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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 … (Continued in the book: “MACHONA BLOGS – As I See It”. Order Simon Chilembo books on Amazon)
August 28, 2017
STEPHEN CHAN’S PIONEERING ROLE IN ZAMBIAN KARATE
Accomplishments and Impact in the Transformation of Martial Arts Culture
- This article is in response to a request by my friend and Martial Arts brother, Raymond Mbazima, Sensei, in June 2016, “Could you do a write-up of Professor Stephen Chan Sensei’s Pioneering Role in Zambia – in particular what he accomplished and his impact in the transformation of martial arts culture?”
- The article is an honest account of events as best as my memory serves me. I must apologize in advance for any inaccuracies, or misunderstandings that might arise. The names of the various people mentioned in the article are done so with but only respect and the fondest of memories. I’ll be failing if I didn’t acknowledge many of them as having helped mould the kind of man I am today, both inside and outside the dojo. None of them is directly responsible for my madness, though.
- Regarding the main subject of the article, Stephen Chan, the tone the article has taken is as it emerged from my heart, without fear or favour. That, in line with how my mind has interpreted the execution of his Martial Arts teacher and Godfather role towards me over the years; in four countries, Zambia, UK, Norway, and South Africa.
I have never felt that Stephen was compelled to work with me, neither have I ever felt that I was unduly expected to feel indebted to him for all that he has done for me. Therefore, I am under no obligation, I have no pressing need to aspire to sanctify, or flatter him. There is nothing egotistical to gain, nor intended to.
All this I shall summarize in Stephen’s own words in a correspondence pertaining to the article, “I do hope it is a lot more to do with mutual respect and camaraderie. I always pitched in with you on the floor – so we all suffered together.”
The article here initially covers the years 1981-85, a period of my first ever direct observation of Stephen’s physical presence, and martial arts work in Zambia. It will partially describe my personal experience of training and studying Karate with him as my Sensei at the UNZA Karate Club (UKC) in Lusaka. Little did I ever think then that thirty-five years on, the special student-master relationship would still be going strong; not only with me, but with many others of my generation the world over.
Following Stephen’s footsteps as a diverse collective spread across many parts of the world, the at least five generations of top-flight Karateka my contemporaries and I have produced continue to grow and benefit from his profound knowledge of, and love for the Martial Arts. Above all, perhaps, his broader love for, and service to humanity through his exemplary professional work and career continue to inspire many of us.
Secondly, the years 1986-88 are, in my opinion and personal experience, the period in which the relevance of Stephen’s impact on me would be tested to the limit. It would also test the unity and commonality of purpose in the then Seidokan Zambia core group he had developed at UKC.
Furthermore, this period would, by extension, define whether Stephen’s legacy in Zambian Karate would live on or not. I dare say that the modern Jindokai Zambia/ Zimbabwe family we have today can trace their roots to specifically that period. Had we at UKC failed to keep it together during those two years, the Zambian martial arts scene would have swallowed up Stephen Chan’s legacy for good, I am convinced.
It may be safe to say that Stephen’s work in the wider martial arts fraternity, within and outside the then Zambia Karate Federation (ZKF)’s framework, raised awareness of, and interest in the arts to unprecedented levels in the country. The man was, after all, the nearest living thing to Bruce Lee the people ever saw, came close to, touched, and spoke to.
Stephen made a striking presence on Television Zambia (TVZ)’s Sports Review shows, speaking, as Dennis Liwewe once said, “… fantabulous, beautiful English, indeed!”
The late Dennis Liwewe became a legend already in his own time as a passionate radio and TV sports commentator. If President Kaunda was Zambia’s football number one fan, Dennis Liwewe was in a class of his own as maestro supremo football commentator … (Continued in the book: “MACHONA BLOGS – As I See It”. Order Simon Chilembo books on Amazon)
Simon Chilembo, 6th Dan
Tel.: +47 92525032
June 16, 2016
FORWARD TO THE ROOTS
To mark my resumption of Karate teaching after a 2 ½ years’ semi-retirement, I take the liberty of reproducing an edited version of an interview I had with what are considered to be, in Karate terms, my Karate grandchildren in Zimbabwe. It is worth noting that my comeback is done in Welkom, the city of my birth in South Africa. This is where the adventure began.
BM: We are excited to be interviewing Simon Chilembo, Sensei, as a known pioneer of Seidokan back in the day. We hope to patch in some history that has been hazy, and we are grateful to people like Simon Sensei, who in many ways were responsible for linking Zimbabweans to Stephen Chan, Sensei, and responsible for shaping Jindokai as we know it today
1.BM. Sensei, many thanks for agreeing to this interview. We hope that we can go back with you in time. Please tell us how Sammy Chilembo was drawn to Martial Arts, and when this happened?
SC: I have always fought. First, as a smaller than average, sharp-tongued child protecting myself from others making my life difficult in various ways.
Second, defending myself as a mobbing victim, given my sudden growth in body weight and size from near pubescence to early teens.
Third, protecting my two siblings and myself against xenophobic and tribal inspired verbal and physical abuse arising from our father’s non-South African origin. There were also some direct responses to racial abuse and attacks in the then Apartheid South Africa.
I first started with Boxing from about age five. Christmas holidays 1971, in a street fight, I’m warned that someone was about to throw a stone at me from behind. I turn around to find, a few meters away, the boy raising his right arm to effect the throw.
Without thinking of it, I ran perhaps five steps and then flew on to the boy, kicking him with my right leg square in the face before he could throw the stone. Years later I’d understand that I had then performed something similar to a Tobi Yoko Geri.
Afterwards, people kept asking me where I trained Judo. I didn’t know what they were talking about; so I kept saying it was secret! It was during my ensuing investigations about Judo that I, a few months later, discovered James Bond. An older guy told me that Bond was a Karate expert, and there and then I knew I wanted to train Karate so as to be cool like Agent 007.
2.BM.Your first formal Karate, was this under Seidokan? When did you meet Chan Sensei?
SC: Although I now know that that the guy hadn’t gone very far in his Karate training then, I like to acknowledge Lefty as having been the first-ever person to give me a formal Karate training session sometime in 1972. Lefty was one of the few older guys really nice to me in our township in Welkom, South Africa.
He taught me Heisoku Dachi, Oyoi, Rei, and Hachi Dachi. Other than that I do not recall what exercises we did. But there sure was a lot of pain and sweat. And Lefty said one thing I never forget, “The most important thing in Karate is respect!” When I look back I think he could have meant “humility”.
I first met Chan Sensei in early 1981.
3.BM. How did Sedokan end up being such a force in Zambia, and later on Zimbabwe? Who introduced Seidokan in Zimbabwe?
SC: Regarding Zambia, my view is that at a very critical point in time we find at UNZA a spontaneous student convergence of the best and most promising Karateka in the country in the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. Then, at about the same time enters the scene an unusual Chinese Sensei Chan from New Zealand.
Sensei Chan’s style, approach, and attitude are like nothing we had ever seen before; very generous, very patient and tolerant, open, and inclusive, as well as innovative.
Sensei Chan subtly broke all rules of everything we thought we knew about fitness training, and all of the basics, kata, and kumite training. From this, we emerged with a new style of fighting, which was more mobile with more circular and spinning techniques, including takedowns.
At the same time we were all allowed to maintain and develop further our own individualities, such that it was difficult for opposing teams to find workable strategies against us who stood strong as a team, and yet performed so very differently individually. Respecting and developing further the uniqueness of the individual within the confines of certain specific techniques and methods has been a trait upheld since.
The late Jimmy Mavenge introduced Seidokan in Zimbabwe. Working then against very strong forces in Zambia, I facilitated this. When I heard that Zimbabwean Karate was represented in the World Championships 2012, I celebrated quietly, and thought, “You made it, Jimmy!” This is how it all started (excerpt from earlier correspondence to a friend):
[One Sunday morning early 1983, a BMW 5 series parks outside my home in Lusaka; and out comes the biggest and ugliest man I ever saw. Upon seeing me his face lit up brighter than the happiest baby face I ever saw… Although I had never met or heard of this man before, he spoke to me like we were like the oldest of friends (he had done some good research on me apparently). And, to be honest, Jimmy had enough charisma to kill the biggest elephant.
After introducing himself: Jimmy Mavenge, Green Belt holder, First Secretary at the Zim High Commission in Lusaka, on a 3 year tour of duty, he went on something like, “Zimbabwe Karate is polarized and racist. I want to change all that when I get back. Black people don’t go above Green Belt there; and I want to take Karate to the poorest of children in my country. You have to help me with this. I’m willing to pay you generously if you can give me a crash-training programme so I can return to Zimbabwe with a Black Belt. I am willing to work and train every day, I’ll do anything you want me to…!”
I remember my jaws sagging, my eyes bulging, with me saying a low key “Wowww…ohhhh…. ok, let’s do it!” I told him though that given the magnitude of the ambition, we had to this properly by engaging the then Zambia Seidokan…]
Unfortunately, we initially received neither understanding nor support from the others. Only because both Jimmy and I were both mad thickheads, we unilaterally went ahead with the project any way, getting a lot of battering along the way. Rest is history; speaks for itself.
4.BM. Taking you back in the day, who were some of the young men you trained with? You being a champion back in the day, who was your most difficult opponent?
SC: When it came to kumite I was my own toughest opponent because I was just too strong and temperamental. With a history of disqualifications and injuries both inflicted upon my opponents, with me getting my own share, I do not have an impressive competition kumite record. Kata was, and still is my thing. I must mention though that, in my opinion, Lemmy Ngambi (late) was the most formidable fighter we had in Zambia during my time … (Continued in the book: “MACHONA BLOGS – As I See It”. Order Simon Chilembo books on Amazon)
January 19, 2014