REMEMBERING A SENIOR WARRIOR:
It is almost two weeks since Svein Sørlie died on Tuesday, August 15, 2017 in Norway. He shall be buried on Tuesday, August 29, 2017. I believe that wherever his soul is in the grander universe, it is thriving in the best conditions of the afterlife; resting in peace, hopefully. There is no rest for the hearts of gold. Gold is forever; larger than life. Such was Svein Sørlie as I knew him, feeling as if it had been all my life.
Svein Sørlie: my student, my friend, my mentor, my protector. In time, he grew to represent a formidable father figure for me as I strove to curve a space of my own in a land that is not of my forefathers, Norway. With his death, it feels like a large chunk of Norway has just been ripped off my heart. The hurt I feel is profound.
I have known Svein, since March, 1989. During much of this time, I’ve watched with awe how he would ever so elegantly balance, sometimes in one and the same space, the role of a father, grandfather, brother, uncle, lover, in-law, friend, teacher, student, colleague, citizen, and community member. I could never get enough of the warmth and love that, on the one hand, Svein exuded, and received, on the other.
It did not matter whether we were in Norway, or travelling in Greece or the UK; he was ever so easy to get along with. I guess it had to do with the aura of humility and compassion he radiated, long before he would open his mouth to greet people, and introduce himself to strangers.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall; dojo, camping, competitions, seminars, party, home, city centre, beach, everywhere: Svein Sørlie was the ever green, the ever wonderful. An IT expert, a former naval officer, and Judo adept, he was a knowledgeable and wise man; a man of the world. His terrific sense of humour made it a joy to talk with him about many subjects of common interest, any time.
On Wednesday, March 29, 1989, Anne-Britt Nilsen helped me arrange and host a public meeting to introduce Karate in the local community of Blåbærstien, Nesoddtangen. I was accompanied by my first ever Norwegian Karate student, Knut Arild Midtbø, who I had already started to train in Oslo since October, 1988. He would translate my message, since I hardly spoke a word of Norwegian, then.
In a packed, rather small community hall, the reception we received was mixture of curiosity, enthusiasm, scepticism, and outright hostility. During an altercation between my assistant, Knut, and a man who was totally against our mission in his neighbourhood, my eyes fell on a bespectacled older man. A little girl was sitting and playing at his feet. As our eyes met, the man gave me a gentle, reassuring smile; I thought the look on his face told me something like, “Never mind him!”
The friendly man was Svein Sørlie, and the little girl was his youngest child and daughter, Toril. For the next ten years or so, the Svein-Toril family duo would be the heart-beat of Blåbærstien Karate Klubb, now Nesodden Karateklubb. It was such that at a time when I had to make one of the most decisive choices in my life, I weighed my options against, amongst others, the joint pillar of strength Svein and Toril jointly represented for me in the club, if not the country Norway.
When I, sometime in October, 1991, received a deportation letter ordering me to leave Norway by November 11, 1991, I showed it to all my key people at the club, my school (then BI Sandvika), and my social network in Oslo. The reason for my deportation was that I no longer had access to the Norwegian State Educational Loan funds for the sponsorship of my continued studies at BI. We were all shocked, and, for a while, didn’t know what to do. This was unchartered waters for all of us.
Although I was prepared to leave, I didn’t know where to go: for political reasons I could neither return to South Africa nor Zambia. However, Svein came up to me, one day, and whispered, “But, Simon, you know, you cannot go away. The children will be very disappointed, you know!”
By that time, Toril and Erlend Dresskell were both about ten years old. They had recently acquired peewee Brown Belt status. I had forgotten that, when they first started training two years earlier, I had said to them that it took three to four years to get to Black Belt level. That assumed that one worked very hard, training at the dojo at least three times a week throughout the year. A lot more training had to be done privately also.
Being the sharp and ambitious kids they were, and still are, they had already figured it out that, if they had started to train Karate in 1989, then, they could have a shot at the Black Belt gradings in 1992 or 1993. They wanted it in 1992, of course! There was no way I could go away, then. Svein was right.
1992 came and went. Norway got the first under-twelve Karate Black Belts in Toril Sørlie and Erlend Dresskell, setting a trend. Their big brother, Mattias Jahr, and Big Daddy Svein had also graded for their junior and senior 1st Dan Black Belts, respectively. I had then kept my word, and the children had deservedly received their accolades. Now I could leave Norway, yes? I felt I had to, because the authorities were still not deciding whether to let my appeal to stay in Norway pass or fail. I was so fed up, then, it no longer mattered where I would go to after leaving the country.
In the meantime, I had fallen in love with a sweet girl called Birgit Lunden. Birgit has a son, Ludvik Møystad. Ludvik and I had already become the best of friends, of course; and, he had started to train Karate with me in my other club in Oslo.
Another day, Svein pulled me aside again, “Simon, you know, you have a family in Norway now. Erlend and Toril are still too young to leave alone with their children’s Black Belts. And you have said they will convert to adult grades when they are sixteen years old. That is, maybe, five years more. So, you see, you cannot go away for a long time now, you know!”
That is how I came to extend my stay in Norway, until I would, eventually, become a citizen ten years later – all for love and Svein Sørlie’s Karate kids: Toril, Erlend, Ludvik, and many others of their time. There are also hundreds of others who have since followed their footsteps in my Nesodden and Oslo Karate schools. The rest is history. Being Svein Sørlie’s fellow countryman felt, and still feels like the most natural thing. It is an honour and privilege to have him as one of my references as “The Best of Norway!” example of a real fine gentleman.
Through Toril, I extend my deep-felt condolences to the family, and Norway, on their loss. Thank you all for all the love and care you have shown me all these years. There is so much of Svein in all of you. His spirit lives in you, I know. I hope to see you all when I am back in Oslo in the coming months.
I want to especially thank Svein for having brought Toril into my life, and allowed me the pleasure of seeing her grow up as an absolutely top class Karate Kid Super Star of mine. On and off the floor, Toril has given me some of the most memorable experiences of Sensei-student relationship in all of my forty-plus Karate practice and teaching years. As a friend, she has remained supportive and loyal throughout. I shall remain eternally grateful for both Svein and Toril as an indelible part of my life story in Norway.
About Toril, Svein has said to me once, “You know, Simon, soon after Toril was born, she was brought into my arms. Our eyes met and locked immediately. We remained in that position, in silence, for what seemed like a very long time. Then, she yelled and cried as if into my face. At that moment, I knew that I was going to be together with her for the rest of my life.”
Svein continued, with a chuckle and a twinkle in his eyes, “And, you know, Simon, Toril has been yelling since then. Everyday! You are a good teacher for her. Thank you for that!”
If ever I become a father to a baby girl, I know I’ll aspire to be like the good father that Svein was to Toril; not forgetting her siblings, Svein (Jr), Ann Karin, and Tim Kristian. In that regard, I saw, in Svein, a lot of my own father, Mr ELW Chilembo, also late. The mutual love, respect, and admiration may not have been accidental, therefore.
August 28, 2017