WHEN Godwin “Jaws” Murambiwa looks back at his extensive experience in rugby, it will be with much pride and gratification at what he has achieved.
By Enock Muchinjo
Exceptionally gifted generations of Zimbabwean players passed through his very capable hands — across the Test, club and youth level.
Being the last Zimbabwe coach to defeat Namibia, the increasingly dominant force of African rugby, brings into sharp focus Murambiwa’s coaching skills, and many who have tapped into his vast bank of knowledge testify of a brilliant rugby brain in the former Old Hararians and Sables mentor.
But all that looks a distant past now, in light of Murambiwa’s other sporting achievements, which when you observe, appear to give him a greater sense of joy and satisfaction.
Murambiwa returned home in triumph this week from the Okinawa Islands of Japan after accomplishing his sixth dan black-belt in Shōrin-ryū, one of the oldest forms of karate.
While his rugby defines him in Zimbabwe, the feat in Japan last week was culmination of a long karate journey for Murambiwa, which began as a sport-mad schoolboy at Marondera High and Prince Edward in the 1980s.
It was a journey in which he came across seasoned fighters and trainers, like Tichafa Masvinge, a big influence in his early karate days. “It was such an honour for me to elevate to the sixth dan and I dedicate this to Sensei Tichafa,” says Murambiwa.
“He’s late now, he died at a very young age. He’s the one who opened up karate to me as a way of life. It teaches you a lot of discipline.”
Murambiwa, who briefly lived overseas after leaving school in 1987, first encountered the late Masvinge in 1992 in Harare.
“After taking a break, I was looking for a club in 1992 and I went to karate headquarters, then Alex (Alexandra Sports Club), and Mbare. I then passed by UZ (University of Zimbabwe) and there was a class which was being taken by a young-looking Tichafa Masvinge. He was precious. He came from Mabvuku, and he was some 19 years ahead of everyone. We clicked and got along. He opened my eyes to what martial arts was.”
Standout figures of Zimbabwean martial arts like Fradson Shava, the late Jimmy Mavenge and Paul Danisa, have also had massive impact on Murambiwa, who now runs the karate section of his home club, Old Hararians.
Fifty-year-old Murambiwa received his sixth dan black-belt after a week of intense workout and assessment at the Okinawa Karate Seminar, joining an exclusive group of Zimbabweans — there are not that many in it — with such status.
“It was a huge international event,” says Murambiwa. “There were guys from the UK, guys from all over Europe, guys from the US, guys from Asia and us guys from Africa. There were 120 athletes. The icing on the cake, really, was the calibre of teachers. They were all grand masters, guys that are expert at whatever style they do. That’s what made this seminar so unique.”
At Old Hararians, Murambiwa’s work is focused on producing world-class martial artists, something he holds dear, in addition to the goal of elevating himself to a higher rank.
“The idea is to push these guys to improve, grade-wise. I prepare guys to go to the Zone Six, All-Africa Games, and events like that. It is important to do that. As for me, the most important thing is not to say now that I’ve reached the sixth dan black-belt, I’ve now arrived. There is seventh, eighth, ninth and if you live long there’s tenth. Most people don’t live long enough to be tenth dan.”
Working with schoolboys at rugby level has also given Murambiwa insight into how martial arts can be integrated into the schools’ sporting curriculum alongside the country’s traditional disciplines, and having them feed off each other.
“The interest is huge already in the sense that parents are supporting,” he says.
“Schools like Prince Edward, Peterhouse, St John’s and St George’s have programmes on a full calendar of guys doing karate. A sport like judo or jijutsi, for example, helps your rugby — the hand-to-eye coordination, stopping somebody, throwing them. There is also kata, where you need to understand each other, being together, in sync.”
Martial arts has a long way to go insofar as adding numbers to it, at a time many sporting codes are losing a lot of young athletes to the major sports, especially to the financial muscle of football.
Karate is not a particularly poor man’s sport, though, says Murambiwa.
“There is some money when you are competing. A lot of open tournaments have prize money. With karate making its debut at the Olympics ((in Tokyo in 2020), there is the opportunity for kids to go to the Olympics.”
But as things stand, Murambiwa encourages the participation of martial arts in hand-in-hand with other sporting disciplines.
“My humble opinion is that young people shouldn’t specialise,” Murambiwa says. “These sports help each other. I don’t even think kids should specialise in rugby. Life isn’t like that, you don’t play rugby the whole year. That’s why adults go on off-season. The sports can rely on each other, for young people. If you are doing computers at school, martial arts helps. Children who do karate tend to concentrate better in school.”
A word of advice, as parting shot, is to use skills learnt in martial arts for the intended purpose.
“It’s a dangerous sport, you can kill someone,” says Murambiwa.
“I’m glad I’ve never had to use it to defend myself. It’s easy to go out there and look for trouble. Remember, there is always someone that’s better than you in martial arts. So it’s about enjoyment, healthy lifestyle, fitness, being fast and working at a high temple.”