When a Street Kid from Cameroon Discovers Kung Fu...

Source: Xinhuanet, GlobalTimes

At the top of Nkol-Nyada hill sits the Yaounde Conference Center. Built in the 1980s as a China-aid project, it remains to this day one of the landmark buildings in Cameroon. It is also the place where the story of Fabrice Mba, a Shaolin disciple, begins.

Mba grew up on the street. He had no father and his mom could not take care of all her children because there were so many. In 1987, at the age of 8, he left his home in the southern town of Sangmelima with his elder sister to settle in the capital. They lived not far from the Yaounde Conference Center.

Every morning, little Mba saw a Chinese man making odd movements with his hands at the square of the Conference Center. He and his friends, all barefoot and wearing torn T-shirts, watched the foreigner and imitated him.

"It was very beautiful," recalled Mba.

Finding a master

One day, the Chinese man called them over and asked them to take a particular stance, knees slightly bent and their arms held in front of them as if holding a tree in their arms.

"We stood facing the wall. It hurt our feet, shoulders and arms so much that my friends fled, and I was left alone," said Mba.

This stance, which is called zhan zhuang, is in fact a basic training method for Chinese martial arts. The man who "mistreated" Mba was a Chinese technician assigned to Cameroon to maintain the Conference Center, and the "very beautiful" movements that he made were obviously kung fu.

After that day, Mba came every morning to learn kung fu.

"He was very thin, but at the same time very strong," Mba said of his teacher, the name of whom he never learned.

A year later, Mba returned to Sangmelima. His big brother was a projectionist, and Mba often helped him sweep the movie theater. It was there that, for the first time, he saw Shaolin monks on the screen.

"It spoke to me very loudly," he said.

After he finished his studies, Mba returned to Yaounde to make a living. However, life hurt him more than the stance of zhan zhuang. Each job he took did not last long, and he did not know what to do to put food on the table. His friend, who worked as a security guard at a bakery, sometimes saved some breadcrumbs for him.

"I had it on my hands, face and in my nostrils."

"I don't drink, I don't smoke, kung fu is all I have," said Mba, who continued to practice martial arts by studying videos. To find inner peace, he trained in the morning in front of the conference center, as his Chinese teacher once did.

In 2011, a professor from the Confucius Institute encountered Mba while he was practicing kung fu. After a short chat, Mba was invited to visit the establishment for teaching Chinese language and culture. In a very short time, he became close friends with Chinese teachers who believed in him a lot.

"I finally had the feeling of becoming me."

Four years later, after a selection of profiles by the Confucius Institute, Mba obtained a scholarship to be trained in China in martial arts and traditional Chinese medicine at the Shaolin Temple.

"It was just like what I saw in the movies," said Mba, only this time he was on the other side of the screen.

"The great masters of Shaolin really edified and enlightened me."

Between 2015 and 2019, Mba went to Shaolin Temple three times for training. Returning back to Yaounde, he became a physiotherapist, and gradually began earning a constant income. When he is not busy with his patients, he teaches kung fu fundamentals for free at the Confucius Institute and in several schools in Yaounde.

For many Africans, kung fu is presented only as a combat system, however, "by embracing Chinese martial arts, I discovered their virtue," he said.

"What kung fu basically teaches is how to produce a man of morality. When a man is rich in moral values, it is easier for him to be surrounded by people who love him and to have advancements in life," said Mba.

He managed to convey this message to young kung fu enthusiasts.

"He teaches us to be a man of integrity, hardworking and respectful. If you have a problem with your friend, you have to keep cool and take a step back," said Emmanuel Ze, a student of Mba.

'Lotuses and water lilies'

In his collection of poems published in 2017 entitled Breach in a Stone Wall, Mba saw his difficult years as a wall of despair. He was finally able to break through due to China.

"I come with a story, which is more and more similar to that of a million Africans, to whom China opens its doors, to whom China changes [their] destiny," he wrote in this autobiographical anthology.

He is currently preparing a program to offer short-term training in physiotherapy and others to disadvantaged young people free of charge so that they can find work.

"Be your own boss" is the slogan of his program named Lotus and Water Lily, because "these are the only flowers that are able to grow in a polluted environment, and succeed in producing white flowers," he explained.

"I was a street kid, destined to be a bandit or a robber, but I discovered kung fu which taught me to become a man of moral excellence even if I had no money," he said.

"All these children who are in difficulty like once I was, who are destined for a bad life, can become lotuses and water lilies if they are given the opportunities."