‘Eat, think and move healthy’ | Sunday Observer

‘Eat, think and move healthy’

Nanda Siriwardana (Pix: Chinthaka Kumarasinghe)
Nanda Siriwardana (Pix: Chinthaka Kumarasinghe)

I was greeted with a warm welcoming smile and “Oss! Oss! the term used in karate, by legendary yoga cum karate guru, the six footer with an upright masculine body, Nanda Siriwardana when he made time to speak to Sunday Pride in spite of his busy schedule.

“I was a Nalandian, who never took to a specific sport.We played all the time - running, climbing trees, swinging, swimming and with bat and ball, always on the move - doing what an active, healthy boy would do. We mingled with friends from all walks of life and helped each other. Learnt about society through experience, acquiring discipline from school and home. This background was the force that led me to karate and yoga,” reminisced Nanda.

Being good in Mathematics and wanting to further studies in the subject, he entered Palathota Vidyalaya, Kalutara to sit O/Ls a second time as results from Nalanda did not allow him to pursue his dream subject. As he did not qualify at A/Ls he abandoned the idea of a university education.

“That was the turning point of my life,”he said.“My childhood expectation of learning karate returned to my juvenile spirit.”

The first ever world recognized karate organisation had just arrived in Sri Lanka and a karate class was conducted by Masters D.A Welgama and Malcom Atapattuat at Borella.

He soon became the best student of the master duo and took part in the First World Open Karate Tournament in Tokyo, Japan in 1975 when he was 21 years old. “My opponent was a virile attacker with a heavy machismo. I was beaten, but gave him a good game to be enlisted among the best karate sportsmen who took part in the tournament. My karate postures taken at the game were carried in their annual magazine that year. The event is held every four years and I took part again in 1979.”

In the limelight

Nanda was in the limelight and was offered a full scholarship by the venerated Japanese karate maestro Sosai Mastutatsu Oyama to master the subject further at the training centre Young Lions Lair in Tokyo.

“ It was the toughest five-month training one could ever imagine.We had to get up at 5 o’clock in the freezing mornings, run miles and do arduous exercises before training. We were given only two minutes for a bath prior to breakfast which consisted a plate of white rice, raw egg and a salad made of bitter leaves. Ditto for dinner. Friday nights we dined with Master Oyama which were majestic feasts. The training enhanced our spirit.

With the blessing of his gurus Nanda started his classes at Maradana and then in Polonnaruwa on the request of his rich business classmates residing there in 1983.

Today he has classes in 13 locations operated by his best students under his supervision.“We have sent out students to 12 World Tournaments, 15 Asian Games and three Commonwealth Games.They have performed very well and brought pride to the country,” he said.

Karate was given a top place by President J.R. Jayewardene who had an ardent love for the game after he was exposed to it as Chief Guest of the Fifth Asian Karate Tournament held in Sri Lanka in 1983. There he met Oyama, and the duo were comrades till the demise of the karate master in 1994. “They had respect for each other. Master Oyama appointed President Jayewardene as the honourary consultant to his organisation and his picture was added in the annual Karate Calendar with other consultants–King Carlos of Spain, Prince Mohammad of Jordan, Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia and actor Sean Connery.”

Their pictures appeared on the top left of the calendar and Nanda ’s picture was with the group of the world’s Best Young Karate Men on the right, below.

President Jayewardene was fond of him and expected him to visit him. He missed these monthly routine meetings thrice and received a letter from the president asking for reasons.

“You haven’t visited me for sometime.” Young fellow, are you keeping fine? This prompted Nanda to drop in to President’s House right away.

Nanda was the Chief Karate Instructor, Sri Lanka Army under Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa from 1974 officially getting the appointment in 1980. Under his guidance, the Army Military Police won Sri Lanka’s first World Karate Cup in the tournament held at the Army Camp, Panagoda in 1983. He served the Army till 1995.


Nanda was born in Meethotamulla to T.A. Gilbert Siriwardana and Dona Leelawathie Kannangara on December 20,1954. His father was from Kalutara and mother from Benthara. “My father a government servant retired as Administrative Secretary to the Ministry of Justice. I was the youngest in the family. My three sisters studied at Gothami, and my two brothers and I at Nalanda,” he said.

“ My eldest brother, a retired lecturer is resident in France. The second was at CIC and is now retired. My sisters were teachers and are now retired.

“My parents are no more now. They were with me and my family throughout. My mother was 100 years old when she passed away. My father met with a road accident at 86 and passed away.”

Nanda studied yoga under Dr. Sri Kanth Abey in India who soon declared him his best student. After qualifying Nanda began conducting classes in Sri Lanka. Dr Abey has been making annual visits to Nanda and family for the past 15 years.

“Yoga has three main categories – Postures (Aasana), Breathing Techniques (Shawasana) and Therapy,” he said. “We divide the human body into two - Inner and Outer. We have to keep the outer body strong as it is similar to the bark of a tree that protects the stem (the inner part). Unlike other sports and exercises, yoga helps a human to renew, repair and rejuvenate. If one has an ailment, we ask him to get a doctor’s advice to make sure of the exact place he needs therapy. Yoga exercises, postures and therapy result in a healthy and long life,” he promises.

Yoga helped Prince Siddhartha develop mental endurance; the postures he used for practicing meditation were Padmasana, Vajrasana and Sukhasana. In his preaching the Buddha had advised his disciples to maintain and be mindful in all four postures-standing, walking, sitting and sleeping If one gets body aches and pains in his movements how can he maintain Sathiya (consciousness) and meditate? Yoga could be used as a huge supportive method,” he said.

He recommends that every person, especially young men learn self defense and suggests every girl and boy after OL’s practices yoga for mental power and self discipline.

“Buddhist priests in countries like China, Japan, Vietnam, Burma and Thailand practice a few simple yoga postures every morning before their meditation sessions. This helps them to maintain better blood circulation, hormones and enzymes and muscle toning. I’ve taught yoga to a few Sri Lankan and foreign priests free of charge as a meritorious deed and would happy if I get a chance to spread it more among the temples and Aranyas as it will help their well being,” he said

The Crème de la Crème among his students include Gotabhaya, Mahinda, Shiranthi and Namal Rajapaksa and Lalith Weerathunga.

“I don’t have certificates and I don’t issue certificates to my students. My teachers and I impart the authentic expert standards of our gurus which decide the standard and quality of the disciple,” he said. He has trained some 400,000 karate students and 100,000 yogi disciples to date. Nanda’s wife Lekha was his karate student. “My parents always supported my career, but when it came to marriage, horoscopes had to match. My earlier choices were declined, but Lekha’s horoscope tallied with mine ninety nine percent. I reap the result of taking my parents’ advice. Lekha should get the credit for my success, for the support, love and care she has given me, our children and my late parents,” he beamed.

The couple is blessed with daughter - Miyulangi, son – Uvin and son-in-law Asanka Wimalarathne. “The three of them are among my best students. My most adorable student is Siddhani, my 4-year-old grand daughter,” he said giving a warm hug to the little girl, the promising karate-yoga champion.

“Don’t expect your children to look after you when you are old and feeble. While fulfilling your duties lead a healthy life. Prepare yourself for death. Eat, think and move healthy; not letting stress weaken your body and soul,” he advised.