Published in Sunday Times Lifestyle. 24 November 2014
A young champ in the making.
FORTY-ONE years ago, Tresor Ntotila was an 18-year-old bully, roaming the streets of Kinshasa looking for a fight. By his account, there was never an opponent he couldn’t beat. Fighting was what he was good at, and he seemed aimed towards a life of thuggery.
In 1974, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s televised “Rumble in the Jungle” changed all that. Ntotila remembers watching the fight at midnight, and recalls the celebrations on the street after Ali won by a
knockout. The next day, his father persuaded Ntotila to emulate his idol and hone his aggressive streak in the boxing ring. After a year, Ntotila switched to karate and demonstrated a talent for the martial art. He was dubbed “Chuck ” by his sensei, after Hollywood martial arts star Chuck Norris. Within five years, Chuck Ntotila gained his first black belt, thereafter establishing a dojo in Kinshasa that is still flourishing today.
Now almost 60, Ntotila, who is also a French language teacher, leads a team in training young children from Joburg’s mean streets. During holidays and weekends, he instructs inner-city kids in an open-air dojo. Those with parents who can afford it pay a monthly fee; most cannot.
Ntotila is anxious about the direction that youngsters, heavily influenced by the trappings of celebrity and violence in the media, are taking. “If you give a kid R1 000, what will they spend it on? Most likely it will be on clothes, beer or having a good time. Not often on their education.”
He offers his karate as an alternative, imparting the attributes of self-discipline, respect and diligence — lessons that aided him in subduing his own violent tendencies.
As evidence, on a sunny winter Saturday morning, young children practise katas instead of abusing substances in a park in Troyeville. The students joke and giggle between instructions, but are attentive to their teachers during drills. All the while, the lifeskilling tenets of karate are expounded by the various sensei.
As a fighter turned teacher, Tresor Ntotila measures his fortune by how many of the young students successfully defend their futures with his input. Those in the park, at least, seem to have a firm start on a perilous
road. / Keith Tamkei . Sunday Times
Ntotila instructing his students on a inner city rooftop in Johannsburg. All pictures: Keith Tamkei
Sensei Tresor Ntotila