Chronicles of a Travelling Grappler – BJJ for Zimbabwe (Part 1)


Written by James Locke

Edited by Josh Sequeira

Due to some technical difficulties with our site, this article, originally posted some weeks ago, was removed. We are re-releasing the inaugural Chronicles of a Travelling Grappler article along with the accompanying parts over the next 3 days. We decided focusing on our friend James Locke and his BJJ for Zimbabwe initiative would be a great idea as we know James well and have even taken part in and covered one of his fund raising initiatives. Enjoy this tale of an avid grappler who traveled halfway across the world to share his love for jiu jitsu!

PART 1 – Reality Check

As soon as we began this project, I knew we were founding something unique and special that would positively affect many people. Throughout my travels, both on and off the tatami, people would ask why I began this process. My answer was always, “I love jiu jitsu, it changed my life for the better. We have amazing professors in North America already doing great things teaching those who seek and those who can benefit. Why not raise funds and equipment for some people who don’t have the luxury. Obviously Brazil is the first choice for BJJ pilgrimages, so we’re not needed there. How about Zimbabwe? They could use the help and the have yet to be introduced to Brazilian jiu jitsu.” After doing lots of research, we decided to sponsor an SOS Children’s Village in Harare and name the project “BJJ for Zimbabwe.” During my travels I fund raised and collected donations to support our cause as well as gis to take with us. The money was used for the sponsorship of the village as well as a trip to deliver the gi’s and introduce BJJ to the people of Zimbabwe.

Once we began sponsoring the village, I contacted their international office to ensure they were OK with my plan to use martial arts as a vehicle for donations, and as well my plan to visit and teach the kids in the village. They were certainly fine with the plan and told me they would make the arrangements when the time came for me to make the visit. I also didn’t want to confine my teaching to the village alone, and reached out to a karate club in the city I found via Google search. The Sensei of the Harare Shotokan Dojo, Josh Kumire, was excited to hear of the plan and promised to help any way he could. His help would prove invaluable. In the weeks leading up to my departure, once my flights were booked, I passed all the information onto the village and my new friend at the Shotokan club. Not entirely sure what I would do for accommodations, I booked a dorm bed for two nights at a hostel close to the Karate club, near the city center.

I departed Petawawa on December 2nd, 2015, my nine year anniversary with my awesome wife Jackie who was fully behind this idea from the start and was incredibly helpful in both the planning and development of the BJJ for Zimbabwe project. My lengthy travels for this project took us from our home in Petawawa, Ontario, Canada to Ottawa, our nations capital, then on to Washington DC, followed by Dakar, Senegal, then Johannesburg, South Africa and finally Harare, Zimbabwe. Such a wild itinerary was bound to cause problems and it did, as our bags did not meet us when we arrived in Harare.

Waiting at the baggage carousel in Harare, I honestly had no idea how the trip was going to play out. I hadn’t made a schedule with the village or with Sensei Josh (email communications were fairly slow due to the 7 hour time difference, and the unreliability of power in Harare). I have visited orphans before, at an establishment in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico that I visited with my wife and her father on a few occasions, so I knew I would be comfortable with the kids, but would they be comfortable with me? I’ve also done a fair amount of teaching, having been teaching one thing or another since swimming as a teen, and also lots of BJJ during my travels. In other words, I was confident that given an audience that was interested in learning, I knew I could provide a good product. What I didn’t know was if they would be interested, had I flown here to have my audience not willing to give jiu jitsu a chance? I simply had some nervous anticipation, with great hopes for success.

After waiting until all the bags had popped onto the carousel, and most passengers had gone through the doors to be greeted by their awaiting friends and family, I came to terms that my bags didn’t make the rush in Washington. I registered with the lost bags guy and decided to head through the doors, incredibly curious to who, if anyone, would meet me on the other side. I was thrilled to see a man and woman smiling happily holding a sign with my name, it was Sensei Josh and his wife there to pick me up. They seemed as excited as I was to meet. They asked where I was planning to stay and insisted on driving me. As we drove through the outskirts of town at 10pm, I couldn’t see much. We exchanged the standard introductions of our families, what we do for a living and what my plans were for the trip. They were excited to be a part of BJJ For Zimbabwe and Josh told me he had lots of students anxious to learn about this “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu” thing.  He had heard of Traditional Jiu Jitsu, as well as Aikido or Aiki Jiu Jitsu, but had no knowledge of the Brazilian style. I told him I’ll be happy to give anyone who is willing a thorough history,  demonstration and lessons on the art that I love.

We arrived at the hostel close to 11pm, Josh had never seen a hostel and him and his wife were very hesitant to let me stay in the dorm room.  I assured them that I had stayed in many before, and this was certainly not the shadiest. After all, I only needed a bed sleep on add most of my time will be either with the kids or at Josh’s dojo a few blocks away, the hostel also had free wifi, which was rare in the city. With reluctance they left me there and insisted I call first thing in the morning to solidify a plan. I didn’t manage to sleep much, mostly because I slept a lot on the planes,  but also in anticipation for what I’d be doing. I woke at 3am, got showered up and took advantage of the internet to let my family know of my arrival,  as well I emailed the village to work out a plan. I then took a nice walk around the neighborhood as the sun rose and waited for the hostel kitchen to open so I could destroy a much needed breakfast. Over breakfast I was happy to receive an email response from the SOS village, they let me know they would promptly come pick me up, and without question I would be staying in an apartment at the staff training center that is co-located with the Waterfalls Children’s Village.12626035_10153281582331975_1296001998_n

True enough, the Regional Director himself came to retrieve me within an hour. After a short tour of the city center, we went to the village and got me checked into a room. I hung out in the office for a bit to try and find my lost luggage on the phone with the airport. I also let Josh know of my change in accommodations. Then I had to check out the village and meet some of the staff and kids. The grounds were huge. When reading about the village online and in the letters I received from the kids, I thought there was maybe five or six houses each with seven or eight kids and a mother. I underestimated it completely. Instead, I learned there are approximately 230 kids in the village, roughly half lived full time on the grounds others were housed by “sponsor families” in the community surrounding the walled gated village. The houses were well kept and modern, the mothers or senior youth took great pride in their maintenance and cleanliness. There is a kindergarten and all grades school on the grounds as well, which also services the outside community. There is a large soccer pitch, basketball court and playground which are all used frequently. There is also a large swimming pool,  donated by some man who had a plaque installed outside it after its installation. The pool was out of order, apparently there was a leak and the contracted repair company botched the repair and fled with the money, this may be a future project or friends at the Harare Club will take on. There are several staff offices and a general purpose building used for church on Sundays and whatever gatherings requiring shelter. There was also a large thatch roofed gazebo in the village center mainly used as a downtime hangout for kids, this is where I would establish my dojo for introducing the kids to jiu jitsu. The village also keeps bees, chickens and each house had its own self serving garden where maize, kale, peanuts and tomatoes are grown. Co-located with the village is the Regional Staff Training center that serves all Villages in Southern Africa. It includes conference rooms, apartments (one of which I was housed in), a cafeteria and several small office buildings. As I stated, the entire complex was walled and gated.

After the village tour I received a message from Josh saying a group of his black belt students were very excited to learn some grappling and asked if I could start right away with a class that evening. I said of course, after all that is what I was there for. The rest of the morning I spent on the phone with the airport trying to track down my lost bags,  with no luck. I also met with the program coordinator at the village and worked out a plan for me to teach youth nice and early everyday from 7-8am. This worked out perfectly as it got extremely hot after 11am. I secured the gazebo as a temporary dojo while I’d be there and the coordinator said he’d work on trying to find mats or something for a tatame.

Check back tomorrow night for Part 2, “Setting the Hook!”

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