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PERSONAL: All about Karate, but Karate was not what it was all about.


This post has got nothing to do with technology, but it has everything to do with the children we work with every day.

This past weekend my son participated in the Japanese Karate Association’s SA Championships in Johannesburg, as a member of the Western Province team. He has a purple belt, and he achieved a bronze medal in his age group for Kata, and a silver medal for his Kumite. He was hoping for a Gold medal (he has already promised his Sensei, Debbie Evans, that he will be back for double Gold next year), but he has learnt that as he gets older and progresses to higher belts, the competition gets tougher and more challenging. As his parents, his Dad and I could not be prouder. It was an intense weekend of karate, with excellent results for the WP team and our dojo, Blaauwberg JKA Karate, in particular.


However, yesterday, at the conclusion of the tournament, it struck me that Karate was certainly not all that this weekend had been about. It was about so much more.

It was about seeing a profoundly disabled wheelchair-bound member of the Western Province team, a member of our dojo, participate and win a Gold medal; experiencing the moment as all our children, young and old stood, and shouted his name and cheered him on; witnessing the incredible love of his brother as he embraced him and kissed him on his forehead, celebrating his medal and so much more – celebrating life! It was the shedding of tears of happiness and the sobering thoughts of how we take life for granted.


Ryan proudly showing off his medal. Photo credit: Shane McConnachie (brother).

It was about the interaction between older, more experienced karateka (teenagers) with the young and inexperienced newbies (some as young as six), holding their hands as they led them down into the stadium for their events. It was about the whispered words of encouragement on the floor and the looks of guidance as the little ones sought reassurance. Their patience seemed infinite. It was about folded hands and prayers said at the beginning of each round, not for the win, but to be the best that they could be. These were poignant moments.

It was about the loud shouts of encouragement from the stands down to the team mates participating below; the loud applause when a team-mate won a round; the ecstatic cheers for a win and rounds of congratulations when a team member returned to the stands with medals; the words of encouragement and sympathy, embraces and hugs when the results weren’t as favourable.

It was about the selfless behaviour of a much-loved and respected team member, himself only sixteen years old, who stood between two floors, toggling between encouraging and coaching a team-mate who was engaged in a particularly difficult kumite final, and participating in his own competition on the adjacent floor.

It was about that same young man being knocked out of his own competition in a somewhat questionable manner, yet rising above it with an amazing attitude to encourage his team mates to persevere and push through as they qualified for the All African Cup in September.

It was about the anguish of a young girl who faced huge disappointment when she did not achieve the Gold medal she was hoping for, and truly deserved; the tears she shed and the strength of character she showed in going back down onto the floor, pulling herself together and showing steely determination as she qualified for the All African Cup. What a comeback!

It was about the patience shown for a keen, (over-) enthusiastic 12-year old who wanted to help, to be involved, to feel important; the tolerance for his exuberant nature and for including him as a member of the support team and for “creating” a job for him which kept him busy throughout the long 12-hour day. That boy was my son, and he almost enjoyed the second day more than his competition day because he felt important, he felt appreciated and he felt that he had made a valuable contribution to the team. This will stay with him for a long time.

So, while it was Karate that brought us all together, it was so much more than Karate that determined the success of the weekend. Life lessons were learnt, life skills were entrenched. These are skills children should be learning, should be exposed to. Sport offers this for our children and is the exact reason why children should participate in sport.

It is not about the medals, it is about life. See the bigger picture.