Smith College Admission Academics Student Life About Smith news Offices
Five College Calendar
Smith eDigest
Submit an Idea
News Archive
News Publications
Planning an Event
Contact Us
News & Events
By Eric Sean Weld   Date: 8/10/09 Bookmark and Share

Karate Plays Central Role in Life of Faculty Artist

To Paola Ferrario, the Harnish Visiting Artist at Smith, her two passions of photography and karate have more in common than might seem obvious.

Paola Ferrario (right) with her Team USA members, Lorri Leach (left) and Linda Crimmons.

Both disciplines require a careful, meditative approach to achieve mastery. Both culminate, in her case, in public display of her practice. Most importantly, both pastimes combine technique with art, a fusion of left-brain pragmatism with right-brain intuition.

It is the last point that Ferrario, who teaches photography and digital media, most emphasizes as she devotes a balance of her time and energy to refining her skills as a photographer and teacher, and as a second-degree black belt karate student, master and competitor.

Ferrario put her skills to the test recently as a competitor on Team USA, which competed in the 10th annual Shotokan Karate-do International Federation (SKIF) World Karate tournament July 21 through 26 in Athens, Greece.

Ferrario, 46, competed in the Individual Kata Women (45-49 years) category, placing 6th out of 18 competitors. Kata is a competition that judges individual competitors in performing a series of “forms,” or karate positions. It does not involve fighting matches as in other competitions.

“When they called my name for the final competition, it was a complete surprise,” said Ferrario, who recently returned to campus. Though the tournament finals were held a day earlier than scheduled, catching Ferrario mentally unprepared, “I felt good about my performance,” she said.

Off the Streets

Since age 11, karate has played an important part in Ferrario’s life. Growing up in the village of Rho, Italy (near Milano), she often played in the streets and got into scrapes and trouble with other children in town. Karate provided her with a healthy outlet that allowed a release of youthful aggression, she said.

Also, she has always wrestled with a natural tendency toward distraction, she said. “Karate allows me to focus and extend my span of concentration” due to its rhythmic movement, its meditative, focused demand and balance of left-brain and right-brain skills.

Ferrario earned her black belt at age 19, but was injured shortly after. She then obtained her undergraduate and graduate degrees in art. After traveling in the United States and Central America and Italy for much of the 1990s, building her photography portfolio, she returned to her home country in 2003 and resumed her karate training at the gym in which she originally learned the martial art.

The following year, Ferrario received a Guggenheim Fellowship to develop a project on new immigrants in Italy, and remained there to train for karate competition while producing a documentary.

These days, Ferrario drives to Longmeadow, Mass., three times a week to train with Sensei James Shea, in a class with seven other high-level students.

Though her passions of photography and karate require different disciplinary approaches, there are occasions when Ferrario can combine both pursuits.

At the recent SKIF tournament, for example, during down hours, she shot photographs and video of other competitors and the surroundings, and she plans to produce a video depicting competitors’ training regimens in unusual places, such as the upper reaches of the bleachers.

Because of its emphasis on spirituality, technique and physicality, karate is not a discipline only for the young, Ferrario points out. “The philosophy of karate is not only a sport, but an art,” she said. “So you continue to get better as you age.”

Next year, Ferrario plans to compete in the Pan-American Cup games. In her mid-40s, she says, she is at her peak.



DirectoryCalendarCampus MapVirtual TourContact UsSite A-Z