We have one life to live and it’s our responsibility to keep healthy, said Sierra Leonean martial artist and gym instructor, Alimamy Bangura. Keeping healthy, the 25-year-old explained, includes minding what we eat, how we eat it, and the exercises or activities we engage in with the guidance of experts. Bangura believes martial arts - various sports which originated mainly in Japan, Korea, and China as forms of self-defence such as judo, karate, and kendo - should be promoted or added to schools’ core curriculum because they help to build stamina, strength, and versatility as well as enable coordination and balance. ALSO READ: The beauty of the oriental martial art of Taekwondo “We can add some years to our lives if we partake in exercise, however simple it is,” he says. Movie influence Bangura is a student at the African Leadership University (ALU) in Kigali where he is pursuing an Arts in Global Challenges bachelor’s degree. His passion for martial arts started at 15 as a result of watching Asian martial arts movies. The tactics actors used when fighting, mostly in karate, fascinated him. “I knew I wanted to try it out one day. I also wanted to have basic skills in case I found myself in a life threatening situation,” Bangura said, noting that his drive for taking a course in martial arts and gym was to equip people with knowledge and skills to stay fit and healthy. “It goes beyond that; for instance, it assists in maintaining body weight and balance, thus making one lighter. But also, one stays in great shape physically and it improves focus and concentration.” Passing such skills on to students can be of benefit when it comes to protecting themselves in situations such as rape, and other forms of violence. As a certified gym coach, he notes, the gym is not only about lifting weights. It involves being proactive, and ignites efficiency in one’s work. When clients contact him, he interacts with them to know the reason they want to exercise and offers them a form to fill out. They list their expectations, areas they need to work on to reduce or increase weight, and the period they would wish to achieve the results. He also advises clients on the dos and don’ts of the gym and appropriate meal plans. There are cardio exercises that don’t require using equipment such as skipping, jumping, running, and cycling, he said. For him, it starts with interest. It’s the mind-set and discipline that help people get results. Training at the Shaolin Temple Initially, his idea was to travel to China to learn the local language, as he pondered on the first step to learning martial arts. And then opportunity knocked at his door in 2018 when he got a two-year martial arts scholarship in China. In China, he did a diploma in KungFu, Chen-Style TaiJi kickboxing, and Wing Chun at Wu Nana Mountain Shaolin Temple, under the University of Technology in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. The Chen-style Taijiquan is a Northern Chinese martial art and the original form of Taiji characterized by silk reeling, alternating fast and slow motions, and bursts of power. Wing Chun, on the other hand, is a concept-based fighting art, form of Southern Chinese kung fu and close-quarters system of self-defense. “While in the forest mountain at Shaolin Temple, I had mixed feelings. I was excited about the opportunity but also frightened, wondering if I would persevere since the training was intense,” Bangura said. The Shaolin Monastery, also known as Shaolin Temple, is a renowned monastic institution recognized as the birthplace of Chan Buddhism and the cradle of Shaolin Kung Fu. His first year was taxing. He developed muscle pain due to training three times every single day. ALSO READ: Health Benefits of Martial Arts The training nurtured him, he said. It gave him a sense of discipline, kindness, and respect. With time, he started enjoying it as it had become part of him. When the training ended, he returned to Sierra Leone where he started coaching. Leaving home Coming to Rwanda to pursue the course at ALU was a blessing, Bangura said, since it opened doors to new ideas. It was at the university that he made friends and taught them simple exercises without equipment, after classes. “With only chairs and desks, I trained colleagues to partake in incline pushups, normal pushups, diamond squatting, and so forth.” This bonded the group and thrilled them, and they often looked forward to the coaching sessions. “It’s through this that I discovered that I could actually earn money from my skills, thus starting my brand, ‘Builder Bangs’ that I registered in 2022. My fellow students were my first clients.” He later reached out to other people and, in six months, had trained more than 100 people in martial arts and gym exercises. Bangura was surprised by the outcome and the fact that Rwandans enjoy sports. Moving forward Having no money to purchase gym equipment didn’t deter Bangura from trying to earn a living. He partnered with a well-equipped gym in Kimironko where he trains his clients three times a week on days when he is not busy with studies. He also offers online coaching. Bangura doesn’t underestimate the power of social media and shares his short workout videos on the platforms, giving him more clients. He also does a lot of research to offer clients the right meal plan. “Cut fat and lower consumption of foods high in sugar because poor feeding habits can hinder effective results,” he advised. Bangura has launched a martial arts club at the university. This, to him, is a dream come true since he gets to share his knowledge with young people. Bangura now wants to start a podcast to get people to embrace a healthy lifestyle. He will use it to interact with people and respond to questions. He also hopes to invent a fitness App that will assist users in improving their overall health and well-being.