At first it was just a crazy idea.
I woke up hungover on a Sunday in the middle of a desert for about the third week in a row. I hadn’t trained at all for months and I felt terrible. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be on the mats it’s just that there wasn’t a BJJ class going on for probably about 1,500 miles/2,500 KM. I’m in N’djamena, Tchad smack dab in the middle of Central Africa. I finish pouring myself a hangover cure and a dim lightbalb goes off somewhere in my mind. “Why isn’t there BJJ here?”
I’ve known about the Lionheart Initiative(LHI) for about a year simply because Professor Kelly Grissom who awarded me my KOA Team blue belt had been traveling to Dakar, Senegal in support of the project there once a year since 2013. Lionheart Initiative is a movement to bring Mixed Martial Arts to areas in Africa where it doesn’t exist to allow the people to benefit from the same life changing qualities that you and I share. The Initiative has brought many professional martial artists of MMA, BJJ, and Muay Thai to several countries in West Africa to help teach eager young learners. I quickly got in contact with the Coordinator of LHI about starting a project to spread BJJ to Tchad. LHI was definitely on board but there were still many obstacles standard to life in Africa. In Tchad everyone speaks French and very little English. Unfortunately, my French is limited to about 4 words. It’s also nearly impossible to get anything shipped here let alone bulky mats and finding mats here would be a needle in a haystack. None of these issues were going to stop me from trying.
My first breakthrough came about a week later after a coworker put me in touch with Zabra who is a Cameroonian boxer that was working as a bouncer in the city. Zabra’s immediate enthusiasm about doing any sort of training was the kind of encouragement that I needed at this point! His efforts made him nothing short of a miracle worker. He quickly used his many local connections and scouted possible places for training. Finally, on a Sunday that I didn’t have work, we were ready to go see what Zabra had found. I call up Doug who is the reliable local taxi driver that charges a fair price (and has shown me some of the hidden gem parties in N’djamena) Zabra, Doug, and I meet at my hotel for drinks and hookah to be introduced and discuss in broken English what the plan is for the day. While we are on the way the trip ends up being a short drive through unregulated traffic and a turn onto a bumpy dirt road. The road goes on just long enough for me to believe were lost before we begin to turn of the sand and into a fairly well painted gate with a sign over it that read in French ‘Institute of Junior Sports‘ INJS. The compound is large, well gardened, and filled with kids running around playing futbol. Doug parks his small unmarked car from the mid 90s and we venture inside.
I found my needle.
I received many curious glances being the only white person strolling into the compound but everyone greeted me friendly. Zabra and Doug spoke with a large group that appeared to be training boxing and TKD. After the French exchange, I was informed that they were the wrestling, and boxing coaches at INJS. They were thrilled about the idea of having another coach help teach a new martial art! Their welcoming seriously still startles me it was almost surreal and I couldn’t have been more thankful for the opportunity. Yet, there were still many challenges to come. They allowed me to explore the compound to see the facility and ask questions about things I believed might be necessary prior to starting training. Through the wrestling coach I was put in contact with Basile a Judo coach of the Chadian National Judo team. We left INJS after a short time very satisfied with the new connections we had made.
N’djamena is off to a great start.