Making the nation proud with their fighting skills

Fadhil Yunus

Brunei Darussalam produced undoubtedly one of its greatest sporting feats in history when the national karate team secured a podium finish twice on separate appearances in the Asian Games, the most prestigious multi-sport competition on the continental scene.

The competition has garnered global attention as a high-level contest given the abundance of quality from traditional powerhouses in East Asia and the Middle East.

As there is a much larger field, the degree of difficulty is unsurprisingly higher and the strength of the opposition is generally tougher than regional meets such as the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, which only involve ASEAN member states.

Three of the four bronze medals that Brunei has been awarded in the Asian Games since their maiden showing in 1990 in Beijing, China came in karate.

The country’s athletes have also shown their class and strength in the regional circuit, having won medals in every single appearance in the SEA Games since 2005, with the exemption of 2015 when the sport was not conducted.

In the SEA Games, the consistency of success in the sport has often bore similarities with wushu, pencak silat and lawn bowls – the other sports that the country has been recognised for producing a series of podium finishes.

The Asian Games in Hiroshima in 1994 suggested the earliest evidence of success and possibly the country’s biggest achievement in any sport given the superiority of the competition.

Brunei reached great heights when national athletes Dayangku Marliza binti Pengiran Omar and Meghan Loo became the country’s first medallists in the Asian Games when they captured bronze in the women’s kumite -60kg and women’s kumite +60kg events, respectively.

Brunei’s Dayangku Marliza emerged in the top three out of eight entrants, which featured high-calibre opponents from Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Vietnam and Singapore.

Eight years later, Brunei national athlete Tong Kit Siong grabbed bronze in the men’s kumite -75kg event in Busan, South Korea.

Carrying the hopes of a nation, the karateka endured a tough start to his campaign when he succumbed to a 7-1 defeat at the hands of Kuwait’s Ahmad Munir at the Yangsan College Gymnasium. However, he bounced back with a 9-5 victory over Pakistan’s Farman Ahmed in the final repechage to win shared bronze alongside South Korea’s Kim Byung-chul.

To this day, the karate trio – as well as the men’s regu team in sepak takraw – remain the country’s only Asian Games medallists.

Brunei’s karate athletes then made an instant impact in the SEA Games, having contributed three silver medals to the country in the 2005 edition in Cebu, the Philippines through HJ Johari, Sim Chung Hlang and Tong Kit Siong.

Tong Kit Siong had initially been awarded bronze but was upgraded to silver after Malaysian runner-up Rayner Kin Sion was disqualified for a doping offence.

Brunei enjoyed a podium finish in consecutive SEA Games after Masdiana binti Haji Tengah secured bronze in the women’s kumite 48kg event at the Kepkanchana Hall of the Chanapolkhan Institute of Technology in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand in 2007.

Earlier that year, the country also tasted success in the eighth edition of the Asian Karate Championships in Seremban, Malaysia when Mohd Fadillah bin Haji Sanif sealed bronze in the men’s kumite -60 kg event.

Mohd Fadillah’s sole bronze helped guide his country to 13th place out of 28 nations in the overall medal classification.

The country improved in the next edition in Foshan, China in 2009 when Mohd Fida’iy bin Haji Sanif won silver in the men’s kumite -60 kg event.

The result catapulted Brunei to the top 10 nations in the overall medal standings, joining an exclusive company with the likes of Japan, Iran and China.

National karate athletes would continue their assault in the 2009 SEA Games having bagged four bronze for the country in Vientiane, Laos.

The quartet of Mohd Fadillah, Mainudin Mohamad, Jamil bin Haji Abdul Majid and Masdiana in their respective weight categories added the medal haul for the category.

In the 2011 edition in Jakarta and Palembang, Brunei won one silver courtesy of Mohd Fadilah in the men’s kumite -67 kg and bronze through the men’s team kumite.

Two years later, Mohd Fida’iy struck silver in the men’s 55kg event at the Wunna Theikdi Indoor Stadium in Naypyidaw, Myanmar. He came close in ending Brunei’s wait for an elusive karate gold, only falling in the final hurdle in an 8-6 loss to Philippines opponent Ramon Antonino Franco.

The country reached a milestone with a first medal in the kata discipline when the women’s team featuring Amirah Syahidah binti Abdul Rahim, Aufa Bazilah binti Haji Abdul Razak and Wahidah binti Kamarul Zaman bagged bronze at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre in the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Brunei ensured that the trend of collecting a karate medal in every appearance since 2005 barring 2015 remained intact when Mohd Sofian bin Muhd Sufizan bagged bronze in the men’s kumite -67kg event at the World Trade Centre in Metro Manila in the 2019 SEA Games.