The NWU’s karate team won their 20th consecutive USSA title in July 2019 during the tournament held at Rhodes University. Sensei Johan van Tonder is in the back row, fourth from right.

The team's 20-year track record at the top of university sport is built on four pillars of excellence that have served them well: discipline, camaraderie, enjoyment and commitment.

One, two, three, four. Ichni, ni, san, shi. This recipe, along with the coaching skills of sensei Johan van Tonder, has enabled the team to scale the heights of the karate mountain and remain there, perched at the top, for two unbroken decades.

For that entire period, they have won the annual University Sport South Africa (USSA) championship – a feat unrivalled in karate and most other university sport codes as well.

United as a family

“We are a family who believe in each other. I remember last year when we squared off against UCT and their team was laced with Proteas. We had two, maybe three Proteas in our squad and we managed to beat them,” says Johan, an NWU alumnus.

“Yes, we hold many training camps, but we also braai together, and we have a shared set values. We want to be part of a team. I remember after beating UCT some of the men in our group burst into tears because that is how much they believed in themselves and in the team.”

Johan and his team are also guided by the teachings of Mikio Yahara, a 72-year-old Shotokan master who hails from the Ehime Prefecture on the lush green Japanese island of Shikoku. He holds the rank of 10th dan, making him the titular head of the karate style to which the NWU coach and team subscribe.

“It is a style that requires fitness and concentration. It changes people’s lives. It instils self-confidence and teaches control,” explains Johan.

The conversation returns to the team’s unprecedented run of 20 consecutive USSA victories.

“Yes,” he affirms with a chuckle: “Everybody is always talking about it. I see new faces every year although the one thing that never changes is what remains the most important. It is what I tell my students: ‘Enjoy your karate.’”

Let’s keep count of the team’s winning streak: Ichni, ni, san shi … ni-jū!  In other words: one, two, three … twenty!

The sports trophy cabinet of the North-West University is full to overflowing and few sport codes have done more to keep it topped up than the university’s karate team.

How to stay at the top for 20 years… and counting

Sensei Johan van Tonder believes that the most important advice he can give his students is to enjoy their karate.