Robert Bamgboye is 63 but still does unthinkable things with his body because of his background as a Martial Arts practitioner. Bamgboye who is half Nigerian and half British says he is very bitter. His bitterness is that Karate, in Nigeria is at the bottom wrung of sports. “We are at the bottom and it doesn’t augur well for the growth of the sport in the country.
He spoke with Jacob Ajom
How did you start in Martial Arts?
I started in 1978, Shotokan, a brand of Karate. I started in 1978, so I have been doing it for 40 years now. I was greatly influenced by my early exposure to film stars like Bruce Lee and other martial arts actors. I wanted to know more about it and I had this fantasy of wanting to be superhuman like them. I also realised that to be like them, I have to learn. So, I started early in life, about 40 years ago, and I have been doing it since.
How has the sport impacted on your life?
Martial Arts is a way of life which you practice in the hall, you take it to your normal daily life. When I started, I was young and adventurous. I wanted to beat everybody up. But when I got to the club, learning the art, I was then told how to channel my energy. When I went to training I became calmer, more disciplined and I knew how to channel my energy, channel my anger and my frustrations. It rubbed off on my daily life and because of that I didn’t end up having any fights. I was not aggressive, I was calm and never under any pressure. So this has helped me a lot from the time I started to the present.
Did you ever represent Nigeria at any international competition?
I never competed for Nigeria, but I competed for Great Britain. I grew up in Nigeria but I went to England to further my education and I stayed a little longer in England after my education. And because I had a Nigerian passport and a British passport, the organisation I belonged to in England took us to world championships with the Great Britain team, up to 1995.
Basically, my father is from Ogun State and my mother is from Luton, in England, so I am mixed. But inside of me, I am through and through a Nigerian, and I am in Nigeria. So the colour is misleading. It’s British but, like it is said, you never judge a book by the colour of its cover. So totally I am Nigerian and I am here. My students are Nigerian and some from other West African countries.
How have you contributed to the growth of Martial Arts in Nigeria?
I started in 1978 as I said, and only came back to Nigeria in 2000. I didn’t open a club or a group like this for many years. I only started this in 2014. My instructors are from an organisation based in Japan. When they come from Japan, they come to teach us the basics of Shotokan Karate. We are going to the roots of Karate, how it is being done in Japan.
My instructor is coming in this evening from Japan and he is going to run a seminar on Friday, be our host in competition on Saturday and on Sunday he’s going to hold a seminar. We are going to the roots of Karate, the proper way it is done in Japan. What matters is people want to see Karate how it is done in Japan. We went with four students to the world championship last year, before then I went by myself. In 2019, which is next year, we are looking to take more people to Japan and have the full experience of how Karate is done.
How would you assess the growth of Martial Arts in Nigeria?
Karate in Nigeria is growing. We just have some draw backs, like not being able to compete in one or two championships recently, but overall, as individuals we are improving. But we need to go out and compete against other people of other countries, of a high standard, international standard and not just a national championships, like the one we are trying to do. This competition that will be holding on Saturday(today) from all over West Africa, so that we can develop, we can grow, compete with them and see how to improve.
Most people in other sports accuse government of concentrating too much on football. Do you share this view?
We are very bitter to be honest. Other sports, maybe Table Tennis, Basketball, wrestling are above us. But we are at the bottom and am not sure why we are at the bottom. We are angry. Our sport is a life time sport. You start at any age you want and you retire at whatever age you want.
Am 63 years old. It’s down to Karate. I started when I was in my young 20’s and am 63 now. I can do any exercise I want to do, if you have a supple body and mind, it makes you agile as you use to be before.
We will really appreciate it if we can have sponsors, government can help, we understand how government work in Nigeria. We will be looking forward to having people like Telecoms companies to support us. The Karate Federation of Nigeria, KFN, are the people that they need to speak to for sponsorship. We are very good, a lot of Nigerians that are based abroad are doing so well, and here in Nigeria we want to give more and do well, the only way we can get them do well is to bring expertise from outside because we can’t take everybody out.