There’s a small affiliate Shotokan Karate club at Four Mile in Lae.
Since it started two years ago, the membership has grown to close to a hundred. They have students of various ages ranging from 6 to 25.
They don’t have much in terms of training equipment. They train in a front yard on the bare earth. Cameraman Raguel Kepas, sets the camera down in front of two kids as they do a set of knuckle push ups unprompted.
“If they can do it, so can I..” its that kind of attitude that draws me to places like this where small community efforts bless the soul and spirit.
Many of the kids don’t have uniforms. It is difficult to get good quality karate uniforms in Lae. A good set costs anything between K150 and K300…in Port Moresby. It’s too much for kids whose parents struggle to pay for school fees, bus fare and food.
But in the eyes of the students, you can see the determination to become serious representative karateka of Morobe and PNG. The determination and discipline can be seen in the eyes of the older students who, drenched with sweat, come back for another round to kick a plastic wrapping tied to a coconut tree as a homemade kick pad.
The club was started by two senior students and first degree black belts – Jacklyn Barney and Manu Mekere. The Four Mile club is a branch of RAM Shotokan Karate Club run by Sensei Rickinson Mekere at the Lae Secondary School.
What also stands out is the number of girls who have signed up. Many of them inspired by Jacklyn who has represented Morobe and Papua New Guinea in international karate events.
There’s no male macho talk and no disrespect. As an instructor at the ‘front yard dojo,’ Jacklyn is the authority.
“Many of their parents are really happy that we’re training them,” she says.
It made me think about all the hyped up talk about gender equality and balance. Here’s a club that is taking the lead in a very small but important way in a community where physical abuse against women and girls is widespread.
“One… two…” she yells demonstrates simulated kicks to the head. The target, is the much abused plastic wrapping on the coconut trunk. She steps back and lets the students follow her lead.
“Lavendar! Guards up!” she yells as another girl ‘head kicks’ the coconut trunk.
While Jacklyn dreams of taking a team to a competition in future, she says this club serves a greater purpose. Both her and Manu point out that karate has given an opportunity to many to break the cycle of alcohol abuse and violence.
“My dream is to get as many young kids into karate. Because, if we leave it too late, they will start drinking and taking drugs by the time they’re 13 and 14.
“They have to see that there is a way out. That they can go on to represent PNG and their province,” says Manu.
When the numbers become to large during training sessions, Manu and Jacklyn split the group. Manu’s mob are usually the pint sized aspiring karateka, aged six and upward.
“Sometimes we have to move to another yard. There are so many of them! Yesterday, we had several parents sign up as well. I just didn’t have the forms for them to fill. I had to rush off to get them printed.”
Recently, karate was declared an Olympic sport. This now means Papua New Guineans have a shot at the world stage if there is determination and support.