Hirudini Dassanayake - The versatile karateka
By Vimukthi Adithya
A little girl of ten was getting ready for her first ever Karate tournament in 2011, but before that she had to participate in a Dhamma school competition. She rushed to the location where the Karate competition was held as soon as she finished. The clock was ticking and the kid had to change from that calm Dhamma school costume to her fighting outfit while travelling in the car. She was late, her event had started and she was up on the stage in a jiffy to perform her kata.
She was in a hurry and nervous; she forgot to remove her earrings, which were prohibited while engaging in Karate. The kid went about performing her Kata and was selected to feature in the best eight. It was a hectic experience for a young girl, but she swept aside her fatigue and rose up to the challenge, showing a glimpse of how strong a woman she would become.
Born on 6 February 2001 in Colombo to Nishantha and Upamalika Dassanayake, Hirudini received unconditional love from her parents and relatives as she was an only child. Her father is an Environmental Officer attached to the Central Environmental Authority and Mother is a teacher.
When her parents moved to Kandy, she was enrolled at Girls’ High School from grade one until she ended her decorated schooling career. Since everyone at school had to engage in a sport, little Hirudini decided to engage in chess from grade one to three, but she was never serious about the sport. How she ended up playing Karate is a wonderful story of chance.
Her school did not offer Karate as a sport to the girls, but a small Karate show was included in their drill display. Sensei Rohitha Senevirathne was given the responsibility of training the girls and Hirudini participated in it. Hirudini had never done Karate before, but the way she practiced and went about the act was enough to grab the attention of Sensei Rohitha, who immediately requested her to join the sport. That small act impressed him and the Sensei had to convince her parents to send Hirudini for practice.
Hirudini was in grade four when she decided to learn the roots of Karate and would have never expected to create a legacy of her own. Karate was her passion and she enjoyed the effort put into it. “My very first Karate tournament was a Provincial tournament where I participated after having to do a Dhamma School competition in the morning.
I did not have any experience but I decided to observe all the games and gained a lot of knowledge on how to improve my skills. I really wanted to learn the roots of it and wanted to excel in what I do. I was ready to come stronger next year. In the 2012 Provincial tournament I was able to grab a Gold medal in the kata event in my age category, which helped me to attend the All Island Karate Championship, where I was able to win a Silver medal.” Hirudini recalled her entry to Karate.
Winning motivated the kid and she only wanted to grow stronger every single day. She was dedicated to what she was doing and was lucky enough to have a coach who was as dedicated as her. When her school decided to start Karate, Hirudini was among the first batch of girls to join. Her true dedication was proved when she attended Karate classes thrice weekly; one day at school and the other two as personal training. She would wake up early morning to be at training by 5.00 in the morning, and trained for two hours before going to attend her class work, and would stay back in the afternoon to engage in practices.
2015 was a dream year for the teenager. She came first in the Sri Lanka School Karate Championship, first in the AllIsland School Games, and also clinched first place in the Sri Lanka Karate Do Federation Karate Championship. She was also able to book a ticket to Malaysia to attend the Mayor's Cup Karate Championship and received a Bronze medal for the team Kumite event.
Hirudini made sure to carry forward her brilliant performance in 2015 to 2016, where this black belt was once again able to win first place at the National Karate Championship. The same year she participated at the South Asia Karate Championship held in India and made the motherland proud by winning a Gold for the under-15 female Kata event.
She continued her dominance and at all-island level she was able to win 3rd place in 2017, 2nd place in 2018, and 2nd place in 2019, while in the Karate Do Federation National Karate Championship, she was able to win first place in 2016, 2nd place in 2017 and once again a Gold medal in 2018 for Kata. In 2018 she represented Sri Lanka at the 9th Commonwealth Karate Championship held in South Africa.
Even though she was unable to obtain a medal, the experience she gained was invaluable. This was in addition to obtaining school, zonal and provincial colours. The same year she was adjudged the under-16 age group all-island best player. The girl was a perfect allrounder, and she proved this in 2019.
Her O/L results were 9 ‘A’ passes, and the exams were held the same year she won the All-island Karate Championship for her age category. So, her achievements were truly remarkable. The 9 ‘A’ passes saw her winning the school prize for best academic excellence. In her last couple of years in school, Hirudini studied in the Bio stream for her advanced levels, but the teenager never gave up on Karate and other extracurricular activities. She was made the Karate captain of the school in 2019 and 2020, and she was also made the Head Prefect in 2019/ 2020. The girl was also the captain of her House, Eaton.
She was the debating Captain of the School, and was a member of the school Drama Team. Without doubt, she was multi-talented. From wearing her karate uniform to performances that won medals, to dramatic performances on stage that won places at the allisland level, to debates with opposing schools that won the best performance award at debating competitions, to participating and winning medals at all-island English language competitions with her writing skills, her talents are versatile. Her brilliance was exemplified again when she obtained 3 ‘A’ passes for her advanced levels in 2020. She obtained a District rank of 12, and an island rank of 204.
“My opinion is that no sport will hinder your academics; it sharpens all the good qualities a human has. When engaging in Kata, you have to perform alone in front of others. First, you will have to be confident in yourself and admire yourself before going out onto the floor. Karate gave me confidence. Karate is like meditation. When you perform a Kata, you need to concentrate fully on the act. Being engaged in Karate, it helped me to improve my concentration and endurance.
Sports also brought out my leadership skills. Since I was Karate captain, it taught me how to work in a team with good cooperation while understanding others and achieving collective goals. The sport definitely was a plus point for my academics. The time that I had to allocate for studies was limited since I was engaged in Karate wholeheartedly.
I loved my sport the same way I loved my studies, so I never wanted to give up on anything. The only way to excel in both was by having a proper plan. I divided my time and planned out when I should concentrate more on studies and when I should be more concerned about the sport. I am proudly the person who I am today because of the impact sports had on me,” said Hirudini, touching on how sport has added value to personality. Hirudini did not have a role model.
She had a lot of seniors in school that she could look up to, learn and be influenced by while respecting them, but she did not follow anyone as she believed every person is unique in their own way. “My parents knew from the beginning that I am someone who would get bored if I had to focus on only one thing.
From grade one, they encouraged me to carry out extracurricular activities with studies. They encouraged me and gave me the freedom to choose what I wanted. They provided guidance and advice, and when I made a decision, they supported my choices instead of planning out my life for me. My advice to other parents; identify the talents and capabilities of your child and be aware that everyone is unique in their own way. Parents should understand that extracurricular activities do not hinder studies as this is a choice the child makes. Explaining to them the advantages of balancing out both will help a lot.
Try not to make the child only focus on studies and this will have a very negative impact on the child. Always understand the child first and let them grow. The advice to kids is that they should be aware that sports will sharpen their personality and to engage in what they love with pure dedication.” Hirudini didn't forget to share her wisdom with parents and kids.
Hirudini, the 20-year-old youth with a wealth of experience and maturity, is in need of a break as she has finished her Advanced Levels and awaiting local University admission. She is looking forward to busy days after she resumes her studies and Karate. Finally, she wanted to thank her parents, Principal of Kandy Girls High School M. A. Abeygunasekara, Deputy Principals, Assistant Principals, former Prefect of Games Priyani Dissanayake, all teachers, and especially her karate coach Sensei Rohitha Senevirathne