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REMEMBERING A WARRIOR GRANDMASTER:
JAMES BONAR NOBLE, SENSEI,
DECEASED August 11, 2018.
- This is a very personal tribute. It’ll describe a special relationship that I had with Sensei Noble during the years 1978-88.
- I write with the kind of clear conscience that he taught me about. Furthermore, I write with the have-no-fear sense that he instilled in me. I write with the selfless attitude that he demonstrated in working with me individually, and as part of the broader Karate collective in Lusaka. That said,
- I write neither doing anybody a favour, nor expecting any favours from anybody. I write out of the sense of devotion he showered me with. The kind of devotion I have for, and have striven to show to my own Karate students, has been an attempt at replicating Sensei Noble’s Karate-Do spirit.
- I have not had any direct connection, at any level, with Sensei Noble since I left Zambia, in June 1988.
- Situations and events that are necessarily going to be mentioned in this piece are done so to the best extent my memory serves me. Any inaccuracies arising I apologize for in advance. Names of people mentioned are also done so with but only the best of intentions, and respect. If any inaccuracies arise here, or any insinuated malice is detected, they shall not have been intentional on my part. For that, I apologize in advance as well.
In 1986-88, my relationship with my fellow senior students of Sensei Stephen Chan is at rock bottom. We were the core group of the recently formed All Zambia Seidokan Karate Kobudo Renmei, headquartered at the University of Zambia (UNZA) Karate Club, in Lusaka. The issues were around mutual misunderstandings vis-à-vis organizational and club leadership roles. They were also around stylistic interpretations, and expressions of our new Karate style, Seidokan.
My biggest sin, though, was to decide to unilaterally take on Zimbabwean, Jimmy Mavenge, late, under my tutelage. I had trained the latter, and subsequently graded him to Sho (1st) Dan Black Belt in Seidokan Zambia Karate. The goal had been that he would, upon his return to his country, take Karate to the people, de-racializing the sport in the country in the process.
I was, inwardly, a devastated man during that time. One day, after briefing my mother about my difficulties with my Seidokan Zambia colleagues, she says, “Why don’t you leave these people, Buti? You cannot fight them alone; there is no need to. You can always form your own club, can’t you? Do that, for your own peace of mind, man!”
“Sure, ‘Ma, forming a new club is not a problem. But, you see, taking them individually, these people aren’t too much trouble, really; they are all driven by group power. However, I still have one person I think I can rely on. That is Sensei Noble. If I have him on my side, then, all these people can go to hell. However, should he side with them, then, I’ll quit.”
Jimmy Mavenge’s rebellious Black Belt grading took place during the middle of the second half of 1987, if I recall. The Seidokan Zambia Black Belts I had invited to witness the event weren’t, of course, willing to be part of the grading panel. That included Sensei Noble. They decided to take up positions on the mezzanine in the UNZA Sports Hall. So, I carried on solo.
In superb fitness state, his former guerrilla mutinous spirit tuned high, Jimmy ran through his gradings’ required routines like a possessed man. He passed with flying colours. Awarding him his diploma, I took my personal black belt off me and passed it onto him.
From the mezzanine, Sensei Noble exploded, throwing his arms up in the air in exasperation, “Did you see that? Did you see what he has just done? Now, it means we cannot annul this grading!”
Before he would turn and walk away, Sensei Nobles’ eyes and mine met ever so briefly. However, I didn’t see the intensity of negative emotion I had expected. His facial expression radiated a sense of wonder that I had seen many times at training with him before. At the same time, it was like he was saying, “Sorry, Semmy, but you are on your own now!”
And, I thought to myself, “Well, this is it, I’ve lost my trusted ally! But I ain’t quitting before my job is done. I owe it to Jimmy to help him make a smooth transition into Zimbabwe. And, I have to use the 1987/ 88 academic year to revamp the UNZA Karate Club (UKC).”
The club had almost collapsed following the squabbles of the senior Black Belts. At some point, only Jimmy and I would turn up for training. When he left for Zimbabwe, a few weeks after the gradings, I was left alone.
I do not recall if I ever did get to have a formal position in the then Zambia Karate Federation (ZKF) Board of Directors cabal. But I got to coach the Zambia Midlands Karate Team in 1986-88. That meant that, although the Zambia Seidokan deliberately excluded me from certain events, Sensei Noble and I would often meet in connection with our ZKF work. The Sensei was the active patron of the ZKF, then. In the ZKF domain, our relationship was as amicable as ever.
I shall take the writer’s prerogative and postulate that I have sat 10 000 miles with Sensei Noble in his car; all in ZKA related training and administration matters in Lusaka, and between Lusaka and Kitwe, in the Copperbelt Province. That would also include a trip to Harare, together with the Zambia National Karate Team, in 1981.
Sensei-Student bonding does not take place on the training floor. In the dojo, the Sensei and his students just want to kill each other, whilst, at the same time, the former’s job is to constantly remind the latter that “life is good, people. Love it, preserve it!”
Although I had no idea of it at that time, my Sensei-Student bonding with Sensei Noble took place in those 10 000 miles I’ve sat with him in his car.
“You have upset many people, Semmy. Stephen Chan Sensei is not happy with you at all. You have infringed upon Sensei Chiba’s territory. No good, no good at all, Semmy!” Sensei Noble said to me during one of our trips. This was sometime in early 1988, about six months after the Jimmy Mavenge gradings scandal. By then, I had already been to Harare to check on his progress.
I responded, “I’m well aware of that by now, Sensei. That withstanding, the work that Jimmy has already done since he got back home is amazing. It’s one of those occurrences that, to be believed, they have to be witnessed personally. I’m, now, even more convinced that we did the right thing.”
I went on to explain how Jimmy had started to train children and youth at Harare’s Mbare township, where the not so fortunate people lived. He had also started to teach Karate at an orphanage run by a close friend of his. All for free. On the other hand, Sensei Chiba ran a private dojo in the city centre, catering for the paying middle class, predominantly white. Efforts to reach out and pay a courtesy call to the senior Japanese sensei had been futile.
“Alright, Semmy Sensei, I will give you that one. But the others don’t know what you have just told me. We have to do something about this, then.”
I’m not quite sure now, but I have a vague recollection that, not long after I had left Zambia for Norway, Sensei Noble did drive out to Harare to check on Jimmy. On the trip, he had taken along one of my absolute meanest detractors. The rest is history.
While giving him the report on Jimmy, what I did not tell Sensei Noble was that my work with the former was, in a large measure, influenced by his off-the-mat teachings.
Sometime in the first half of 1979, tensions at our former Trinity Karate Club had become extreme. A point had been reached where either Sensei Noble or the bunch of new young lions Sensei had to go. If I recall, it was after the last training session that he would lead at the club, that he offered to drive me home to Chelston. The latter is nearly 20km on the opposite part of the city, in relation to his residence at the Andrews Motel, about the same distance away from the mentioned reference point
“You see, Semmy, everybody wants to lead. But people don’t realize that leadership is something you grow into. I’m really not sure if those guys are ready to lead the club. However, they want it, so they can have it. My conscience is clear, I have taught them only the best of Karate available in the country, if not all of Africa. If they now feel they know more than I do, fine by me. They’ll soon find out that real Karate is not found in books. Books guide. They don’t teach. Lasting knowledge is learned man-to-man,” Sensei Noble said.
He continued, “People don’t know that I have nothing to prove. I have no need to want to prove anything. Do these guys want me to break their bones to prove that I am stronger than them? Do they want me to jump and fly like a teenager to prove that I am a good Karateka? Rubbish, if you ask me!”
The Sensei was in his forties at this time.
With his left hand, pointing at his head, and tapping on his left side of the chest, Sensei Noble went on, “The point is, Semmy, I have it all in here. I can’t fly, and I have no desire to, so you know. But I can teach you how to fly. By the way, as from this coming Sunday, and subsequent ones, until further notice, I’ll be teaching special classes to interested Brown Belts and above. That’ll be at the Evelyn Hone College. We start at 9 o’clock. Feel free to join us.”
“Oh, thank you, Sensei, I’ll be there. Of course!”
“I know that public transport is a problem on Sundays. So, don’t worry, I’ll come and pick you up. And, do, please tell your parents that I’ll bring you back home safe afterwards, okay?”
“Yes, Sensei, thank you! You are very kind.”
“A sensei is like a father, Semmy. When you are good, he’ll be good to you. Always remember that!”
One year later, Trinity Karate Club was in such leadership crisis that it had to close down.
Indeed, my work with Jimmy was a well thought out venture. I did it with love. I believed in the man and the cause he pursued, in that regard. My conscience was clear: I had no pecuniary, nor power interests; I was simply doing what my heart told me was right; I believed I had acquired sufficient knowledge to empower Jimmy to shake up the then racist Zimbabwean Karate establishment, and it worked; although I felt no need to prove it, I knew that I was strong and skilful enough to give anybody a good fight should the situation degenerate to that level. I would have been just too happy to break an enemy’s bone or two, actually. All this I had learnt from Sensei Noble’s way of Karate.
I do not recall how long the Sunday morning training sessions lasted, but it was many, many Sundays. True to his word, Sensei Noble would come and pick me up from, and take me back home. No complaints. No demands. Just training. I used to find it strange that this man, who also taught children at the Lusaka International School on Saturdays, did not take even a Sunday off in order to be with his own children and wife.
More than twenty years later, Martin Rice, a very special, Sensei Noble’s younger protégé from Ireland, is visiting us in Norway. Naturally, we begin to talk about our experiences with the legend. I mention the Sunday sessions, and the lengths to which our grand Sensei went to accommodate me.
“But, Simon, on those Sundays, after dropping you off at your home, he would, then, come home to me for another two hours of private lessons!”
Sensei Noble’s devotion to the Zambian Karate community that he raised single-handedly, at least in the Midlands, up until the 1980s, has made a lasting impression on me. That he even had the extra capacity to work with the select few of us in the manner that he did touches the softest of my emotions to this day.
There has been a time I asked Sensei about his level of engagement in Karate. He replied, “Well, Semmy, funny that you should ask. You know, once the spirit of Karate gets into you, it consumes you. But, each time you see the good things Karate does for people, and, by extension, society, you can’t stop it. You can’t live Karate half way. You can’t teach Karate halfway. People will come and go. But you have to be there all the time. One day, a student of your calibre, Semmy, walks into the dojo, and you, then, know that there is no way you can let this talent down. And, so, you just give and give. It’s such a joy, Semmy. My family understands that Karate is an important part of my life.”
Back in Zimbabwe on a normal civil servant’s salary, Jimmy no longer had the kind of cash he used to have whilst on his diplomatic tour of duty in Lusaka. He couldn’t afford to pay for my visits to him. I visited him twice during the first half of 1988.
In his humorous way, Jimmy had a brilliant idea, “Shamwari Sensei, you mean after all these years together you haven’t learnt even just a bit of diplomacy from me? Soften yourself, be nice, go down on your knees and ask the Seidokan Zambia people to sponsor your trips here. We have already crossed the Zambezi, anyway, and Seidokan Zimbabwe is here to stay. So, they better work together with us now!”
I had already started to make my own money then, “No, no, no, Shamwari Sempai, Senseis sponsor themselves and their students, you see!”
Through working with Sensei Noble, I learned that a Sensei must be self-sufficient. A Sensei that depends on sponsorships and donations cannot do his work effectively.
On a drive from Kitwe to Lusaka, Sensei Noble is cruising at between 140-150km/ hr. A Mercedes Benz overtakes us like it was a bullet, and soon disappears from our sight up ahead. Perhaps 15 minutes later, we approach a road accident spot. The Merc had overturned. It had rolled several times, apparently. Totally wrecked.
“Yes, that’s what you get when you drive at a speed like that on roads like these, Semmy. Karate teaches us to always be aware of our surroundings in relation to the actions we wish to undertake. From that, we can calculate and predict likely outcomes. I knew that that car wouldn’t reach Lusaka, driving at that speed,” Sensei Noble spoke wryly as he drove past the accident scene. We would learn later that the driver of the Merc had died on the spot.
The grand Sensei has told me that when he first came to Zambia in the early 1950s, he had only the amount of pocket money a fresh university graduate from Scotland would have in those days. Not much. He landed somewhere in northern Zambia, somewhere around Lake Bangweulu, if I’m not mistaken. To pay for his hotel stay there, he offered to hunt game for the establishment. That’s how he started off in Zambia, a place he had come to with no intentions of living in permanently.
From that experience, he has said something like, “You see, Semmy, as you get older, and you start travelling the world, you’ll soon discover that there is more to you than who you think you are: your race, status, education, and the like. You’ll find that you get to places where none of that counts. So, in order to survive, you have to look for solutions in things that you never even knew about before. That’s how a Karate man’s mind works. Just like people fight differently, you can beat anybody with the same techniques, but adapting them to the kind of man attacking you. That’s how life is, the essence of you does not change, but your attitudes can, and have to, according to where you are, and the circumstances you find yourself in.”
I applied that Sensei Noble’s philosophy in Norway. Whilst in a place I was not supposed to be, for an act I was not supposed to commit, a colleague saw through me, “You Simon, I know your type. You are a survivor. Don’t tell me that you are a Massage Therapist because that’s a career path you had planned all along. I know you are good at what you do, but you chose to study Massage Therapy out of survival pragmatism needs, given your life circumstances in Norway. You are cut out for greater things, and I know you know that!”
Yes, Sir, I do. But until the greater things come my way, I’ll do what I gotta do to survive here and now, as per my Sensei Noble’s teachings.
Whilst in Harare with the 8-man Zambian National Karate Team, in 1981, I was singled out to join Sensei Noble as he joined two other Zimbabwean senior Black belts (whites) to tea at the home of a Japanese diplomat. I do not remember the name of the diplomat. Present were also the dreaded Sensei Chiba, and two other Japanese Judo Sensei. I was a not so sophisticated, little 20 year old schoolboy, then. But the grown up, senior Budo masters were real nice to me. I recall Sensei Chiba advising me to use whatever nature provides to train with, if I cannot go to the gym. “If you do not have a punch bag, there is always a tree to punch!” he said.
Driving back to our hotel, Sensei Noble said, “You were highly honoured today, Semmy. High-ranking Japanese don’t just invite any strangers into their homes.”
“Hoss, Sensei!” was all I could say.
An aspect that is not spoken much about is that, in his pioneering work of opening up possibilities and teaching black Zambians Karate from the late 1960s, Sensei Noble was, actually, treading on thin ice. That’s because, in my view, that was a time of numerous state coup d’états across the African tropics countries. White mercenaries, whom the media romanticised as Martial Arts experts, led many of these coups. “Mad Mike” Hoare is the first name that comes to mind here. A reliable source has disclosed to me that there were concerns that some of Sensei Noble’s Karate students could be enticed to join the lucrative (for those who don’t die!) mercenary bandwagon. So, relevant Zambian State Security organs closely watched him, and the whole lot of his prominent senior students.
I am sure that there are many others in the Zambian Karate fraternity who’d concur with me that Sensei James Bonar Noble gave us, individuals, and the collective much more than we could ever ask for. He, like other ordinary mortals, was not perfect. I, for one, am not in a position to cast any stones. Unfortunately, by the time the roses in my garden bloom in the spring, I’ll have relocated to another abode.
My heart felt condolences to the Noble family in Lusaka. The same applies to the Zambian Karate fraternity, if not the nation, for the coming to an end of a life of an illustrious service to the people through the Martial Arts. Many of Sensei Noble’s students and their own protégés continue to tread upon the selfless path of humility, giving, and devotion that he started. Their impact is felt across the cross-section of the Zambian society. Some are also forces to reckon with in various parts of the world.
Sensei James Bonar Noble may be gone, but he shall never be forgotten. His legacy is just too deeply engrained in the psyches of many of us. May his soul rest in eternal peace!
August 13, 2018
MOYA NKHABU: TRIBUTE TO A ROLE MODEL
Growing up in the old, subdued black South Africa, I could never see myself playing serious football in a formal club setting. From the point of view of personal drive, the game has never charmed me that way. I could never say whether or not my lack of success as a junior street football player was due to being untalented, or simply that my passion was never aroused strongly enough. I’m inclined to suspect the latter.
In the old, apartheid South Africa days, football talent groomed itself, and thrived on the township streets, and rural playing fields. It was raw, pure, and ecstatic. Paradoxically, it provided spaces for all the joys of a free childhood in a then tyrannical state. Moreover, my childhood street football reality provided escape from the attendant ills of poverty in many a black South African home: all round domestic violence, woman and child sexual abuse.
Like most South African township boy children, I imagine that the first expression of my active physical power, from the time I managed to stand up, balance, and walk, was probably to kick at something. I have been kicking for as long as I can remember. Ball control, reading the game, and stopping opponents from scoring against my street team were my forte.
Dribbling was never my inclination. But, I recall, even the very best of our dribblers during my street football active years, up to age 12 years old, knew well not to fool around with the ball around me. If I had any football talent at all, it shone brightest whenever we opted to play a rather rough version of the game. Often, if it’s genuine street culture, it has to be rough; it has to be tough, it has to break all the rules, like Rock & Roll.
Here, the object was not to score goals, but for the competing teams to incapacitate each other’s players until there was only one young man standing, with the ball. If the one team totally demolished the other, the winning team’s members went for one another, then. Thus, the last man standing outcome. It gave an unforgettable, ego-boosting adrenaline rush. Great, great fun, it was.
In this brutal game, we had to be subtle, but extremely effective. That was so that if any adults were watching us play, they wouldn’t understand that we were, actually, out to deliberately injure one another. A strict rule was “no ball, no attack”; meaning that we went for one another only to the extent that one side had ball possession. And, direct kicks to the legs above the ankle were not allowed.
The idea was to “slice”, or “chop” each other’s legs at the ankles, much like Karate players execute the devastating leg sweeping technique called “Ashi barai”. Serious injuries, necessitating hospitalization, often occurred here. I never got injured. Several casualties have pointed to me, though. In action, I can be light and quick on my feet. I developed this ability from this dangerous kind of football playing. I would, later, take the skill with me to Karate. Fifty years on, I’m still standing, rocking as if there’ll be no end to my rolling life. Truth is, I want to live forever. I am a dreamer, and so shall it be.
My street football career was much fun, whilst it lasted. It gave me lasting valuable life lessons, as well: street survival alertness (“Tsotsis”, violent street hustlers, didn’t play football!), and fierce competitive spirit, or killer instinct cultivation. Street football also afforded me the first real taste of leadership, going into puberty and subsequent young manhood. The leadership trial run would reward me with just as premier and unforgettable taste of the thrill of victory. That owing to the coaching my impromptu leadership role empowered me to do with my team, one day.
A team had challenged us from another part of our township, Thabong Location, Welkom. Our challengers were notorious for severely beating up their opponents when they, the former, lost matches. These guys were a little older than us, and they had some of their neighbourhood supporters following them everywhere they went. Our team, on the other hand, was, usually, an ad hoc affair. It spontaneously organized itself around whoever was available on our street, and wished to play, there and then.
Unfortunately, on the day of the challenge, whereas we had more than what we needed of potential players, no one wished to play. All were afraid of getting beaten up by the visitors, in the event of the latter’s loss against us. The problem was that the visitors were still going to be violent if we chose not to play. These guys, the challengers, were crazy: when they won, they still beat up the opponents, if only to teach the losers not mess with the bad guys! So, either way, we were in trouble. Catch 22.
I do not seem to recall what led to my team prodding me for a solution to the dilemma we were in. They even decided that I should be the team captain for the day. Because I had already started training boxing by then, a thought struck me that if I made my team believe we were strong as individuals and as a collective, we could win in such a way that the bad guys wouldn’t want to fight us afterwards.
How? Let’s wear them out, whilst we remain strong all the way, throughout the match. How? Let’s do what nobody else did at that time: do a pre-match, team spirit enhancing jogging and calisthenics session! It’s called warming-up these days. Doing that would also give us a psychological edge over the opponents. It worked like magic.
My team played with the intensity and unity of purpose that we had never thought were possible before. In my head, I still vividly see replays of the match to this day. Playing on what we, then, called the “12 hurra!” principle, we beat the bad guys 12-0. The loss, combined with my team’s upbeat, super confident mood, overwhelmed the bad guys so much that they left our zone running as if they had just seen snakes, or some scary monsters like that. Eventually transferred into Karate, I have enormously enjoyed sports leadership and coaching since. I’ve won, I’ve lost. I’ve been stupid, I’ve been wise. I’ve made friends, I’ve lost friends. I’m here. I live. I love.
Adult club football was a different ball game altogether. I enjoyed watching this, not so much for the thrill of the game, but out of the fascination I had for those players that stood out as the best in the game, regardless of position played. The fascination was about the aura these guys seemed to carry, both on and off the field. They seemed to be ever so strong and happy.
It’s always been a great fascination for me as to how men, and women these days, running after, and with a ball could, at the same time, induce so much euphoria amongst the spectators. Off the field, the super star players seemed to wield so much power that it appeared, for me then, as if they could be rulers of the world. That was despite the fact that I, at that time, I had no real clue as to how gigantic and complex the world really was. They had all the beautiful girls. Attendant hyper fornication scandals I didn’t care much about. Rock & Roll is what it is: you burn, you burn. If the highway to hell is short, let it be. I’ll talk to Mother Mary another time.
One of those super star players was Abel Nkhabu, a.k.a. Moya, or Mgeu, late, 2017. May his soul rest in peace. I first came to personally know, and look up to him in the years 1972-74. Looking back, I like to think that, actually, this man was my first real-life, non-family Super Hero. He seemed larger than life, and, yet, he could touch me, ask me about my wellbeing, and encourage me to be good at school always.
There were also some of Mgeu’s generation of original black South African football mega stars around. By status, they were bigger than him by far; they have remained so, and are, today, living legends in their own rights. I still look at them with awe; still getting that tingling sensation in my hands and feet I used to get at their sight, on and off the pitch, in my early teens.
These men, in various capacities at club and national association levels, continue to steer modern South African football. They are doing so with the same inspirational class I recall from the early 1970s. In them, I still see hope for this troubled land of my birth, South Africa. However, these men are still far away from my immediate spaces. They have yet to touch me like Mgeu did. A consolation, though, is that, in my eyes, they carry on his spirit, and that of numerous other giants of the pre-1994 South African football scene.
Much of my desire to defy and beat the odds in order to succeed in life, be a super star, and live forever, is owing to these men of wonder in the history and development of this land. There is more to football than just seemingly mad twenty-two men chasing a ball around a stupid rectangular space limiting their freedom to run away with it, the ball.
Inspired by the big and strong, unbeatable Hercules in the bioscope, I liked making leather wristbands for my friends, my lebandla, my street gang, and me. The finest I ever made was of some fine, thick, nicely patterned leather piece from one of my mother’s old handbags. Mgeu liked that wristband so much that he borrowed it for a while. He wore it on several big matches he played, with Welkom Real Hearts FC.
“Monna, dude, I, actually, feel stronger and more courageous when I’m wearing this band. And, you, know, the other thing is that people on the field get afraid of me, believing that the band is a fortifying juju gear. I like it very much!”
I refused Mgeu’s offer to buy the wristband. Of course, I was taken by the symbolic power effect it had on him. I wanted to have the power too. When he, eventually, gave the wristband back to me, he was overwhelmingly effusive. An ordinary older South African man would have bullied me and kept it, anyway. Mgeu’s return of the band permanently cemented the bond that we already had. Before that, no other adult man had ever shown me that kind of respect for my personal integrity. It was gratifying for me to find that there, in fact, were still some grown up men one could trust.
As first-born child in my family, I was raised to love, protect, and support my younger siblings, that as a matter of course. My general love for children and youth derives from my upbringing values. From the time I became aware of my sibling position and role in the family, fondness and caring for those younger than me, to beyond my home, was something one just did without question. It was something I never put much thought to, even.
My younger, and last-born sibling, Lucy Dintletse’s birth, in 1974, brought the real intensity of my love for children to my consciousness for the first time. Lucy’s affectionate family nickname is Sonono, often shortened to Sono. The very nearly nine years of her life would thrust the love to heights I have yet to fathom. MHSRIP.
I see Sono in every child of the world. Whenever I see children of the world suffer under mankind’s proclivity to wars in outrageously vain attempts to impose peace upon one another, her sweet face emerges above the misery I see; the pain, the hopelessness I feel. And, then, faith that, someday, we gonna be alright, is rekindled. Through every child whose life I touch wherever I am in the world at any one time, my steadfast hope and wish are that, one day, these children will grow up to be conduits of love and peace for all mankind.
Mgeu was one of the pioneering black professional football players in South Africa, in the early 1970s. He made a dashing and influential figure, to his grave. His entire life, he was fiercely anti-apartheid and black people’s oppression. From Mgeu, I learnt that a man could be big and strong as a super star, but he could still have time and energy to engage positively with children and youth. This has remained one of the key defining moments of my life.
Whereas my father remains the formidable force behind my formal dressing taste, my smart-casual dressing style has heavy Mgeu undertones. My father was laid to rest twenty years ago today, July 04, 2018. MHSRIP. I remember him with immense love with this article too: my father, the finest of gentlemen, my hero; the original Machona – (the) Emigrant, the traveller, the gypsy from the warriors of love mystics of my Tumbuka people, Eastern Province, Zambia. If you jump into Malawi, Tanzania, and, partly, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), you’ll land into the midst of the extended empire of my people.
The one quality I’ve not quite been able to grasp, though, is the phenomenal “Ladies’ Man” tag Mgeu proudly carried to the very end. If we meet up again on the other side, I should ask him for specific coaching on this one; assuming that there’ll still be ladies abundance when I arrive there. But then again, we might find that the ladies on the other side are more work than what I have down here on earth. Nnnahhh, we let this one pass.
In the presence of Mgeu, I’d always feel like a 12-14 year old boy, if not even younger. In the photo accompanying this piece, we are meeting up soon after I had arrived in Welkom, from Norway, Christmas time, 2006/7. You know that sweet, loving feeling you get when you are with your favourite uncle, I had it at the time the photo was being taken; I’m feeling it as I write this article, at this very moment. Thanks, football, for one of the most significant men in my life!
I was fortunate enough to have had a few good men to relate to during my formative years. Many of those that were not so nice to me never lived to see the close of the 1970s. Good riddance. A lot of these not-so-nice men were generally unkind to youngsters. It’s just as well that longevity was never to be their gig. Morons!
In my dealings with children and youth, I endeavour to be, at least, as good as those adult males that have, each in their own special ways, contributed to my being the mad energy bundle that I am, now as a fully grown adult myself. I have never been able to think of a better way to express my deep felt gratitude for the presence of good men in mine, and other children’s lives.
In the early 1970s, Mgeu, together with a host of other first generation of black professional football players were organized under the auspices of the then National Professional Soccer League (NPSL). In my forthcoming 6th book, 4th novel*, read how these transformed the lives of the black people of South Africa, at a time when the then South African apartheid regime was at its most venomous. The NPSL effect is played out around a particular family’s life in Thabong, Welkom. Watch this space for more information about the impending book release. Coming soon!
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
1993 I’m still not quite familiar with Norwegian winter sports personalities and Super Stars. A few names were already beginning to ring in my head though: Bjørn Dæhlie; I had asked Vegard Ulvang to sign an autograph for my ex’ son the other day. And another day as I’m running round Holmenkollen grounds I decide to do squat jumps up and down the steps forming part of the spectator sitting area. Not far from me there is a group of late-teenage-early-twenties boys I quickly understood were an organized sporting team of some kind. We were doing more or less the same strength and endurance fitness training routines. However, I was at least 10 years older than them and was working alone. An obviously non-compromising Coach pushed them real hard. I loved this. One of the boys seemed exceptionally fit as he was always the first to reach the highest level decided, and the first to come back to ground level, showing relatively less signs of fatigue than the rest of the group. I later learnt that was Johan Olav Koss. Killer instinct symbols in competition days, still doing it with class years later in civilian life in business and humanitarian ventures.
During the annual World Ski Championships at Holmenkollen that year I’m sitting at home watching the various events on TV. Without exception the cameras zoom onto the ski-flyers’ faces seconds before they begin the roll down. Although I had neither heard of, nor seen him before, there was something immediately distinctive about Espen Bredesen’s demeanour as his face filled the TV screen. I knew instantly, WINNER! And he won. Killer instinct in action!
Killing is unidirectional. It’s final. Death. Punktum. At the most primitive level I will define instinct is an inherent quality in living organisms to behave in certain specific and predictable ways in response to specific stimulus or a series of stimuli. In animals higher up the food chain, instinct can further be strategically trained and fine-tuned towards attainment of specific goals more effectively, and more efficiently. This is how champions are made. This is how leaders are formed; natural awareness of own killer instinct, its constant nurture and sustenance, keep rulers alive and on top of things a very long time.
Functionally, therefore, killer instinct is a state of mind; it’s an attitude. Killer instinct is a function and manifestation of a purposeful, deterministic, and change-oriented mind. As a defensive mechanism though, killer instinct can also be used to maintain the status quo. Wrongly applied for wrong motives, killer instinct can be a most destructive force. This is the making of losers, makers of dark human history. When you know it, you see it; killer instinct, for better or for worse, does have physiological aspects. It can merge fantasy and reality, creating a new unstoppable force to make things happen towards achievement of set goals, or realization of dreams and desires.
So, I had to stop this man. After enduring at least three days of bashing of my person as well as other African Black people by this White Black Man from England, fate would have it that we are drawn against each other in an open class fighting category. We were at a major pan-European Karate Championship in Greece many years ago. He stood head and shoulders above me, and was a heavy weight fighter. I stand at 1.6m, and I weighed 65kg at that time. He was not only big and strong, but he was very supple as well. Any experienced Karate fighter will acknowledge that a big man who can kick is a small man’s nightmare opponent; worse so if the giant is agile, and is good at reach advantage exploitation.
Soon as we squared off after the referee’s HAJIME! command the giant seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time; such that in no time at all he had scored two successive points with kicks to my head. I most certainly felt the hits, but never saw the kicks coming. I think this inflated his ego some more, confirming to himself his assumed superiority over my African Black people and I. He relaxed his guard, danced almost like a butterfly having fun; I woke up. And before he knew it I had equalized with two rapid punches to the body. In sudden death extra time we are both very tired, each aiming for the one deciding point.
I just had to win this fight for African Black people’s honour. At this thought I recall I felt like ceasing to dance. As I stopped, the giant seemed to be taken aback, and I knew I had him. Two images formed in my head simultaneously: A choo-choo train seemed to emerge from my body, moving at awesomely high speed straight onto the giant; at the same time the giant seemed to transform into a pulsating mountain in constant growth at every beat. As I saw the tail of the train I turned and twisted on my left leg to take off and glide onto the side of the mountain, landing with a right leg mawashi geri just under the heart. I heard the thump resonating in the indoor stadium, the referee yelled, YAME! The crowd went wild as I was declared winner; the mountain crumbled to the floor. My honour, my sense of pride and dignity were restored. Afterwards Jake and I became the best of friends. Later on in the evening at the official dinner we ate our fill, got ourselves thoroughly drunk on retsina and ouzo. During my sleep, all of Africa visited me and we danced all night long in joy and glory. We had killed an evil in man. Killer instinct can also save lost souls.
Tel.: +47 97000488/ +27 717454115
August 19, 2012