A delightful blend of gripping drama, edgy combat, capacity building, novel innovations and colourful fanfare marked the 6th edition of the Zainab Saleh International Female Open Karate Championship which wound down on Saturday, 23 November at the Sir Molade Okoya Thomas Hall of the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere, Lagos.
West Africa’s leading Karate Championship for women had over 180 Karate practitioners – a tournament record – from all over the country and the Benin Republic take part in the three-day event which catered to diverse tastes and proved a thoroughly satisfying experience for combatants and a delightful spectacle for fans.
There was the first-ever demonstration of Wheelchair Karate in Nigeria with the Supreme Shotokan International Karate Academy providing a mesmerising display of choreographed moves that left fans, officials and able-bodied Karatekas spellbound.
Africa Image – a traditional dance troupe – added colour and glamour to the event as athletes as young as 5-years-old took to the mats to demonstrate their prowess.
At the end of events on Saturday, Delta State coached by Okpada Benson reigned supreme with 8 gold, 6 silver and 13 bronze medals while tournament ambassador Ronke Ogunsanwo reclaimed her -50kg crown in the most intriguing fashion.
The Championship commenced on November 21 with a Referees Course taken by the Chairman and Secretary of the African Karate Federation Referees Commission Mr. Zitouni Metyout and Mr. Olusegun Akinola respectively.
The capacity building exercise for domestic and international referees was facilitated by tournament organiser Hajiya Zainab Saleh and served to equip officials with updated knowledge and best practices in the sport with a view to improving officiating and professionalism in the West African region.
Friday, 22 November witnessed the start of action on the mats inside the Sir Molade Okoya Thomas Hall with preliminaries and eliminations in the team and individual Kata and Kumite categories.
Kata refers to an elaborate choreographed pattern of Karate movements performed by the individual or a team which depicts techniques and skills without actual combat while Kumite refers to combat against an adversary.
The president of the Nigerian Karate Federation Silas Agara was on hand to witness Friday’s action with the board meeting of the federation also holding on the sidelines of the tournament.
The tournament exploded properly on the finale on Saturday, 23 November with Karatekas outdoing themselves in front of joyous fans as they battled for honours.
A flurry of cadet and junior Kata and Kumite action kicked off events with Dada Aliyah taking gold in the cadet Kata D 2.8 event, Okoroji Mmesoma reigning supreme in the cadet Kata D 2.7 white-black category while Amos Favour bested Duru Ngozi to win the Under-12 -35kg Kumite.
Okwuolisa Nkeiruka and Precious Mozie took gold in the Under-12 -30kg and +40kg categories respectively while Bridget Gata won in the Junior Kumite -53kg and the Republic of Benin bested Anambra State to win the Under-15 Team Kata.
While the junior fighters warmed the crowd, the senior fighters prepped as Africa Image entertained fans and the Supreme Shotokan International Karate Academy put on an excellent show of Wheelchair Kata.
In the next round of bouts in the senior category, Joy Dorkita beat Juliet Ikeh to win gold in the -61kg Kumite, Ujunwa Nwankwo saw off Udochukwu Emelda in a bout that had just a hint of bad blood in the -68kg category, while Blessing Akpa was too good for Momoh Ramat in the +68kg class and champion Oghenevwogaga Elizabeth, was deposed in the -55kg by Team Delta teammate Sampson Godfirst.
Anambra State got fans on their feet with an exhilarating Kata display that would not have looked out of place in a Karate movie as they won the Team Kata event with the Republic of Benin and Team Delta finishing in second and third place respectively.
If the Team Kata was dramatic, what followed in the -50kg Kumite between Kodo Cherstine and Aderonke Ogunsanwo was proper edge-of-the-seat nailbiting fare.
Ogunsanwo, tournament ambassador and category winner in four of five previous editions, suffered her only tournament loss to Béninoise Kodo last year and was spurred by thoughts of revenge.
A tightly contested affair that had Ogunsanwo request a medical timeout ended 5-5 as both fighters proved evenly matched with little to separate them.
But having gotten on the scoreboard first, Ogunsanwo was declared winner as dictated by Karate rules and the Team Delta athlete couldn’t hide her delight at regaining her crown.
“I used the rules against her,” an elated Ogunsanwo said after the bout. “I’ve been working for weeks to reclaim my title and it feels so good to win gold again. Another trophy, another trophy to the shelf and thanks to Hajia Zainab Saleh for this opportunity.”
Chairman of the African Karate Federation Referees Commission, Mr Zitouni Metyout highlighted the importance of an all-female tournament and praised the level of the athletes and officiating in the competition.
“I believe it is a good idea to do a championship for only ladies because that is what we need,” said Metyout who was honoured with a commemorative plaque by the Director-General of the Lagos State Sports Commission Oluwatoyin Gafar.
“We need to show our females on the continent and give them the chance and opportunity to be Karatekas and referees. The level of the competition and standard of refereeing was good and I hope to see all these referees in Africa and the World Karate Federation.”
On his part, Mr. Gafar praised the tournament founder Hajiya Zainab Saleh and pledged the continued support of the Sports Commission.
“[Hajiya Saleh] is putting in the best, she’s giving back to the society and giving hope to girls to help them utilise their God-given talents. She is also helping equip them with self-defence skills to improve their security in these times where the girl-child faces uncertain threats.
“We’ll continue to put in our best to give her the support that she needs we’ve been doing that and we will continue giving the support,” Gafar said.
Tournament organiser Hajiya Zainab Saleh said the number of participants in the sixth edition showed how much the competition has grown and promised an even bigger competition with global representation in the 7th edition.
“I’m really happy about the number of athletes that registered this year, over 200 of them that says a lot and I’m hoping that next year it is going to be an even bigger event,” Haijiya Saleh said. “I’m hoping that by next year we will be able to get more international participation – not just continental participation but a truly global competition.”