Sensei Mpho Bakwadi started karate back in 1985 as a small boy in the dusty streets of Naledi. Today he is a fifth Dan black belt and the youngest in the county.
The other two are Soccer Moruakgomo and Million Masumbika. Bakwadi is also a coach of the National team. Just last week he took the national team to the Zone VI in Zimbabwe where they performed wonders. They got a massive 19 gold medals.
Bakwadi is such a strong Karateka that he was once disqualified from a tournament for beating the lights out of his competitor in the ring. He won one of his gold medals in 1995 at the All Africa Games in Zimbabwe and it seems Zimbabwe is his happy hunting ground.
How long have you been preparing for the Zone V1?
It took us around four months for this preparation. We basically went up Kgale with athletes from as young as eight years old. We woke up at around four in the morning to do training until six. We did that three times a week. We also worked with the senior players on their speed, punching bags and normal karate training.
What were you working on with these athletes that made them perform so well?
We conditioned the body of the athletes both mentally and physically. This is a very important aspect of karate. An athlete has to be mentally ready so that it becomes easy for him or her to react. It becomes easy to work hard when you are fit and can become aggressive which is needed and have the right positive mentality.
How many athletes did you take to Zimbabwe for the tournament?
I was dealing with the senior category while George Tshikare handled the juniors. Most of the junior players were some of the athletes I had worked with too. In total we had 30 athletes and the main target was to beat South Africa, which gives us a hard time in most cases. The plan was to win the main events and we won both male and female team kata and team kumiti and some of the athletes like Ofentse Bakwadi and Kaene Kago won gold in under-60 and 67 respectively.
Are you satisfied with the performance and number of medals?
To be honest I didn’t expect that much, all the athletes showed commitment and were really dedicated. We won 19 gold medals, 11 silver and 12 bronzes and this is the first time we won such a number of medals.
How many medals were you targeting?
We wanted 15 gold medals but obviously we outdid ourselves. I think all this is because of the hard work we put in the preparations. If you go into camp completely ready you cant go wrong.
What will you say helped some of these athletes besides the four months training?
It has to be international exposure; most of our athletes had good fights prior to the Zone VI. An athlete like Khaya Groth won at the US Open a month ago and this made him a better competitor going into this competition. He has showed a lot of improvement. I was actually happy that we beat South Africa, which is a powerhouse in the region.
What do you really think should be done to enhance the athletes’ performance at national level besides the training?
There is need to reward people who represent the country. That can be done in many ways, we still have those who use their own attire and they can be provided with some to motivate them. They should be met half way. In football we know they have incentives and maybe the same can be extended to other codes like karate because they are all representing the country.
What do you see in your athletes right now that is worth it?
The standard has improved, they are a better team. Actually there were no weak opponents because in some of the countries there they really play for money and if they don’t win they have lost out on a lot besides pride. I think the South Africans will be sick by now.
Where are you actually based and how does one join you for trainings?
I volunteer at Old Naledi and SOS karate in Tlokweng. Here I work with the under-privileged for free. I also do trainings at Gym active, North side and Thorn hill primary schools.
What will you say have been the main challenges thus far?
I mainly work with children and or the unemployed, which make it difficult for them to afford karate suits and any other equipment. There are also no proper facilities like at Old Naledi where there is only one hall and all people use it. We end up training outside and some athletes fall off when it is cold. It is however good news that BOKA is now building its own facility.