back from Japan I merged the arts of karate and Iaidō [sword-drawing] with the academic aspects of Japanese language and culture study,’’ Mr Grant said.

‘‘The idea is training a person to be an all-round citizen who can represent their region well and a disciplined person who does their best – it’s definitely more cultural than aggressive.’’

Mr Grant said he tried to connect the study of Japanese not only to sport through martial arts, but also to numeracy, science, social sciences and art.

CULTURE CLASH: Stephen Grant (centre), head of St Philip’s Japanese Cultural Society, and Thomas Priest, 13, watching as Yash Gurram, 14, and Grace Kim, 14, demonstrate some of their martial arts training. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

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