Meet Karateka and Black Belt Holder Georgina Kanini

July 24, 2023

Georgina Kanini is a karateka who holds a prestigious black belt in the martial art. Her karate journey commenced at the tender age of 10 while growing up in the slums of Mukuru Kwa Njenga in Nairobi.

At just 14 years old and in Class Seven, she made headlines by defeating Kenya Open champion Naomi Mwikali to secure victory at the World Authority Karate Traditional-Do Association national championships in Busia in 2014.

Over the years, Kanini has actively participated in various tournaments, showcasing her talent on a global stage. Notably, she competed in the World Karate Senior Championships in 2021 held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, as well as the Central England Karate Championships in Worcester, United Kingdom, in November 2022, competing in the 61-kilogram category.

In an interview with MyNetwork, she candidly shared her inspiring karate journey, which also shed light on how she utilized her skills to protect herself from harassment in the slum environment.

You have a slogan – no pain, no gain. How do you apply it?

This slogan is a way of life for me. It has taught me a lot of things. Whenever I feel like giving up, I just remember that “you go hard or you go home”. It motivates me when I feel low.  I have trained to be a karateka through hardship, so the slogan reminds me that there’s nothing too hard in my life. I always remember it when something tries to shake me. It reminds me that I have to rise up regardless of how difficult the situation is. I have to push myself and do it.

It calls to mind the days I started karate, when I would train without having taken breakfast or even lunch, and had no promise of having any after the training. But the motivation I had was, even if the situation is tough, as long as I stick to my goal of seeking success, I have the assurance that I will make it. This slogan has been ringing in my mind since I was a child. It still propels me today.

Who inspires you?

Egyptian karateka Giana Mohamed Farouk Lotfy is my inspiration. She plays in the under-61 kgs category, same as me. I was so young when I came to know about her. I loved her game. She was a world champion in 2014 and 2016.

Lotfy once told me that determination is the key to success. She has also offered advice to me through phone calls. She is somebody I know well because I have lost a match to her before.

When I started karate back in 2010, I also admired how players made trips abroad for karate competitions. Since then, my karate graph has been such a challenging one. I trained and worked hard for a very long time to get to the national team. Even after joining the national team, I was not guaranteed a place in the first 11 players because there were other players ahead of me in my weight, so I had to challenge them. I had to train harder to earn a slot. My first national duty came in 2019 during the African Games in Rabat, Morocco.

How has karate helped you?

In many ways, especially self-discipline. I have learned how to live with people through karate, learned to read and study how people live and adapt to any environment well. It has also enabled me to travel to places I never thought I would. I started meeting very prominent people at a young age and I feel good about my journey. I was privileged to be invited to the State House to witness the flagging off of Team Kenya for the African Games in 2019.

Have you encountered any challenges in your karate journey?

Karate is full of challenges. You must be emotionally strong to overcome them. I remember before I broke into the first 11 players, we used to go to training camps, believing we are among the best going to represent the country abroad, but at the end of a three-month or so training, you find that your name does not appear in the list of those travelling. Instead of giving up, I decided to train more until I got a slot.
Many of us joined Karate at the same time to escape the challenges in the slums. We’d go to the dojo to train, having not eaten. I never looked at those shortcomings, but at my end goal. In some instances, some coaches were rude to us and if you are not strong mentally, then you are likely to ditch the game.
Karate has also built in me a strong character and spirit of endurance. If you train hard with good coaches, you get good performance. But if you do the same training all through with the same coaches, your experience will likely not advance.

How was life growing up in the slums?

I am an example of a slum child who rose from nothing, training without karate gear and all. I now have everything. Gender-based violence (GBV) is very rampant in girls living in the ghetto.
When I was in Class Eight, I survived a nasty incident by a whisker when I was returning home from school in 2015 at around 6.30pm.

I met two men and one of them tried to attack me. I resisted. I didn’t scream since I knew how to counter the situation. I displayed my karate skills that scared the charlatans off. Karate really came in handy and I always encourage girls in the slums to learn it.

Karate makes you focused, especially when you come from the ghetto where even the society views you as lacking in many aspects.

But what I know is that girls from the ghetto are so powerful. If they join karate or any kind of sport, it will sharpen them to face everyday life issues.

How did your parents react when you took up karate?

At first, they were surprised. They were like “you live in the slums, why are you joining karate? Do you want to join criminal gangs?” But later on, they embraced the art and gave me their full support to date.

Apart from karate, what else do you do?

I do coaching. I coach karate in various schools, including Kitengela International. I also own a part-time online business.

What do we need as a country to spur our karate to success?

There’s a lot to be fixed, starting with the third-rate treatment karatekas get, just because Karate is not among the prominent sports in Kenya.

I remember a time during the Covid-19 pandemic when other disciplines got monthly relief funding. Karatekas did not get this allowance simply because they were not among the most valuable sports in Kenya. The State should recognise us. We are really performing well, a sport to watch.

I have travelled close to seven countries because of karate. My experience from these countries is that the players display a good game. I think they are doing well because their governments put a lot of effort into improving their coaches.

They are given full support. Their players are also taken to training camps abroad for build-up matches. They are provided with everything. I think this is where they beat us. We have the strength, we have the power, but we don’t have modern gyms, equipment and dojos for training.

Those are the challenges we face. When I was in the UK for a tournament, I saw a lot of good places for training karate. It all boils down to government goodwill.

Any advice for aspiring karatekas?

To those looking up to me, the young ones and the upcoming champions, my advice is, never give up.  Never let your situation-  even if you come from a poor background  like I did— pull you down.
Be an overcomer every day.  Take karate as part of you and you will grow with it. I encourage you to put more effort into your training and be focused. Karate helps and karate is great.

What are your future goals?

To be an Olympian and to win an Olympic medal one day. That’s my dream. I hope that one day, I will achieve it. To attain these goals, I’m persistent in training and learning new skills because the level of competition in Olympic qualifiers is very high.

We would really appreciate the government’s support. It should invest in modern equipment and bring in foreign coaches or take us to camps in Europe the way Egypt does before major tournaments.
At the moment, we lack government goodwill.

Don't Miss