Karate Can Kick Hopelessness

by Maison de la Gare
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Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness
Karate Can Kick Hopelessness

Project Report | Dec 27, 2023
The Big Day: Karate Stars at Maison de le Gare

By Sonia LeRoy | Partner and International Volunteer

For many talibés of Maison de la Gare karate is everything. It is something for them alone, when their world takes everything from them. It is confidence. It is strength, it is respect. It is passion. It is perseverance. It is family. It is hope.

 

A karate tournament is an excellent way to celebrate the childrens’ love for karate while rewarding perseverance and hard work. Sensei Ignéty Ba of Sor Karate who oversees the Maison de la Gare prepared a list of karatekas who would be invited to compete, and informed them of the impending opportunity. There are two groups of Maison de la Gare karate students. About 30 young ones practice at the MDG centre Thursday and Friday mornings, and 34 older, more experienced ones who are sponsored by donors to be members at the Sor dojo. When I arrived at the centre last week Sensei let me know that in preparing the competition list he realized eleven of the young students at the centre had been practicing karate diligently and passionately for at least a year, in some cases several. He felt that despite being too young to be permitted by their marabouts  (the person who controls them in the daaras they live in and forces them to beg for quotas of money) to join the dojo as members, they deserved World Karate Federation licenses and to test for yellow belts. 

 

At the centre during the Thursday class we announced to the young ones the eleven names of those who would be invited to test for yellow. Nine of them were present, and very excited about the prospect. The word would be spread to the other two. And all 29 karateka were invited to participate in the tournament the following week. The next day I donned my gi and helped the kids prepare for the competition as well as for the rigorous grading test that awaited them. From past gradings I have been invited to attend, I knew the pass rate to be about 60-70%. And we knew the main issue to be mixing up the Japanese names of different forms and stances and strikes and blocks. So I knew exactly what to help them practice. Interestingly, these kids has been passionate white belts for so long, they did not have the usual issues. The knew cold their Oisuki, Gyatsuki, adiuki, sotouki, garambarai, mangari, their katas, and which was shodan, nidan, godan…and the kihon kumités looked good too. They all knew exactly when to Kia and how and when to salute. I had high hopes for grading day.

 

That night I also visited the dojo Sor Club to see the older MDG kids training. They were informed of the competition, and were very happy about the prospect for experience and the prizes. The Club Sor Demo team also planned to perform a demonstration at the event. I arranged to meet the karateka yellow belt hopefuls the following week at the MDG center. We would walk to the Sor dojo together for the grading. The following day would be the tournament and the announcement of those who had successfully ascended to yellow. 

 

On grading day, some very worn out gis were exchanged for new, donated ones and  other very much too small gi’s were replaced. A final run-through of how to approach the ring, enter the ring, salute, and exit was reviewed for those who had only ever experience karate on the sand and never on a mat. Then we all set off together to walk from Maison de la Gare to the Sor Club dojo. We made our way through the streets, past vendors, down alleys, all at a brisk pace so as to arrive on time. I felt a bit like the pied piper for the 20 minute walk.

 

After arriving at the dojo the kids donned their gis and lined up. Ten. Finally the eleventh, a yellow going for orange arrived. This was not his first time here, but for the others it was. Sensei would allow them to all remain in the dojo together, although they would be graded one at a time. This was a kindness, as usually all candidates wait outside and are invited in to grade one by one. For the candidates, nerves were understandably on edge. Expectations were high. Everything felt like it was on the line. The first name was called and I held my breath.

 

He began, and I let out my breath. He had this. And so did the next boy. And the next. I settled back and began to relax. But then, a very nervous boy turned the wrong way during taikokushodan. So hard to recover from that. He was thrown completely off. My heart broke as he was invited to step aside. There were no more mistakes from the remaining candidates. I was impressed! 

 

After grading the older karatekas arrived to help prepare the mats to be transported to the MDG center for the tournament. A horse-drawn cart arrived and the mats were loaded on. Night had descended, and the lights in the dojo had failed. But the cart was duly loaded up, and off it went to deliver the load. The next day would be tournament day. The successful grading candidates would be belted. And everyone would have their shot at glory! 

 

I arrived at the Maison de la Gare centre early. The mat had already been laid. As usual, the karateka seemed to have begun at the edges, as the mats did not quite come together in the middle. But it would certainly do. The younger competitors were dressed and gathered, receiving their instructions from Sensei Bouaro, eager to start, but nervous too. I remember how that feels! I brought out a few more tables from one of the classrooms to serve as a prize table. A sheet appeared (perhaps from a bed in the dortoir d’urgence) and we used it as a table cloth. Then, out came the prizes, medals and trophies. There was a t-shirt for each of the younger kids and a sweater for each of the younger finalists. We had just enough medals for everyone.  There was a competition gi for each of the two grand champions to accompany The Coupe.

 

The tournament began with the younger kids, with Kihon eliminations. I felt so proud of them to see the determination and confidence they showed on the mat.  The respect they showed the referees and the respect they were showed in return was an amazing thing to behold of forced begging talibé children. There must have been over one hundred spectators already, the MDG karate kids were the stars. 

 

Then, it was time for the older kids kata eliminations. We moved the referees table to another side of the mat, following the shade. Most of the mat was in full mid- day sun and the competitors would get no such respite. Nor would the referees on the mat during sparring. It was 34C.  I tried to stay in the shade of the coconut palms. The older boys had been training in the dojo, some were new and some had been part of our program for years. They all gave it everything they had. Watching back the videos I shot later, I noticed a little talibé child in the background, far behind the mat, barefoot and in rags, copying a form as best he could. Inspiration is reaching far on this day. I think we will need more donated gi’s. Finally the sparring eliminations. At the beginning the growing crowd of talibés watching from the sidelines laughed with every strike and kiai. But soon the beauty and skill and power of what they were watching sunk in and the cheering began in earnest. 

 

We postponed the young kids kata eliminations until the afternoon, as a few of the top competitors had returned to their daaras, fearful of repercussions if they stayed away when they were expected by their marabouts. But, they would be back this afternoon. We broke at about 1:30pm and would re-convene at 4pm. 

 

Back in action. First, the older kids kata finals. Then kumité finals. The power and skill displayed caused much cheering and applause. Stars, indeed. The final division was the young guns kata, abbreviated to the top 16 kihon competitors so we would finish before dark.

 

Then, a special treat…a demonstration was presented by the Sor Club Demo Team. Some of the older talibés are on the team, as is Sensei Bouaro. They showed how karate could be used to protect oneself and others in life. It was a hilarious but powerful comedy routine of an “old man” being bullied and his “granddaughter” dealing with the bullies twice her size; Various creative self defence skills were highlighted, including dealing with belligerent drunks and knife attacks. The crowd roared with appreciation, especially when the fake attackers hobbled off the scene or twitched on the ground, pretending to have been well schooled.

 

Time for medals, trophies and prizes, as well as the granting of the yellow belts and certificates earned the day before. Ten successful graders, a record! Finally the Grand Champion Cups were awarded. Pictures and congratulations and passing around of the Cups and trophies persisted for at least a half hour more. Then, a local musical group began the after-party celebrations. The dancing persisted well after dark. A Big Day!

preparing to grade
preparing to grade
grading day
grading day
the competition begins
the competition begins
the prize table
the prize table
The stars of the day
The stars of the day

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Organization Information

Maison de la Gare

Location: Saint Louis - Senegal
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Maison de la Gare
Saint Louis , Saint Louis Senegal
$3,700 raised of $6,000 goal
 
62 donations
$2,300 to go
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