The cell-phone rang from South Africa, it was Sensei Moola the national judo coach telling us here in Kitwe, Zambia that our Judoka Joshua Kanyemba had just won the bronze medal for Zambia in the 60kg youth category in South Africa, in the adult category. Everybody in the copper mining town of Kitwe was overjoyed. The unbelievable had been accomplished. Who would have thought the little 17 year old 1st kyu brown belt Zambian youngster could have won, against tremendous odds. He was part of the 7 member Zambian national judo team who was picked to represent Zambia against Africa’s best of the best below the equator. Many of the team members representing their countries had just returned from the World Judo Championships held in Tokyo. Out of our 7 national team members sent to South Africa, 3 women and 4 men, all came back with 1 gold 2 silver and 4 bronze medals. Making our little unknown nation very proud of them. They were shown on our national television and were in all our national newspapers and on the radio. Let me share with you the story of Joshua Kanyemba and the Kodokwan Judo Jujitsu Club of Kitwe, Zambia. We have to go back nearly 40 years, back to 1974, to begin our story, back to when I first met Joshua’s father, Michael Kanyemba.
I was 3 years old when I first met Michael, who was a year older than I was. We grew up together on a farm just outside Kitwe city, right in the middle of the bush. Michael’s father and mother were Tonga by tribe from the Southern province of Zambia in Choma near Livingston. A tribe known to have their roots in the Zulu warrior tribe of South Africa, one of the most fearsome tribes in Africa. The family came up to work on the farms in the Kitwe area as cattle herdsmen. They were known as the best cattle herdsmen in Zambia. I taught Michael English, he taught me Tonga and Bemba. I taught him how to ride a bicycle and swim, he taught me the ways of the African bush and the ways of the wild animals who lived in it. Michael came from a very poor home. He had 14 brothers and sisters, which did not make matters any better for the family financially. Unfortunately, his father had a serious drinking problem and this caused Michael much grief as he was growing up. Michael always had a higher calling in his life and at 14 years old, he started a small church in the bush for his brothers and sisters and for himself.
In 1987 Michael and I started judo together on the lawn in the front of our house, with a pair of overalls as our first judo uniforms. My father, Sensei John Kruger was our head instructor, and my mother told us to stop training there because we killed the lawn with our breakfalls.
During the next 4 years Michael and I progressed to our brown belts together. My parents really encouraged me in judo, but not so for Michael’s father. He would come home drunk almost every night and wake Michael at Little Joshua Kanyembamidnight to pick a fight with him. Michael would try to pretend he was deep in sleep and unable to wake up, but his father would try to break down the door to Michael’s room. Michael’s father tried everything to stop Michael from practicing judo with us, but Michael stuck with his judo through all of this and worse. In 1991 I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go and live in Osaka Japan and work as a missionary and to continue my martial arts. I would hear stories of Michael doing very well in judo and winning many national championships around the country. In 1993 Michael was married to a local girl from his village in Choma. Joshua was born that same year and as soon as he could walk Michael started teaching him Judo. When I returned home from Japan in 1998, Michael asked me to personally teach and help his son with judo. When I first saw Joshua he was one of the smallest kids I had ever seen and could not fit into any judo uniform I could find, but I took him on and it was so worth it.
Learning judo was a constant challenge for Joshua in every way. Joshua had to walk 8 kilometers to the judo hall, and after training, he had to walk back home again in the dark, and often in the rain. He still does this today, four times a week. Malaria became his constant companion. A number of times he would faint during his training in the dojo and he would sit down, unable to continue due to anemia caused by the malaria. Another major obstacle that effected his performance was the a lack of a proper diet. At times his hair would turn brown because of a lack of proper nutrition. (This is one of the main reasons African athletes are unable to reach top levels in sports around the world). Despite all this, over the last 12 years, I watched this little boy grow stronger, always more determined to push himself to be one of the best judoka in Zambia.
Joshua’s father made sure that Joshua continued his schooling, making great sacrifices to do so. Buying school books, school uniforms and other things needed to help Joshua go to high school is still a constant challenge for this family. Keeping Joshua away from the wrong crowd was important, but even more so because the chances of contracting Hiv/Aids disease is so high in Africa. Michael makes sure that Joshua’s spiritual and moral life are strong and that he has a solid relationship with God. (The global financial situation has hit Zambia very hard and families having lost their jobs, are unable to look after their families. Our youth have started drinking and taking drugs like never before and Aids is on the rise among the youth. Young people are dying around us daily, too common a site here in Kitwe and every city in Zambia. Nobody talks about it anymore, it’s like it isn’t happening. Few young people are willing to stand up for what is righteous and morally good and therefore there is little leadership.
Earlier this year Joshua won the national judo trails held here in Kitwe which allowed him to represent Zambia. He was told to start preparing to go to the Mozambique International Judo Championships as well as the Zone six Southern and Central African International Judo Championships. To prepare Joshua for one of the highest African championships ever held in this part of Africa has taken all of us together, myself, my family and Sensei Michael himself.
Before we were able to begin preparing Joshua to be the best possible fighting machine he could be, we had an even bigger challenge. Our judo hall building was getting too small for all the under privileged youth who kept joining us every month. Sensei John Kruger, my father, and three of his workers took up the huge challenge of extending the hall to fit the 50 new tatami mats we would need, plus the 28 older tatami mats that were previously donated to us by the Japanese government. When my father asked me how much money the club had in funds to start the project, I told him that the club had 300 dollars owed to the dojo, but the money had not come in during the last three months. At the same time, 32 more under privileged youth had joined the Kodokwan club showing great promise, and I had to find Judo uniforms for them. The funds did come in to buy the cement and steel and other things to start the project, but only by a miracle of God.
I truly began to get worry when my father and his three workmen started to knock the dojo walls down. This destroyed everything on the inside of the building. They put up four huge cement buttresses with big steel wires on the inside of each buttress that went down one meter into the ground on the outside of the building. This helped to support the outside walls, keeping them from falling down. What if we could not find the funds to finish the project? It would mean the end of our dojo building and our training here. We would have to go back to learning judo and jujitsu on the lawn in front of our house with the sky as the roof of our dojo! I kept telling my father we had no money, but he just kept breaking down the inside walls of the dojo. He would not listen to me! I don’t know why I worried so, the funds trickled in helping us to move forward on the project a little bit each day. We kept praying and the building kept growing.
Students would save money together and buy us bags of cement. Others would help knock down walls, while others came in with paint for the walls. After two months the interior of the building was finally finished, a tremendous miracle for all to see! The outside of the building still needs to be worked on but . . . We had the dedication of the dojo and everyone was invited to the big event. It was felt by our family, and all the students, that we should dedicate the new extended dojo to God who helped us and gave us the strength to finish it.
Now we had a bigger dojo to begin preparing Joshua Kanyemba for the biggest judo challenge of his life. First of all, we called all the top judoka in our area to the mat to fight Joshua every day, even the retired judoka were called upon! Even Michael’s father fought him along with me. We were on him all the time. The major emphasis was on randori, free exercise, Uchikomi, a repetitive exercise where the throwing technique is taken to the point of almost throwing the opponent, and Osaekomi waza, holding techniques to the point where Joshua would almost pass out. The poor guy wished he could roll over and die during the first week of his training so we would finally leave him alone. His parents tried to feed him everything they could spare, so he would not lose weight during the hard training. The next thing we had to do was get enough money together to get him his first passport, and his bus tickets to travel down to Lusaka, the capital city, to the national team camp where he could continue to train.
In the training camp the coaches wanted to make sure that Joshua was the best fighter in the 60kg weight category in this country. He was put up against Zambia’s champion and best fighter, a black belt from the army. To our surprise, Joshua won with Waza ari awasete ippon, two half points in 2 minutes flat, and he earned his place on the team. Unfortunately the Zambian judo team was unable to travel to Mozambique for the judo and kurash championship due to the lack of sponsorship that was promised them.
Before Joshua was to travel to South Africa, I spoke to him on the phone and told him just to do his best, that was good enough for us here at the Kodokwan judo club. We were proud that he had made it this far. But Joshua Kanyemba returned with a bronze medal and a new dream in his heart. As he walked into our dojo all the under privileged youth from the local community stood up and cheered for him and wanted to shake his hand, hoping a little of his fighting spirit would rub off on them. For now he is their hero, someone they look up to for guidance, and to teach them to be champions, so that they too can travel around the world representing Zambia. He has given them a bit of hope to dare to dream! When he walks to school in the community people walk up to him to greet him and shake his hand and thank him for doing so well for Zambia. The first thing he did when he saw his father and mother was to put the bronze medal around his father’s neck and he thanked them both for all the years of supporting his dreams.
In closing I would like to share with you what happened yesterday afternoon. I was teaching the new students in the beginners class, Ukemi- waza (break falling techniques) and Nage -waza (basic throwing techniques). I was truly amazed to see how quickly and naturally they picked up the techniques. But then I saw one little 8 year old boy sitting down on the mat in the corner. I was told he had malaria and could not continue with the practice. He was waiting his turn to ask me if he could get permission to go home. This meant walking another 8 kilometers to reach his house. I stopped the class and asked all of the students who were there how many were able to sleep under mosquito nets. Out of the class of 24 students, only 4 had mosquito nets. The rest told me that they could hardly sleep at night because the mosquito’s bit them all night long. Malaria is rampant. This is just one of the many challenges the Kodokwan Judo Jujitsu Club of Kitwe, Zambia has to face every day in helping the under privileged youth here in Kitwe. But I do believe our club is a Light House to those in need, and miracles do happen here in our dojo. Just look at the story of JOSHUA KANYEMBA, and at the dojo God helped us build. I would like to share a quote from a card, that was given to our family by Fr Jude Mckenna,7th dan in judo, our mentor and spiritual guide. The card said, “If not us, who? If not here, where? If not now, when? If not for the Kingdom, why? DARE TO DREAM!