Health: Ker-pow! It's kateda power

Stressed out by urban living? Terrified of muggers? Kick back with kateda, the sport for the streetwise, coming to a gym near you.
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The Independent Culture
TO SURVIVE the urban jungle you have to kick back sometimes, which may explain why kateda - a non-contact type of self-defence - is setting the trend for streetwise fitness.

Going for the burn, grunting on the weights machine or staring at yourself in mirrors is not going to help you defend yourself on the street. Kateda will. But this is not just for macho types - it's a girl power thing, too, as 16-year-old Ebru Zincirkiran demonstrates. Ebru, from Islington, north London, is the world's youngest master of kateda. She also teaches the sport and is spearheading its popularity in the UK.

Kateda, a 3,000-year-old Indonesian discipline, offers self-protection for body and mind. While martial arts encourage fighting or sparring, kateda focuses on developing physical and mental stamina, using non-violent techniques. For white to black belt stages, students are not encouraged to come into contact with each other. It's perfect for wimps, and is suitable for all ages from eight upwards and all levels of fitness.

Physical exercises and "central power" - a special breathing and mind- concentration technique - may move mountains - or, failing that, break bricks, which Ebru does quite happily with her bare feet. Trainee instructors learn how to take punches, to test their reflexes.

Kateda teaches you how to avoid looking like a victim, to discourage attackers, offering detailed instructions on how to shout, walk, and hold your bag. For example, you are advised to concentrate on what is going on around you; walk with your back straight and head up; project an image of confidence; and hold your bag up in a strong position. If someone does confront you, you're supposed to shout "YOP!" (just try it; they'll probably run away).

"I never used to have much confidence or self-discipline," says Ebru. "Kateda has changed all that. It also helps with stress and concentration - I did the breathing exercises during my exams." Ten GCSEs later, it seems to have worked. And unlike many teenagers, Ebru doesn't drink, smoke, take drugs or eat junk food. She says: "Some of my friends think what I do is really uncool and that it is better to smoke, etc. But I am trying to set an example."

Kateda is also supposed to help poor posture, back pain, asthma, drug- dependency, weight loss, depression and PMT - but don't think you can go around punching people with your new-found skills, if you suffer from the latter.

I enjoyed my session of kateda, particularly as beating up a 16-year- old is not something you do every day. Despite being astonishingly pretty, Ebru is no "girly" girl. As I administered punches to her stomach, she kept urging me to hit harder, harder. She really seemed not to feel a thing.

Eva Hadjidemetri, a 40-year-old physiotherapist from Wembley in London, took up Kateda to protect herself. She says: "I've been attacked twice - I was mugged in South Kensington and beaten up at Oxford Circus Tube. Both incidents really took me by surprise and I didn't know what to do or how to escape. I have a 10-year-old daughter, and she is now learning kateda.

"My work is also very physical and I used to come home really tired. I work with patients who are sometimes demanding because they are in pain. But from doing kateda I have a lot more understanding and can handle stress. I have much more energy, and sleep better. I can now relax in a couple of minutes - through the breathing - whereas it used to take a couple of hours to unwind."

Kateda International, 15 Reade Walk, Willesden, London NW10 9ET. Tel: 0181-459 5210; e-mail Annual membership costs from pounds 15; classes from pounds 3.50 each


l Wear loose clothes

l Sit cross-legged, right leg over left, with a straight back

l Rest your hands on your knees

l Concentrate on a focal point in front of you for five to 30 minutes

l Breathe in through your nose for five seconds, while pulling in your stomach

l Then breathe out through your nose for five seconds

l Repeat this exercise 10 times. Now can you feel the power?