Martial art is one of the neglected sports in North Rift. Few individuals take the sport to the highest level, acquiring top-notch accolades across the country and the world.
Jacton Ratanga is one person who beat the odds to excel in the sport in the region. He is a martial art expert who pioneered a Taekwondo club in the North Rift at Eldoret.
The Black Belt holder was born in 1965 in Nairobi. He decided to take Taekwondo to defend himself from bullies in Nairobi estates, but he later came to love the sport and took it up as a career.
“I started my Karate while at Railways Training School, but what made me start martial arts is because when I was a young boy, I was bullied. Whenever I had a ball, someone stronger than me would take it,” he recalled.
“If we played against another team from a different estate and won, a fight would erupt and stronger boys would run away with the ball or beat us.
“With many Jet Lee, Bruce Lee among other action movies in those days, watching them day by day, they made me start working out to be like them.
“At the same time, my mum was harsh. If you are beaten outside, you come crying, she will still punish you. So I had to learn how to defend myself.”
After high school, Ratanga joined Kenya Power in 1988. That is when he decided to take Taekwondo as a sport. He mingled with great instructors in the institution.
“I wanted to protect those close to me as a result of Nairobi’s atmosphere. Once, I was brought to Eldoret for fieldwork and I realised there was a big space, and I started training in a hostel. The programme gave me a great opportunity and I was awarded a blue belt. From that, I used to play with top guys like Black Belters and sometimes beat them and finish on medal bracket,” Ratanga said.
His best days in the national championships were when he challenged Charles ‘Tiger’ Kamau of Moi Airbase during the second edition of the Korean Ambassador’s Cup to win bronze. Since that time, he was rewarded with pre-don, the national Black Belt and a don (First International Black belt).
“After such a great show, I was approached to join the Kenya Navy. I turned down the offer because I was being paid well at Kenya Power, where I had been absorbed. I started the Eldoret Stima Club,” Ratanga said with a laugh.
Competing in middleweight, Ratanga never lost a match. He was invited to compete at the British Open Taekwondo championships. He won the second Don, the second international Black Belt, in 2016.
“Nobody knew a man from Eldoret could get such qualifications where we train at Eldoret’s Social Hall. I have managed to upgrade my students, as I also upgraded myself to greater heights in the career,” Ratanga said.
He has trained hundreds of students. Some of them have acquired Black Belt and employment in various companies because of the discipline they acquired through the five tenets of Taekwondo.
“We teach students the five tenets of martial art: discipline, etiquette, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit. We advise them to remain disciplined in the community. We also guide street children to take the sport seriously as a martial art expert. We always ask ourselves what we can do for Kenya and not what Kenya can do for us,” Ratanga said.
Many people in the region are not aware of Taekwondo. Ratanga finds it hard to recruit new members since most have taken up football and athletics, but his team is trying to educate them.
“Many people think we are hooligans, robbers and bad people in the society, but we have worked our way by educating the community that we are good people. We do our demonstrations during public holidays to send the message to the community for free,” he said.
In a living example, Ratanga said: “When Garissa University was attacked by al Shabaab, some students were moved to Moi University, Eldoret, and we were called to demonstrate how to protect themselves from the enemy.”
The Black Belt holder’s successful students include Kevin Obiero and Francis Ng’ang’a.