In the last three years, Nigel Bana has become a recognizable face as a sports ambassador in Karate circles.
Today Bana studies at the University of Papua New Guinea and works as part of the PNG Olympic Committee’s Heroes Program which engages with school kids and other groups.
Bana, who won gold in the 2015 Pacific Games in Port Moresby, has been a keen martial artist. But like many others, the journey was a long and difficult one.
“When my parents divorced, my attitude changed. I was exhibiting violent behavior.”
While attending Waigani Primary School, he fought with another student. His teacher told him, the attitude and behavior couldn’t continue.
“My teacher said, ‘if you want to fight , go join a martial arts club.’ Because this is where people learn. It is not a place to fight.”
Nigel was 12 when he walked into a club at the University of Papua New Guinea where the Okinawan style of karate, Goju Ryu, was being taught by one of the few practitioners of the style in the country, Sensei Luke Goa.
“Every day, I used to go there to watch then train. Then after some time, I asked Sensei Luke if I could train.”
When Sensei Luke Goa, moved to Lae, the Goju Ryu club closed, leaving Nigel without a mentor. Moving within the karate circle, put Nigel in touch with another senior PNG karateka, Sensei Roy Stanley. His Shotokan style more common in Papua New Guinea, was developed by Japanese master Gichin Funakosi in the 1800s and exported worldwide.
After spending some time learning from Sensei Roy Stanley, Nigel Bana moved to train under his current teacher, Sensei Carl Mari in 2012. Nigel Bana says each stint under the three senior karateka in in the country, gave him understanding of different values.
“Each of them have important qualities they imparted. From Sensei Luke was his discipline. Sensei Roy is a ‘go getter’ and Sensei Carl is an excellent administrator.”
Nigel Bana, has always competed in the 60kg-65kg category. Since secondary school, Nigel has been actively completing in various tournaments. Whilst in grade 11, he attended his first National Karate Championships in Lae, where he won gold.
This was followed by a long list of successes. At two PNG Games in East New Britain and Morobe.
Karate competitions revolve around kumite (combat) and kata which are the karate equivalent school syllabus. Kata are sets of prescribed patterns used in various karate styles to train combat applications, muscle memory, the mind and the spirit.
In kumite there are two kinds – point contact, fought with gloves and padding and full contact, fought without body protection.
In 2014, a team that included Nigel Bana, Leonard Gariadi, and Cosmas Saliawali competed in the finals against Vietnam and won the team kata competition in Thailand.
“This was a first for a Papua New Guinea team.”
In 2015, during the Pacific Games, Nigel faced off with Fijian Sandip Pala who had previously beaten him two years ago in Fiji.
“I felt that my biggest competitions were going to be Fiji and New Caledonia. But one thing that karate has taught me is that you have focus on what you can control and build on it. So I focused on training.”
In the finals Nigel Bana took home the gold.
Despite all the success, Nigel still feels uncomfortable talking about his many achievements. In 2015, before the Pacific Games, he reached an important milestone in his decade long journey when he travelled to Australia and successfully graded for his Shodan or first degree black belt.
For Nigel, he didn’t feel he was ready for it at the time.
“It was an emotional time for me. Personally, I didn’t feel that I was ready for it in one sense. My biggest battle was against my own ego.
“You see, I began winning competitions when I was a teenager, so when you do that, your head becomes as big as a watermelon.”
“But as I grew in age and maturity, I realized that humility is important.”
Nigel says karate has taught him about self control and about walking away from possible trouble and conflict. Karate taught him to focus on the things he can control like anger, emotion and physical and mental preparation.
“You see, because of Hollywood, people think that karate is all about fighting. It’s not.
“Karate is a body of knowledge and an art that takes years of practice. For instance, the movies show fancy pressure points… But pressure points are an application of the human biology.”