Two of the University of Fort Hare’s finest karatekas fly out to the Land of the Rising Sun this week to represent South Africa at the 13th Kyokushin World Open Tournament in Tokyo.
Brown-belt Asanele Lamba, 23, and green-belt Thembeka Luthuli, 18, were a revelation on the mat at the style’s South African championships in East London this year and the selectors’ nod for Japan came as no surprise.
Fort Hare took a team filled with debutants to the nationals and quickly made themselves known as they continually punched above their weight.
With two of his students in Team SA, Alice campus senior instructor Khanya Giwu has set the bar high for both him and his young karatekas in only his first year in charge of the sport at UFH.
“I am super proud of them,” he said.
“The tournament was very competitive and it was so pleasing that they were chosen. Now they have the chance to represent Fort Hare outside this country and I urge them to make us proud.”
What stands out about Lamba is that she had never participated in the sport prior to starting her studies in 2019. A penchant for karate-heavy Chinese films had been about the sum of her experience.
While the honours student in economics admitted that she had found the subtleties of the martial art difficult to decipher at first, she became well acquainted with her inner fighter over time.
Being considered good enough to represent her country had however not crossed her mind.
“I never thought this would happen. I feel like it’s a dream,” she said ahead of her adventure in the Far East. “Karate was just something I did for fun.”
Kyokushin is a full-contact knockdown style considered to be the discipline’s “ultimate truth” and the women will certainly have their work cut out against the best exponents on the planet.
But Lamba felt she was ready for the challenge.
“I am very excited! I see the trip as a way to gain experience.”
Her selection is the culmination of several years of hard work and no one will be more excited than her family, who have always supported her at the various tournaments around the country.
Luthuli took up the sport two years ago in her hometown of Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal.
She simply wanted to learn self-defence strategies, but soon realised she had a talent for fighting with her bare hands.
As she grew in confidence, she began to believe that perhaps one day she could represent her country “but I never expected it to be so soon”.
Her performance at the nationals in Buffalo City belied her years and she ended third on the podium. The selectors had seen enough for her to book a seat to Tokyo.
“I appreciate the opportunity I’ve been given and I promise to do the best I can,” she said as she eagerly awaited her date with destiny.
Both karatekas will compete in the 65kg category at the tournament, which gets underway on Friday, November 17.