The Jovial France Uwase took up Karate as early as the age of nine. Her father introduced her to the sport in 1993. She currently has a Black-Belt and is a Second Dan Rank holder in the Karate sport.
“I was the only girl at the time playing karate amongst boys. My father didn’t play Karate but he loved the game and he had friends who played the game,” Uwase recalls.
Uwase works with the Communications Department at the Rwanda Biomedical Centre. She says that Karate is a sport of discipline and harmony.
“Karate increases one’s self esteem and gives them the ability to defend themselves when they are trouble only. Depending on the kind of art, one can become very flexible,” says the 28-year-old Uwase.
Born and raised in Kigali, Uwase attended the National University of Rwanda where she pursued a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communication. During her time at the University, she attained several medals in Karate. For example, during the 2008 All African University Games, Uwase won the Silver medal in the Karate discipline.
“Although I fell in love with Karate when I was very young, I had to let go of it in my teenage years, but resumed because it had become part of my life,” Uwase said, adding, “Karate is so important in one’s life because it instils social traits such as discipline, respect and self control.”
Amidst several misconceptions that Karate is a sport for men, Uwase says she faced challenges as she tried to overcome this gender stereotype.
“Being a Rwanda woman made it challenging to fully take on the sport. In the Rwanda culture, women or young girls are not supposed to get involved in fights. It was so discouraging when I had to play as the only girl among 90 boys,” she said.
Uwase further encourages women and young girls to take on Karate because it comes with several benefits.
“Most young girls are scared of taking on Karate because they think they are not energetic enough but that is not true. Anyone can take on the sport if they have the desire to play. I have played the sport for so many years but have never lost a tooth or broken a single bone in my body,” Uwase says.
“Other young women are scared to take on the sport because they think their bodies harden and look masculine,” Uwase says deeming this thought process as ridiculous.
She argues that the above misconceptions are all moves that discourage women and girls from learning a skill that empowers them to defend themselves.
“My body is as soft as any woman’s yet I practice Karate. The sport instead, gives women an amazing physical body and keeps in shape,” Uwase says.
The meaning of Karate Belts
The belt that signifies the beginning of Karate training is the white belt. White as a colour represents purity.
The yellow belt is given to a Karate beginner who has started taking control of his or her life, body and environment. Yellow and orange symbolise sunrise and a new birth.
Green symbolises the colour of spring and growth. Just like a green plant sprouts out of the ground, the green belt is given to a Karate student who has entered the growing process of the training.
At times, also represented by the colour purple; the colour blue or purple signifies the colour of the sky. Hence, the blue belt is given to students in order to remind them to continue their journey with lots of dedication and hard work.
The brown or red belt symbolises the colour of sun and blood. It is given to Karate students when they are able to create their own techniques and can start imitating advanced and complicated techniques.
The highest-ranking Karate belt is the black belt. Since, colour black can absorb all other colours, the belt symbolises that a student has deep knowledge of all the preceding levels and has mastered the art of Karate.