South Africa – The International Kungfu Federation (IKF) World Kungfu Cup was held in Ankara, Turkey earlier this year. While South Africa didn’t have a huge representation at the IKF, it did manage to bring home four gold medals courtesy of a brilliant father-son performance.
Kung Fu is not a popular sport or as big in South Africa compared to rugby, cricket, or football. It is a skill many people take up as a hobby or for self-defence. However, for Muhammed Junaid Chafeker, five-times gold medallist and Legends of Kungfu World Champion, it was what he was destined to do.
“I’m thankful to my late dad, my late grandfather for having introduced me to formal training in Cape Town, South Africa. Then my late mother, who was a very brave Turkish woman, I got permission from her after I completed schooling, and I went to the home of Kung Fu which is China. I trained under some of the best Grandmasters of Chinese Kung Fu on the mainland. I trained at The Shaolin Temple and then got five amazing opportunities to represent my country at the World Championship.”
Bringing his son into the Kung Fu world and his achievements
In 2005 Chafeker, known as MJ Li in the Kung Fu world, decided it was time to give something back to the youth. After winning three gold and one silver medal at the 2014 Legends of Kung Fu World Championships, he decided to teach classes in disadvantaged communities across the country. It was during these lessons that his son, Muhammed Saifulla Chafeker , four-time gold medal winner at the IKF World Kungfu Cup, started actively participating in the sport, said Chafeker.
“[He] got into training about seven years ago … He’s been training with a lot of my youth in the Western Cape over the last seven or eight years. He has gone with me from school to school, across the province doing training camps mainly with our youth disadvantaged communities.”
This isn’t the first competition in which Saifulla has brought home the gold medal. It was his performances in two previous tournaments which earned him the invitation to compete in the IKF as a representative of South Africa, said Chafeker.
“He was part of my first two youth development squads that I took to China in Hong Kong. They competed there internationally in 2018, 2019. He was a gold medallist both years there in China and then we got this invitation to represent South Africa at the IKF World Kungfu Cup in Ankara, Turkey.”
The life of a Kung Fu Champion
It is always something special when a child takes after their parent. For Saifulla, he didn’t fall in love with the sport immediately. He admits that it was “a chore at first but afterwards, I found it to be something that I enjoyed and looked forward to doing”.
Saifulla is just like every regular 15-year-old. Although he is a gold medallist, he still attends school and has to balance that out with his training. He trains five days a week, Mondays to Fridays. Training usually starts in the late afternoon and lasts about one and a half hours, he said. His father elaborated that leading up to the tournament, they increased the training time.
“As we were preparing now for the World Cup in Turkey, he was literally peaking at three hours, three and a half hours daily. I think it was about a month and a half leading up to the championship that we experienced a couple of minor setbacks, but these are all part and parcel of the journey’s experiences that you need to go through and that ultimately makes you stronger.”
Saifulla isn’t an ordinary champion though. His route to becoming a Kung Fu champion has been harder than most. Born without a left hand due to a rare condition called amniotic band syndrome (ABS), Saifulla is differently-abled. However, this hasn’t stopped him from competing against able-bodied athletes and bring home the gold medals. Even though he doesn’t have a left hand, his training didn’t need to be adjusted and he is still capable of delivering a strong left punch.
Juggling the responsibilities of being a father, coach, and an athlete
Being a parent is already tough without the added pressure and stress of being a coach and an athlete. Despite all of this, Chafeker has managed these three different aspects of his life exceptionally well. His time coaching the underprivileged community taught him that being a coach is not only about passing on their experience in Kung Fu but also being a mentor to the kids.
“I viewed it initially as a champion just wanting to share his skills with the next generation. I didn’t realise that it was far more than just sharing the physical skills as a martial artist and my experiences abroad with the youth. It’s more about being a mentor because a lot of them would reflect back on me as far as perhaps school issues are concerned. Help with their schoolwork, academic challenges that they are facing. Many of them have the absent dad scenario. So many of them look to me as a young father. So, there’s that role that I’m starting to understand while still competing professionally.”
For Chafeker, being a coach for his son has improved his relationship with him. Every training session is also a bonding session the two share. Having his son in training has added a different value to the relationship, he explained.
The future of Kung Fu in South Africa
It is safe to say that Saifulla is one for the future. Kung Fu in South Africa is growing steadily. Chafeker believes he has many bright students who can do great things. In addition to this, the government has now been showing an interest in Kung Fu.
“When I started out as a professional Kung Fu was literally unknown in the country but I’m happy to say 23 years later, there’s more awareness. We are getting support from our local government here in Cape Town and also in our province. Cultural affairs and Sport endorsements, sponsors. These things have never happened before.”
Connecting Africa to Kung Fu
Many youth in Africa will never have the opportunity to travel to China and study Kung Fu. They won’t have the same opportunities that Chafeker had growing up. Through his organisation, MJ Li Kung Fu Foundation, Chafeker will be hosting a Kung Fu tournament in Cape Town in November. It is the first time such an event will take place on the African continent, he said.
“We will formally launch the Africa Kung Fu Confederation and then those athletes and those teams will join us in Cape Town … We have invited approximately 12 African countries including Turkey and Saudi Arabia who are very keen on actually sending a youth team. We are going to be seeing around 250 youth athletes from 12 African countries converge in Cape Town for the very first time. They will be given an opportunity to compete in a professional environment over two days.”