By Manas James Okony
Kickboxing is often overlooked in South Sudan as a legitimate form of sports. However, one man by the name of Puro Okello Obob has defied all odds to turn this once-frowned-upon sport into a beloved and popular event.
In many parts of the world, martial arts such as boxing, wrestling, kickboxing, and karate are widely practiced for self-defense, military and law enforcement purposes, competition, and maintaining good health.
But in the world’s youngest country, South Sudan, these martial arts were limited to traditional wrestling, volleyball, dance, and football.
That is until Puro took the initiative to introduce a variety of martial arts, including kickboxing, karate, and Muay Thai, to the young people at the Youth Training Center in the capital city of Juba.
For Puro, a former world full-contact champion, promoting peace through sports is his lifelong passion. When No.1 Citizen Daily Newspaper caught up with him, he shared his journey, starting as an amateur in the 1970s.
“I started karate training during my elementary school years in Khartoum in 1978. Martial arts have always been my passion, and I ventured into it to learn self-defense as a pupil,” Puro explained.
In the early 1980s, Puro overcame numerous challenges to become the first (South) Sudanese to introduce karate to the southern region of Sudan, which is now known as the Republic of South Sudan.
“I introduced Shotokan, a form of karate, in Juba in the early 1980s. I was the first person to bring karate practice to Juba,” he says.
As his love for the sport grew, Puro achieved many milestones, including earning a black belt in karate in Kenya in 1984. However, due to the escalating civil war in Sudan, returning to his home country was not an option.
Puro had to relocate to Addis Ababa and later Canada, where he pursued his education in electrical engineering while continuing his kickboxing career.
Despite his academic achievements, Puro emphasized that kickboxing remained not only his passion but also his profession.
He believes that kickboxing was essential for improving balance, flexibility, and strength, as well as maintaining good mental and physical health.
In a country enduring communal conflicts, Puro used kickboxing as a tool to foster unity among the youth.
He trained around 1,000 young individuals from various backgrounds, annually at the Youth Training Center in Juba, emphasizing that building South Sudan requires collective effort from everyone.
“At this center, I trained about 1, 000 youth from all walks of life annually. Development is from all of us. Whether you are an athlete or a journalist, building South Sudan requires collective efforts,” he stressed.
Throughout his career, he achieved great success, becoming the world full contact champion in Chicago in 1995, representing Canada. He also won similar championships in Canada in 1997 and became the inter-continental full contact champion in 2007. These accomplishments motivated Puro to return to Africa and focus on developing martial arts on the continent.
In 1995, he founded the first African Martial Arts Academy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and later opened a branch in Nairobi, Kenya. Puro, who is currently hopeful for Africa’s World Kickboxing Federation (WKF) presidency and serves as South Sudan’s WKF head, has dedicated himself to promoting kickboxing internationally.
He hopes to bring a stronger kickboxing team from South Sudan and organize international championships involving Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Egypt, and Sudan.
“I returned to South(ern) Sudan in 2008. Since then, I have been promoting kickboxing and mix martial arts,” he noted.
“My aim is to promote kickboxing internationally. In the south, we are progressing well. My mentees hold the titles of the best East African fighter and also the best African champion. Hopefully, we will bring the best team out of this country,” Puro added.
Puro’s journey showcases his commitment to kickboxing as a means of social change in his own country and beyond. Despite his electrical engineering diploma and public administration education, Puro continues to pursue his passion for kickboxing and inspire others to put their heads together for the betterment of South Sudan.
“This country is bigger than all of us, and it needs all of us to have it developed. So, let us stop the war for our children to have a better future,” he said.