Fort Hare karatekas knuckle up for All-Africa Championships

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Some of the fighters representing University of Fort Hare at the All-Africa Championships in Cape Town this weekend are, back, shihan Stephen Martin, middle, Lelethu Dlaba, Bulungile Mfingwana, Nosipho Noelle Mlambo and, front, Nigel Raibva, Palesa Mabono and Peter Chrimuut. Photo: Supplied

The University of Fort Hare’s kyokushin karate team is knuckling up to make a name for themselves at the All-Africa Championships in Cape Town on Sunday. The Alice-based tertiary institution will send eight karatekas to the Mother City for the full-contact style tournament.

Shihan Stephen Martin said it meant a great deal for the team to compete in the biennial event because it exposed them to the top practitioners of the sport on the continent. Participants from South Africa will compete against teams from Uganda, Reunion, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe.

Martin explained that the competition was “open weight”, which meant fighters were mostly over 70kg, and that protective gear was not permitted.

Bouts are over three minutes with an additional two minutes if the fighters end level on points. If it still ends in a draw the participant with the lowest bodyweight is declared the winner.

He said the style, which means “the way of life”, was founded by Oyama Masutatsu in 1957, a 10th dan black belt at the time. At his death in 1994 he was succeeded by Shokie Matsui, the current chairman of the International Karate Organization (IKO).

“My Fort Hare students have excelled in most national and provincial tournaments in which they have competed and I’m confident that they will do well – especially our women,” said Martin.

With the lure of being selected for the 13th World Open Karate Championships in Tokyo, Japan, in October, he said his students had trained extensively for the African tournament.

Although they were relative “rookies” at that level, Martin explained that they had gained plenty of experience at other events from which they returned with good results.

According to the instructor, it was not only a chance for individual karatekas to shine but also an opportunity to put the kyokushin style at Fort Hare on the national map.

“The team’s objectives are to make a name for themselves and for the university.”

From the institution’s perspective, Martin said it would also be a good opportunity to see how tournaments of this magnitude were coordinated.

In terms of being competitive in Cape Town, he explained that the team had concentrated on getting through a lot of physical training, bag-work and sparring.

“Our mantra is to train hard to fight easily – that is the message we always give students when they feel too tired to keep pushing.”

He said kyokushin wasn’t for the weak-minded as it required a strong will, promoted discipline, pushed people to find additional reserves and, above all, placed an emphasis on using force as a last resort.

“Karate is much more than a sport – it is a life philosophy of wisdom, power and harmony with yourself and surrounding people.”