The beginning of SKA can be traced back to a small group of Sabahans who were inspired by some of the Karate films they saw and some of the books they have read.
There was however no karate association or clubs in the 1960s so the group of friends led principally by Michael Chin, David Lee, James Lo and Joseph Liow went looking for someone who is willing to teach them the art of Karate.
They found Mr. Kim Chan Yong, a Korean Judo Master who also ran a “Karate” class in one of the shops at Kampong Ayer of Kota Kinabalu and joined his class.
A humble starting where a group of white belt enthusiasts gathered together with Mr. Kim for their 1st Karate class in 1966. Front Row from left : No. 5, Michael Chin, No. 6, James Lo No. 8, David Lee and Back Row No. 2, Joseph Liow. Mr Kim towering at centre back with George Chin on his left who penned the words on the board, “The First and Only” Karate Class in 1966 in Sabah!
They soon found however that Mr. Kim’s katas and basic styles were not the same as those shown in their Karate Books and soon realized that Mr. Kim was actually teaching a form of Tae Kwon Do and not Karate.
The group of friends then decided to move out from his class to form their own Karate Club. It was a brave move as the group had little or no knowledge of the art of Karate other than what little they have learnt from Mr. Kim and from their Karate books! But they were a determined lot and were also fortunate to find the Principal of St. Agnes’ School sympathetic to their cause.
So they started to meet at St. Agnes School Hall and the Jesselton Karate Association (JEKA) was officially registered on the 29th June, 1967. David Lee was asked to assume the position of President and Michael Chin was pressed into the position of Chief Instructor – a position he reluctantly accepted on the understanding that the Association would make it a priority to engage a professional Instructor as soon as possible. James Lo was the Secretary General and Joseph Liow was in charge of General Affairs with Lim Tyne Yee a Committee Member.
Meanwhile the Association prospered beyond the dream of all the pioneers of Sabah’s Karate Movement. At the beginning, there were three classes each day (two classes at 5pm – one for the ladies and one for men – and one “co-ed’ class at 7pm. In fact the Hall at St. Agnes’ School was filled to capacity despite the early Instructors’ inexperience and lack of qualification. The Instructors ably took their students through the basics of karate. Michael Chin recalls they were at most times only two or three steps ahead of their students!
A few months after the establishment of JEKA, Sufu Thomas Chang, a Chinese Martial Practitioner of Kuching, visited JEKA. He was so impressed with what he saw at the young Association that he awarded the four pioneers (who were then only brown-black belters) the black belt grade.
In late 1967, JEKA invited Mr. Manuel Jose, President and a 6th dan Chief Instructor of the Eastern Karate-Do Dojo in the Philippines to help out with their training. During Mr. Jose’s short stay, he also awarded his Karate Association’s Shodan Certificate to the pioneer Instructors.
In January 1968, JEKA rented two shop lots at Dah Yeh Villa and made it their Main Dojo.
The name JEKA was subsequently changed to Kota Kinabalu Karate Association (KOKINKA) following the change of the capital’s name in September 1968. By then the Association had also saved enough money to afford a full time instructor. With the assistance of the local Japanese Consul, KOKINKA was able to contact Mr. Masatoshi Nakayama, Chief Instructor of the Japan Karate Association (JKA). With a State grant, James Lo was sent to observe the training method of JKA as well as interview the instructor recommended. Subsequently, Mr. Yoshiki Habu, a senior Instructor of the JKA was engaged by KOKINKA in March 1969 as their Chief Instructor. With the arrival of Mr. Habu, KOKINKA also formally adopted the Shotokan style as its style of Karate.
Mr. Habu’s contract was shortened as a result of a national eviction of all foreign instructors following the May 13th riots. Before he left, Mr. Habu was able to upgrade a number of karatekas to Shodan and the pioneers to higher grades.
By then, KOKINKA had three clubs and two registered branches (Kudat and Beaufort). The Kudat Branch started as Kudat Karate Association and its founding members were Paul Lo, Fabian Chang, Joseph Shim and Patrick Chok. The founding member of the Beaufort branch was Kenny Ng, a school teacher who was a karate instructor himself and notable opponent.With numerous requests being received from karate enthusiasts in other parts of Sabah, branches were soon established in Tuaran, Kota Belud, Keningau, Tenom, Kota Marudu, Semporna, Papar, Labuan, and Kunak as well as in many locations of the Police Force, instrumental of James who was a police officer. In fact James also started the Tawau branch.Sandakan, like Kudat, also started originally as an independent Karate Association but soon joined the Sabah Karate Association (SKA) when SKA was formed. Founding members of the Sandakan Branch were Richard Lee, Patrick Yap, David Pang, John Lim and Philip Yap.Mr. Habu returned from Japan in July 1970 under the sponsorship of Datuk Haji Abu Bakar Titingan as Technical Advisor which further helped to solidify the standard and spread of Karate in Sabah.
The tremendous popularity and speedy spread of the art of Karate into various parts of Sabah was not lost on the pioneers of Sabah’s Karate Movement. They realized that they need to re-organize KOKINKA into a bigger body and adopt a more embracing name. So the Sabah Karate Association (SKA) was born and it was formally and officially registered on August 20th 1970.Members of the first committee of the newly registered SKA were: Michael Chin (President & Chief Instructor), James Lo (Secretary General), David Lee (Treasurer General) and Joseph Liow (General Affairs) with some others filling up the rest of the committee posts.The Association also promoted a Life Membership drive to raise funds for SKA. But todate, we have records of only four Life Members of SKA. About the same time, Tun Datuk Mustapha became Honorary Patron and Tun Fuad Stephen, Datuk Harris Salleh, Datuk Pang Tet Chung and Mr. Yong Vun were also appointed Honorary Presidents of the Association.
Through the close rapport with JKA, SKA sent its first team to attend the 2nd World Karate Championship held in Tokyo in June 1971, namely James Lo, David Lee, Simon Chin, Aziz Wong, John Ng and Paul Yap. SKA too had gained regional recognition and was invited to participate in the 1st Brunei Open Karate-do Championship held in August 1971. Led by SKA Chief Instructor, Mr. Michael Chin and John Ng, a team of 10 contestants, namely Wong Kee Yu (Captain) Frederick Choo, David Wong, Cheon Ali, Jenny Tsen, Andrew Wong, Stephen Lok, Tan Poh Yong, Lee Yen Fong and Paul Chin. Winning Sabah first medals of 1st and 2nd were Frederick and David Wong in the Men’s Individual Kata event respectively. The team also won the bronze in the Free Sparring Competition.
In August 1972 Jenny Tsen made history in becoming the first lady in Sabah to achieve the black belt graded by Michael Chin and presented by the President of SKA then, Tuan Haji Abu Bakar Titingan.
Through the rapport of Mr. Habu, SKA also enjoyed many visits from Japanese instructors and the most prominent was a team of 7 top instructors from JKA, namely founder member Masatomo Takagi (10th Dan), Chairman Shoji Takahashi (8th Dan), Chairman of International Affairs Hirokazu Kanazawa (7th Dan) and with other instructors including Mrs. Minako Kobayashi.
This visit also coincided with SKA first State-wide Open Championships held on the 17th February 1973 at the Kota Kinabalu Community Centre drawing 13 teams throughout Sabah and a huge gathering of more than 3000 spectators. Tawau A Team took the Champion with Tawau Police and Labuan as 1st and 2nd runner-ups respectively.
The highlights were demonstrations by the legendary Hirokazu Kanazawa with Mr. Habu and a Chinese Chi Kung (Internal Force) by Michael Chin.
In the same year, SKA also sent a team to the JKA International Championship held in Tokyo.Kanazawa Sensei came back again with his team of JKA chief instructors in the Asia region in 1974 for the 2nd Sabah State-wide Karate-do Championship held in Tawau. The writer recalls a packed Tawau Dewan, so packed that their coloured clothing was seen as colour dots. Tawau won the Men’s Team Kumite for a second consecutive year. Most remembered was the breaking of two one-inch boards by Kanazawa’s front kick when earlier attempts by a fellow Japanese instructor failed.
In 1975 KK Main Dojo organised the 3rd Sabah State-wide Championship in Kota Kinabalu Community Centre and this time Kanazawa Sensei came alone as Chief Referee. This championship was restricted to only Shodans and below.The 4th Sabah State-wide was again held in Kota Kinabalu in 1976 inviting the Chief Instructor from Brunei, a Singaporean to be the Chief Referee.Subsequent years saw a slow down in SKA’s activities but continued participation in international championships like the Asia Oceanic in Hong Kong in 1977. Datuk Lim Guan Sing was appointed as Patron of the Association. (to verify the date)
Sabah also sent a team to the International Amateur Karate Federation (IAKF) in Tokyo, Japan in 1977.
Perhaps without follow-ups of State-wide championships the popularity of the Association declined. It was said that SKA was in doldrums and at one point at the verge of being unregistered.
Late 1981 saw the return of a few ex-Sabah Karatekas from their studies in UK, namely U Ka Hong, Cyril Yapp and Paul Chin who had also been training and teaching karate there. Together with their former mates, David Wong and Andrew Wong, they opened up SKA Likas branch at the Likas Sports Complex which re-aroused much public interest. This group started using the Japanese terminology in the karate teaching as practiced internationally and also introduced the licence book instrumental of the present SKA passport.
The Sabah State-wide Championship was revived and the 5th was held at the Likas Sport Complex in 1982. Whilst providing the breath of fresh air into SKA, this group of young seniors quickly dominated and captured many titles in state championship in 1982 together with Alex Sham who was seen as the new driving force in Association. In the same year James Lo, who had taken over as Chief Instructor of SKA before mid 70s and Alex Sham attended the 6th WUKO Championship in Taiwan where they made contact with Sheik Nasir, Secretary General of the Malaysia Karate Federation (MAKAF). A formal application was made and SKA was officially admitted as a MAKAF member in 1983, a call of “high time for many Karate groups in both East and West Malaysia to unite into one formal organization” (Quote Habu Sensei 1974) fulfilled.
1983, SKA represented Sabah for the first time in a National Karate Championship under the new leadership of Datuk Henry Chin as the President. Together with James Lo, known for his eagle-eye sharpness and the memory of an elephant brought the underdog Sabah team to win 2 silvers and 1 bronze medal from Paul Chin, Patrick Ramp and Andrew Wong respectively. More importantly however was that Sabah made a formidable impact in the national karate arena. A moment remembered by some of the team members of Mr. Lo commenting “Mmmm…this is my best trip so far…that my boys can bring back some medals”.The dream of “competing under the Malaysian flag in the international arena” (Quote James Lo 1974) was accomplished when Patrick Ramp became the first Sabahan to represent the country in the Asia Pacific Karate-do Championship (APUKO) in Nagoya, Japan in 1983.
Paul Chin unfortunately dropped from the national team due to an injury sustained during centralized training was however sent by SKA to observe the same tournament. Ironically he took the referee exam and passed as Sabah’s first internationally qualified Asia Pacific Kumite Referee and Kata Judge. Alex Sham also passed as Kumite Judge.Having tasted the “blood” of a national championship, Sabah rose to the occasion to become the national over-all champion by winning seven gold, one silver and two bronze in its second national outing in Penang in 1984.
SKA’s contribution to the national karate growth was not only limited to competition but also in organization of championships. In 1985, SKA hosted both its first national karate championship, the 7th National Karate-Do Championship in August and Malaysia’s first international championship, the 6th APUKO Championship in December. The latter was “the biggest single sporting event to take place in Sabah yet”. (Quote Datuk Henry Chin) This APUKO was also the first time when Sabah won Malaysia’s 1st medal at Asia Pacific level through the Men’s Team Kata comprising of Paul John Chin, David U Ka Hong and Andrew Wong. It was also Malaysia’s first medal on an international level followed later by Ang Lye Hong and Chan Enn Gee winning their individual kumite bronzes in the afternoon.
In 1986 not only did SKA participate in its first world championship under World Union of Karate Organization (WUKO) in Australia but represented the majority of the Malaysian team. Subsequently the Association was honoured with the Patronage of Datuk Pairin Kitingan. (to verify the date) Also in 1987 SKA formed the bulk of the Malaysian team to compete in karate’s first inclusion in the South East Asia Games (SEA Games) in Jakarta hauling a string of medals.SKA suffered a minor setback when a team of seniors formed their own traditional organization, the Association of Shotokan Karate (ASK) citing difference in administrative and training methodology but it did not affect SKA’s momentum in sports karate. The winning of the national over-all champion went on for ten consecutive years through hard work and effort of all contestants, coaches and officials … development is very important … champions cannot be always be champions so we came up with back-up fighters and even more reserves in standby.” (Quote Alex Sham 1994)
Earlier names like Patrick Ramp, Paul Chin, Andrew Wong, Cyril Yapp, David U Ka Hong, Loh Beng Hooi, Cynthia Lo, Charlotte Lo, Julian Chin, Kevin Liew, Makedoline Ripin, Mak Chee Ghee, Mak Lai Fong, Chong Fui Mei and several others were replaced by Michelle Koh, Ramlah Hamid, Aini Patrick Ramp, Awang, Adelyn Prudente, Jennifer Lingam and Lily Linus in the late 80s and early 90s. Amongst the most outstanding contestants were Johnny Chong, a straight 7 times national kumite champion and Mohd Fairuz winning bronze in the APUKO and AUKO respectively. However receiving the most media buzz was none other than Michelle Koh’s gold medal in the SEA Games. Being the first gold of the Games it captured national limelight and making her not only the darling of Karate but also boost karate’s standing in both the State and nation’s sporting arena.By 1994, eight years under the presidential ship of Datuk Wilfred Bumburing, SKA’s reputation of being the nation’s karate powerhouse and successful organiser of two Kinabalu Internationals Karate Championships and Asia Pacific Shotokan Karate Championship was stale and ambition was pushed higher. Putting their heads together, the trio of Datuk James Lo and Alex Sham under Datuk Wilfred’s leadership and blessing put to gear the highest honour of hosting the WUKO championship. So awesome was the drive, assistance sought were given from all quarters, from State to Federal governmental authorities, NGOs to private sectors, SKA through MAKAF made the bid and won the job to host the 12th WUKO not only in Malaysia but in SKA’s own home ground, Kota Kinabalu in December 1994.
“… numerous benefits; some of which cannot be seen immediately. The spin-off effects of this World Karate event in Sabah, Malaysia, is huge. … Malaysian Karate would also benefit as there would be added interest in this sport.” (Datuk Henry Chin, Deputy Chairman of Main Organising Committee, 12th WUKO C’ship) Datuk Henry was then the Deputy President of MAKAF. Datuk Henry is currently the Life President of the Asia Karate Federation (AKF).Interest certainly did arise to an all time high boasting a figure of no less than 10,000 memberships and with the Association having its own premises at Jalan Tuaran.In 1997 SKA had a Highest Award presentation during an anniversary dinner to commemorate the high achievers, donors, supporters and contributors at the Promenade Hotel.With such a track record of results at the national levels as well as internationally, SKA was honoured with several awards from the State Government. As late as the year 2000 the association managed to garner 5 out of 8 possible Sabah State Sport awards. Among them were Best Sportswoman to June Moinjil, Most Promising Sportsman to Hisham Michael, Best Coach to Loh Beng Hooi, Best Leadership to YB Datuk Wilfred Bumburing and Best Sports Association (a 2nd time after winning in 1999 as well).
SKA had by then its own stable of internationally qualified referees but none as high as Loh Beng Hooi and Johnny Chong who reached who first attained WKF Kumite Judge in 1992 and 1999 respective. To-date Loh Beng Hooi has risen to not only to WKF Full Referee and Kata Judge in 2000 but in 2001 he was taken in as the WKF Referees Commission and in 2004 is now the Assistant Secretary for the WKF Referee Council.
In December at the eve of the 2000 millennium, SKA suffered one of its greatest losses, the untimely demise of its long serving Chief Instructor Datuk Hanshi James V.C. Lo. A mention in this history page is simply insufficient to pay homage to this man who has given so much to karate and so respected by many not only in Malaysia but throughout this South East Asia region. A void left so great that the President, Datuk Wilfred had to take upon himself to head the technical aspect of the Association through three Boards, namely Technical and Development, Black Belt Up-grading and Referee under Johnny Chong, Patrick Yap and Loh Beng Hooi respectively. To pool the strength, Datuk Wilfred had also successfully merge the ASK back into SKA, an attempt failed twice before. A veteran politician and with many years of public administration in the Government as a Minister, Datuk Seri Panglima Wilfred M. Bumburing who was a strong traditional karateka himself had also made history as being the longest serving President of SKA since 1986 and running. A contribution made to Karate that was recognized by the Honorary award of Hachichi Dan (8th Dan) by Kancho Hirokazu Kanazawa of SKIF in 1996.
This humble narrative on the History of SKA, highlighting the “first and most outstanding” is only scratching the surface of the so many achievements of both karatekas and officials’ unselfish contribution and hard work through all these years. It is hoped that this would start the ball rolling for all to contribute and add on to document a true and complete running history of the Association we are all proud and part of.
More pictures to be added with later updates.