Bonnie Roberts 8th Dan
Styles of armed and unarmed combat developed in the East from Ancient techniques and arts are known as Martial Arts. Common Martial Arts include Aikido, Judo, Jujitsu, Karate, Kendo and Kung Fu.
Fourteen hundred years ago, a Buddhist monk named Bodiharma from India, while preaching for long hours found it difficult to continue, because, the monks were physically unfit to listen to the sermon. To overcome this, he taught the monks, six sets of exercises. This set of exercises developed and today it has turned out to be impressive Martial Arts. History tells us, the monks who practiced this exercises, combined it with mental prowess. The Shaolian Monks were outstanding. With the help of meditation and physical strength, they performed wonderful acts.
When this was being studied and practiced further, by the Chinese Martial Artists, the Japanese in Okinawa, too, practiced several Martial Arts. To name a few Karate, Tonga Kendo, Samurai, Sword Judo Jujitsu etc.
What is Karate? It means Kara - empty hand, bare hand fighting. This Martial Art was taught in early days to a handful of youths. Today, Karate has become a popular sports discipline in the world.
Karate means self-defense. Through regular practice it helped to develop mental alertness, immense strength and discipline. Karate developed to greater heights in Japan. Master Gichin Funokoshi is known as the father of Karate in the world. Royal patronage was given to Karate by Japanese Kings and it was introduced to schools and colleges.
Today, we focus on a person, who can be named as one of pioneers of Karate in Sri Lanka. The sports discipline Karate and this particular name is synonymous in Sri Lanka. He is Bonnie Roberts.
He hails from Kalmunai, in the Eastern District. Bonnie was a versatile sportsman. As a schoolboy, he excelled in soccer, volleyball, cricket and athletics. After leaving Fatima College and St. Michael's, Batticaloa, he came to Colombo. He joined YMCA, and there, he qualified himself in Judo and Sensei Nissikawa awarded his Brown Belt. Bonnie Robert's main interest was manly sports. Some of the ingredients for these manly sports are Power, Vigor, Strength and Discipline. Other than Karate, he participated in "Mr. Ceylon Contest" and was a Runner-up in the Medium Class.
In 1970s, Karate was an up and coming sport in Ceylon. He mastered the basics in Karate while in Colombo and proceeded to Malaysia in 1972 to further his knowledge in Karate.
Roberts, a man of human qualities, while in Malaysia was trained by Chinese and Japanese world renowned Karate Masters and he successfully obtained a 2nd Degree Black Belt and returned to Sri Lanka.
Roberts after his return to his motherland imparted his experience, knowledge to youths in Colombo and outstations.
In the year 1976, on an invitation extended to him, by Karate enthusiasts, of Kerala, he proceeded to the State of Kerala. Within a very short period Roberts name gained popularity and he extended his Karate Training sessions to Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Bombay.
"Wherever, I went, I trained Karatekas and got them to teach others. I used to visit India, every four months, and also organized competitions, Tournaments and championships in several places in India. Sri Lankan Karatekas too participated in these competitions," said Roberts.
"Then came an invitation from Pakistan. I spread the Art of Karate in Punjab, Islamabad, Ahmadabad and other key towns in Pakistan. I am happy that some of the Pakistani Karatekas who were trained by me took part in Karate Tournaments in Sri Lanka", stated Roberts.
Roberts was the first Sri Lankan, to take part in the First Asian Karate Championships held in Singapore. At this Championship, he was penalized for knocking the Cambodian. In the year 1973, he also participated in the "Open Malaysian Championships", held in Kuala Lumpur. He was able to score the first point against his rival a Chinese, but, lost to him later.
The Olympic Committee of German Karate Association invited Roberts to Germany for training. He proceeded to Germany and learned the Advanced Techniques under world famous Karate Gurus - Shihan Otachi and Shihan Sugimura. Mr. Pinto - the Sri Lankan Ambassador in Germany helped him to obtain this scholarship.
Roberts was responsible not only in popularizing Karate, but also, registering the Karate Association with the Ministry of Sports.
Later, in the year 1983, the Ceylon Karate Association name was changed as Sri Lanka-Karate Federation, to enable to affiliate other styles of Karate Disciplines.
Roberts married Uksulalotwandhan. Bonnie's father's name Constantine John and mother's - Elizabeth. The family consisted of 3 boys and 3 girls.
In the SAF Games held in Nepal a couple of years back, Bonnie Roberts was the National coach of the Sri Lankan Karate Team. The Sri Lanka Team won 2 Silver medals and 11 Bronze medals.
He served in the Department of Immigration and Emigration for couple of years and served the Sri Lanka Police as an Assistant Superintendent of Police (Reserve) too.
He also wrote a Book on Karate, which helped the budding Karatekas.
Unassuming Roberts is a fine human being, always ready to help someone who is interested to learn this Martial Art. Unfortunately Roberts passed away in 2007.