First, the debate was ‘do women have a place in sports?’
Now, the discourse has moved to ‘do women have a place in combat sports?’
For 18-year-old Joy Emeka, this debate is not keeping her down. Though her father’s persistence once led her to quit, she now has her eye on the prize and is determined to achieve her goals in karate.
A green karate belter, Emeka started karate at 10 and enjoyed strong support from her mother, who even went as far as taking her out of school, so she could attend competitions.
Speaking with PUNCH Sports Extra, Joy said she started in karate out of curiosity.
“Sensei Henry (her coach) lives in the same compound with us and he trains a lot. I got curious and asked him what sport he was training in; he then introduced the sport to me and my friend and gave us an opportunity to train. Then I started coming to training every day and that was while I was in Primary 5.” Of course, she had her doubts, she admitted.
“There was a time I stopped training because I thought it was so hard and painful. I started playing tennis but didn’t stick with it and came back to karate.”
On how her mother is her biggest cheerleader while her father wants none of it, she stated, “My mum supports me but my dad says I don’t need to do it, that I already have muscles, when I walk, I walk too fast, that I should walk like a girl. It was one of the reasons I stopped training back then.
“My mum would always urge me to go for training. There was one day they were having competition and she came to my school, my mum came and told my principal to allow me go for the competition.”
Joy’s love for karate came from the strength it gave her and the mentorship of coach Henry.
“Karate gives me more strength; I was not supported in the other sports I tried my hand in, like tennis, where I got angry a lot. In karate though, I have a coach that helps me improve and get better.”
The 18-year-old combat sports athlete boasts two bronze medals from six competitions that she won at the National Sports Festival in 2019 and 2021 respectively.
Interestingly, the opponent who knocked her out from both competitions, Anambra’s Ngozi Okoro, went on to win gold at the 2021 National Sports Festival in Benin.
“When competitions are about to start, I get scared. I’m also scared of coming up against a lady from Anambra who has been knocking me out. Even when I win all my fights, when I meet her, she knocks me out, no matter the round I meet her in. She’s 20 and falls under my weight category and I’ve met her in all my six competitions and she’s the only one who has knocked me out.”
She is however, working very hard to end Okoro’s dominance.
“This is why I’m training hard for my next competition in September. I’m meant to be at a lesson now to prepare for an upcoming exam, but because of my desire, I’m here training.”
She’s not won gold yet but is anxiously waiting for the day she’ll be decorated with a winner’s medal.
“I can’t wait till the day I get a gold medal,” she said. “I want to become popular, to represent Nigeria in international competitions like the Olympics. If I go for the Olympics, I know I can win because I started training early.”
Henry is optimistic his athlete can become a world beater in the nearest future.
“Joy is a potential world-class athlete. She started with me at the age of 10 and since then, she’s been competing in different events. She was lucky to be part of the Youth Games and the National Sports Festival and she came out with a bronze medal. Now, we are working for her to get to the next level,” he said.
Joy is now training for the Zainab Salem Open Female Karate Championship scheduled to hold in September at the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos.