Michelle (54) started her karate career in 1978 and she passed her very first grading for a yellow belt in June the same year. If our math is correct Michelle has been doing karate for 41 years.
Growing up with four brothers, who were all competing in boxing as young boys, she had to fend for herself.
“At that stage, we were staying in Johannesburg and when I was about seven years old my parents moved to Middelburg, when I turned 13, my brother, Johan, took up karate with sensei Len Sutton. But as my brother is still to date a very shy person he invited me to his second karate class as he believed it would be better to take me with him. It was not very long after this that my brother quit his karate and I decided I would stay on as I loved what I was doing, and that is how it all started.”
Michelle does not keep her hands still for a moment when she starts chatting, and as the topic of karate can make for endless hours of conversation, we did not even cover half of her exciting career.
She gave us a glimpse in a nutshell, “I think as for all karatekas your first biggest high in karate is when you pass your ‘shodan grade’, which is the first black belt degree. As I said earlier I have been doing Shotokan karate for the last 41 years and out of that, I am instructing karate for 31 years in Middelburg. In my earlier days, I was also an active competitor in all-style events on provincial, national and international levels.
“During my competitive days, I have received all-styles Southern Eastern Transvaal and Northern Transvaal Provincial colours. I think one of the best highlights in my karate career was when I was part of the all-style South African women’s team and when we got the gold medal for South Africa in the Unison kata event in the Zone Six tournament for all countries on the Africa Continent.”
Now can you imagine what happens when a thief tries to get past her?
“Touch wood, in my 54 years of existence I have never had to really defend myself or fight for my life. There was this one incident where they broke into our vehicle while we were eating at a restaurant in Bloemfontein. This was late at night and as we got to our vehicle it was badly damaged and the radio was gone, as well as all our belongings in the boot. Kobus was running up and down the streets to see if he could find the culprit, and then a block away from where I was standing, a guy was running in my direction, chased by Kobus. Well, at that point we were thinking that this was our guy and with Kobus behind him, yelling at me “catch him … catch him … just kick him in the head … just kick him in the head!” Well, this is how I was taught by Kobus, to rather use my legs and kick, than punching someone in the head with my fists, as he believes I might hurt my hand or break it against a ‘hard-headed’ person. Here comes the problem, as I was preparing to kick this guy in the head, I realized that I was wearing a pair of very tight jeans and I was not able to lift my leg that high to kick. The only option was to grab the guy behind his collar, as he was trying very hard to dodge me, and start punching him non-stop behind his ear. The guy kept shouting repeatedly … ‘Mam it was not me … Mam it was not me’, even though I hadn’t asked him or said anything about our vehicle that got broken into?
“Eventually, I let go of him and he literally ran off and fled the scene in an instant. Kobus was ready to punch someone in the head. When I looked at the swelling of my hand, it was quite evident that my punches were with great impact and as the vehicle was on my name, I found it quite difficult to sign the documents at the police station when we reported the incident.”
We wonder if the police would believe if the man if he came in to report that a woman, never mind a small woman, attacked him.
Michelle is one of the lucky ladies to share her passion for sport and fitness with her hubby, Kobus, who has a 7th Dan. They just love the outdoors.
“When time permits, myself and Kobus love to grab on our backpacks and do some hiking and to spend a couple of days in the mountains and close to the rivers. I also enjoy cycling on my road bike and mountain bike, not that I am this great champion but at least my grandson thinks that I am a champion of a grandmother when I ride and keep up with him. Maybe a little more challenging, but still a huge passion to me, is shooting my compound bow with my Kobus.”
On the topic of grandchildren, Michelle has the honour of teaching her grandson Zhuan the art of karate. Her son Zander also has his 4th Dan.
When she is not in a gi, you will find Michelle in her aerobics outfit.
“As a qualified aerobics instructor, I had an idea in the early 90s to combine aerobic exercises with some karate techniques and move on the rhythm of music. In fact, I did some ‘karate-aerobics” classes with some of our senior karatekas at that time. Then later in the 90s Tae-bo was formulated by a person with the name Billy Blanks in America, who is also well known in the international karate arena. I have adopted his system and officially started Tae-bo classes in 2000. These hour-long classes consist of high and low impact aerobic and anaerobic types of exercises, which is made up of some basic karate techniques performed to the beat of music. This is an excellent total body workout which can be done by anybody at any level or with or without any previous experience. This is the one and only workout where you can have fun while having a tremendous workout at the same time. I can say that this type of training is not only for the ‘weight losers’ but also for the ones that are very serious about their own personal fitness and body conditioning. All in all it just makes you feel good about yourself, and especially after a hard day’s work.”
Gichon Funakoshi was quoted to say, “The ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory or defeat but in the perfection of the character of its participants.”
That is the motto Michelle instills in her students.