Meeting the man at his school one Friday night, it feels as if we have entered a secret underground fight club—privy only to the most serious of learners and fighters. The ceiling is low, and the fluorescent lights give the space a grungy, no-frills vibe.
One must never forget their eyes in karate.
A mantra he drills into newbies when they take to the mat, he says that the right visual focus is the foundation of posture and balance.
In a corner, we see a portrait of his teacher, Mas Oyama, and learn that he is the reason Peter travelled to Japan at 23. Leaving his family behind in Singapore, he voyaged by sea to learn from Oyama, the founder of Kyokoshin Karate, the only full-contact karate.
I think I was crazy. I was already married and had my son, James. But I knew I had to go when I was accepted by Mas Oyama. Because anything you love, you never give up.
And never has he given up. Behind those black-framed glasses, his steely gaze reveals a passion and determination that continues to burns strong.
At 77, the seasoned practitioner is still highly sought after for his skills. Besides teaching classes once a week, judging at competitions, and occasionally travelling to Asian countries to teach, he also trains senior Gurkhas—Nepalese soldiers who are known as some of the world’s toughest fighters— once a week at their Upper Aljunied camp.
As the class commences, we see Peter standing in a circle with the students, with their eyes closed. This, he says, helps them quieten their minds and focus on the training they are about to embark on.
Karate, to me, is a way of life. You have to know what is right and wrong. And do the right thing.
And doing the right thing has been a motto that has stayed with him since he was a boy living in a kampong. Recalling how fights would often break out and he would get bullied as a kid, his earliest memory of self-defence was using durian shells to scare the bullies away. It was also then that he resolved that no one should bully another person, and began his journey in martial arts.
When one begins to learn karate, training the gaze is very important. By looking ahead at eye level, and not at the floor, one ensures his body is upright, opening the chest up for breathing.
We stand by the side lines to observe as he guides a class in free sparring, which involves full-contact kicking and punching.
By focusing on the area between the opponent’s chest and his eyes, you can see, in your peripheral vision, the whole of him.
Spoken like a true master, these words of wisdom did not come without their share of blood, sweat and tears.
Describing the first few months in Japan as “hell’, it was there that he got a “true taste of karate”. And this meant enduring lots of kicking and punching. Trainings were held twice a day, for six days a week, where his body would ache for days on end. He even wound up in hospital twice, once for a twisted ankle and once for a punch to his right eye—which till today, is weaker than his left eye.
Ever since he injured his right eye, he had no choice but to rely more on his sense of hearing during karate. Both are equally important and complement each other, he emphasises.
And for as long as his senses hold up and his body is able, he intends to continue passing his knowledge and skills on to as many people.
Just as we were about to leave, we met his son, James, who graciously shared a bunch of his father’s old photos with us, preciously contained in albums that were on the brink of falling apart. Accompanied by charming handwritten captions like “breaking stones by river”, the pictures feel like scenes out of an old martial arts movie.
Asked what he admires most about his dad, James says it’s his sense of integrity in upholding his promise to his master, which is to spread the art.
“一日为师，终身为父 (teacher for a day, father for life)”, he explained.
We nodded, filled with a newfound sense of respect and awe for the grand master.
Our seniors lead more colourful lives than you think.
But some may need a little more help.
Let their silver years continue to shine by helping to reduce the out-of-pocket expenses of their seeing, hearing and eating aids.