Kicking Cancer and Making Smiles

14th May 2023
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Meeting up with Moses

Written by Desiree Carter

“When you’re the skinniest kid in school, you’ve got to be able to run home quickly. But with that big school bag getting in the way, I needed another solution. That’s when I found karate!”

In 1991 when Moses Sebopa was just 12 years old, knobbly kneed and with a big bully problem, he started his lifelong journey with karate. “It didn’t take much for me to fall in love with the sport, and four years later I earned my junior black belt.” 10 years after that, he achieved his second-degree adult’s black belt.

Moses is the national coordinator for Kids Kicking Cancer (KKC), a role he’s had since the very inception of the NGO in South Africa back in 2017. “Rabi Goldberg [KKC founder] came out to South Africa to share the programme model, and that’s when they found me, and I took a step forward I’ve never looked backed on.”

Professionally, Moses is actually a trained electronic technician, but an understanding wife and passion he couldn’t contain led him to turning to karate full-time. “In 2015 I said to my wife, ‘Karate won’t pay much but please if we can continue to put food on the table, can I make it my full-time work?’ and she said, ‘Let’s do it.’” What started with Moses teaching scattered school children, now has him running his own dojo in Atteridgeville where he teaches karate lesson in the evenings while coordinating KKC during the day.

While on the outside Moses looks like any normal, fit guy, his karate history is truly formidable. At the 2012 KWF (Karatenomichi World Federation) World Championships he won two gold medals (team events) and two bronze (individual events). Then at the 2013 World Champs in Denmark he placed 4th overall, narrowly missing out on the podium.

2015 was the year of wonders. While at the airport ready to board their flight to Tokyo to take part in the KWF World Championship in Japan, the team heard that South Africa had just lost a Rugby World Cup match to Japan. What? How could we lose to Japan at rugby?!

Fate was on our side it turns out, because the final of the Kumite (sparring) team event at the Karate World Championships ended up being South Africa vs Japan AND Moses and his team WON! “They beat us in rugby, but we thumped them in their own karate!” Moses also won silver at the same championships as an individual. Truly the highlight of his competitive career.

His karate has taken him all over the world, Malta, Russia. America and more, competing and learning all he can about the practice. In 2017 he received his 5th degree black belt, graded by the legendary Sensei Shane Dorfman (South African born 8-time World Karate Champion). Moses has done the research and found that the highest grade held by an African is 7th, we all have full confidence he can beat that record. Sensei is the martial arts term for a coach.

For Moses, Kids Kicking Cancer has been a life changing dedication. After hearing from Rabi Goldberg all those years ago and running the first successful 6-month pilot of the project in Baragwanath and Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, Moses dedicated himself full-time to making KKC work in the public health space.

“To be a KKC volunteer, we have a checklist for potential candidates,” Moses explained, “First off you have to be a black belt in the martial arts of your choice, it doesn’t even have to be karate! We have a judo KKC leader in Zimbabwe and have had a Tai Chi sensei in the past too. Then you have to be able to deal with the heavy part of our work, and that’s interacting and potentially growing attached to often terminally ill children.” Moses explained that some volunteers have had to leave the organisation because they couldn’t face the emotional trauma of seeing the sick children and then often losing them.

KKC has a “caring for the caregiver” support programme in place to take care of their senseis, including a bi-weekly de-brief that they have with colleagues on a global scale.

One of the most important parts of KKC is teaching the children the Needle Ninja breathing technique, a priceless tool when it comes to calming them down before being injected. “Back in 2010 there was one little 8-year-old girl I worked with who I remember clearly,” Moses shared, “She’s sadly passed from her cancer since then, but I remember she was absolutely terrified of needles. The one morning, she came running up to me shouting ‘Sensei, sensei! I didn’t cry when they put the needle this time!’ I realized they DO practice what we teach! That testimony showed me that hey there is something here. Something that works.”

Another little boy named George also proved the power of being a Needle Ninja with his incredible transformation. “His mom actually got hold of me and asked that I teach her son the technique because every time they went to hospital for his treatment it could take anything up to three hours for them to inject him because the trauma was so high for him.” Doctors, nurses, everyone would be there trying to calm him down with whatever technique they could, but nothing worked. Moses went to their home for one afternoon and taught him the Needle Ninja breathing practice. “His mother called me from the hospital the next time they were there and said ‘You won’t believe it, this time it took us 10 minutes to inject him! From three hours to 10 minutes!’ and that was after only one session with me!”

“There is a certain magic to karate and martial arts,” explained Moses when I asked him what it was about KKC that gave the children so much hope, “When the think karate, they think superpowers, and that mean superheroes. They start to feel powerful, they become their own superhero, and that’s the metaphor behind KKC.”

This was something I witnessed first-hand when we visited Baragwanath, and I saw the children taking their frustrations out on the KKC punching bag. “They use the bag as an outlet for their anger, fear and pain,” explained Moses, “Its’ their form of release. When they leave, they always leave smiling.”  Yes, they definitely do.

“Even when I’m 80 years old, I’ll still be practicing karate, it’s truly for life,” Moses said, “There truly is a magic to it that the young and old, sick and well, can all benefit from.”


Quick Questions with Moses:

Tea or coffee?

Favorite pop-culture martial artist?
Bruce Lee

Your karate mentor and role model?
Shane Dorfman

Mokopane, Limpopo (Old Potgietersrus)

Fave movie?
The Hunted

Fave band?
Boyz II Men

Your Turn To Talk

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