Karate is a popular martial art in Brunei Darussalam evident with the numerous participations in regional and international competitions and a collection of medallists who have made the country proud on the sporting map.
The country has long showcased strengths in the sport at the regional level, especially in the heydays of the 1970s and 1980s driven by a resurgence of top-notch athletes.
Brunei’s early days of success in the sport came in the 1987 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Pengiran Sabri bin Pengiran Haji Mohammad, one of the country’s iconic exponents, struck silver in the men’s heavyweight that year while his compatriot Wong Kee Vui snatched bronze in the middleweight division. The national women’s team also bagged bronze in the kata event.
In the 2001 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, Abdul Malik bin Mohd Zaini added to the country’s medal collection with bronze in the men’s individual kata event at the Uniten Bangi Hall.
Brunei also managed podium finishes in the kumite event with Eddie Jofriani Johari and Mohammad Fadilah Sanif taking bronze in the 55kg and 60kg events, respectively.
Meanwhile, former national athlete Tong Kit Siong achieved a milestone not just in karate but the country’s sporting history after becoming the first individual men’s medallist in the prestigious Asian Games in Busan, South Korea in 2002.
He won bronze in the under-75kg event after topping the repechage stage ahead of fellow bronze medallist Kim Byung-chul of South Korea.
Tong added a SEA Games silver medal in the under-75kg event to his collection three years later in Cebu, the Philippines.
Two additional silver medals won by Haji Johari and Sim Chung Hlang marked one of the most successful appearances from the karate team.
The sport has not only been limited to men at the regional level; women have also found success.
Brunei’s female karate exponent Masdiana binti Haji Tengah proved that women can excel too after claiming bronze in the under-48kg event in the 2007 SEA Games at the Chanapolkan Institute of Technology in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand.
Masdiana collected her second bronze medal in the under-50kg event at the Chao Anouvong Gymnasium in Vientiane, Laos two years later.
The national team also won three additional bronze medals from Fadilah Sanif in the 67kg event, Mainudin Mohamad in the 84kg event and Jamil bin Haji Abdul Majid in the above-84kg event.
The country has been actively pursuing the ambition of unearthing new talents to continue the tradition of showing up at regional and international events with the most talented exponents.
The initiative is serving as a motivation for current local practitioner Mohammad Ishak bin Haji Abu Bakar, who oversees the training sessions at the Sports School.
He has been involved with the sport since he was 14, and has 30 years of experience competing in domestic and overseas competitions, including several editions of the SEA Games in 1993, 1999 and 2001.
In 1993, he has also took part in the ‘Asian Union Karate Organization (AUKO)’, now known as the Asian Karate Federation (AKF) Championship, where he obtained a Level 2 Black Belt.
Mohammad Ishak was first drawn to the sport because it kept him disciplined while testing his physical and mental strengths.
With his insights of the sport, he became active in training the next generation to revive the glory days.
Since being employed as coach, his training has translated to success in competitions with his charges returning with medals.
“I hope to see increased competition and collaboration with the parties involved to maximise the exposure of young people who have the potential to shine,” said the 46-year-old.
He also reminded karate enthusiasts to not misuse their knowledge.
As a practitioner, he has admiration for Pengiran Sabri and Sensei Shin Tsukii, former karate national coach from 1992 to 1994.