A smile in the face of adversity turned out to be Fort Hare’s secret weapon as they went about their business of defending their overall title at the USSA Goju-Kai karate championships over the weekend.
One can almost imagine head coach Thobela Ntsonkota standing at the back of the makeshift dojo in East London, nodding in approval as the simplest of plans came together for the second year running.
Fort Hare finished the two-day contest in East London with a total of 31 medals – 13 golds, eight silvers and 10 bronzes.
Nombuso Ndamane accounted for three of the golds, while Thabiso Ngwane (two golds and a silver) and Olwethy Varoyi (two golds and a bronze) also took home multiples of the most coveted medal.
The defending champions were well aware that they needed to soak up a fair amount of pressure at the nationals, which is why Ntsonkota emphasised beforehand that they should not be sidetracked by results.
“Because of being the defending champions, one of the things I kept telling the squad was to go out there and enjoy themselves,” the senpai said.
“The focus was to do everything as best as we could and the outcome would then be the judge.”
He told his charges that the expectation was not necessarily to win but rather for them to do their best while lapping up the moment – the theory being that that would bring out the best in them.
Ntsonkota said the team spirit and support of each other were also key in their success.
“To be honest, the unity in this hardworking team and the love and respect for the sport and for each other have been factors behind our success.”
The title was another important one for the Eastern Cape university as it continues to build its reputation in the semi-contact style that was only introduced at the institution in 2017.
Since then they have reaped the rewards of their hard work – most notably being recognised as the top-ranked university in the country.
“It is something we will continue to focus on going forward. This will serve as motivation to follow a path of constant improvement.”
Tough challenges from the universities of Western Cape and North-West made life difficult at times but the Fort Hare karatekas managed to do what was required – naturally, with the obligatory smile.
Ntsonkota admitted to being quietly confident throughout the tournament of retaining the title after his students landed seven medals from their first seven fights.
“I knew from then on that their minds were in the right place and that we had a good chance.”
What was most satisfying for the senpai was that the vast majority of his students had never competed in a tournament of any description.
“To fight their way to the top prize was very special.”