Linda Ochen’s journey as a karateka was inspired by a dark incident. Someone she considered a friend defiled her. She was in high school. The incident left her devastated, disappointed and torn. She felt her world fall apart.
“He was someone I knew. He is the reason I joined martial arts,” she says, visibly unhappy at the recollection of the moment that also took away her innocence.
Learning the game helped her gain a skill she would use to protect her and also help her heal from the fear the forceful act had left in her.
She was started on this journey by her high school literature teacher, Patricia Agarukire with whom she shared her sad ordeal.
Today, Ochen is a brown belt holder in karate and a hat-trick winner of the coveted Uganda Sports Press Association (Uspa) Best Female Karateka of the Year for 2016, 2017, and 2018.
She is now a karate instructor who uses the sport to bolster self-esteem and self-defence among girls to overcome the adversities of early child marriages and stay in school.
From self-defence to glory
What began as skill born out of the need for self-protection has earned Ochen a colourful winning streak and recognition. Her winning streak can be traced back to 2012 when she won her first silver medal in inter-hall competitions at Ndejje University.
In 2013, she competed and received a silver medal under the ‘Individual Kumite’ category in the East African Inter-University Games. In the same year, she won a gold medal (Individual Kata) and silver medal (Individual Kumite) under the Okurut Memorial Cup.
In October 2014, Ochen won two silver medals for Kata and Kumite in the Independence Tournament. In December the same year, she went on to win a bronze medal (Team Kata) in the East African Inter-University Games.
In 2015, she once again won a silver medal (Individual Kata) in the Okurut Memorial Cup then aced the three gold medals, two under ‘female team Kata’ and one under Individual Kata.
She also bagged a silver medal under ‘individual kata’. In December2016, she won a gold medal and silver medal at the East Africa Inter-University Games. In March 2017, she was awarded both gold and bronze medals under the Okurutu Memorial Cup.
In December 2017, she won two medals, gold and silver in the National Inter-University Game’.
Ochen matured at an early age when she lost her parents. She has had to mature and be there to partly offer strength, comfort and guidance to her siblings. She lost her father while in Primary Seven.
When he died, She was not immediately told. She was let to sit and complete her mock examinations. She went for burial where she broke down. She had just lost her sibling too and her mother died shortly after.
“When my mother was about to die, she asked me to be strong and told me that I would be a great woman. When both my parents died, I was hit to the bottom,” she recollects.
Then rejection from family and friends followed. She had to mature immediately.
“When our parents were alive, there were relatives who would come home but when they died, some of them changed. That’s the other part I did not expect. It was painful.”
A blessing in disguise
One of their maternal uncles became their guardian and lived with them. When Ochen had to make a choice for university education, she prioritised Makerere University where she was admitted. However, her uncle asked her to join Ndejje University. He was not willing to take her to a university where students strike was commonplace.
“At first I did not like Ndejje. I did not know that it was a blessing in disguise. During orientation, we were told sports is prioritised. When I got to know that there is martial arts, I was excited. I looked for the coach. The team had five boys and one girl,” she says.
When she asked to join the team, the boys were surprised and asked why she had chosen martial arts for a sport. She told them she loved the sport. The coach, Joyce abako, was awed.
She kept her eyes on Ochen. She shared her contact with the new team member. She would be updated when training and demos were on.
Martial arts calmed her
The sport also helped her deal with the pain of the challenges she underwent. Her commitment to the game caught the attention of the president of the federation, James Kyuwusa. He asked that she is graded.
“He picked interest in me because I was good at what I was doing. He also noticed a void in me. I needed a lot of affection so he became a parent to me,” she explains.
During her second year at Ndejje where she pursued Social Work and Social Administration, her guardian told her to ask for a dead year because he had run low on funds for her education.
She told the coach about her predicament. The university offered scholarships to students. She needed to prove herself. She would work hard at inter-university martial arts competitions.
“Whenever we went for competitions at inter-university games, I aimed to win a medal. In return, the university would cut a percentage off my fees. That’s how I managed to get through. I remember during my last semester, my guardian only paid Shs400,000, which was about 80 percent off,” she says.
You could say sports was her saviour. She graduated.
“I was very happy because of not disappointing my guardian, coach and university. I balanced between sport and studies. I was doing a day programme and while others went out to clubs and bars, I would immerse myself in (my) book.”
When she graduated, the federation president told her that her life was impressive, and that there are lessons he had learnt from her; resilience, commitment, patience and humility.
He nominated her for her first Uspa award. Martial arts is broad and karate is just part of it. Karate has different styles.
“Martial Arts has enabled me to get out of the negative energies during training. I have been able to heal wounds which human beings could not help me treat,” Ochen says.
Joining the national team in 2017 was a key career highlight.
She has since also pursued a Masters’ in Development Studies on scholarship offered by Ndejje University where, on completion, she was given a lecturing position.
Her skills and story have earned her a mentorship opportunity with Youth Development Link – that also link her to working with Unicef.
“One thing that humbles me is that God has given me the opportunity to look at life in another way. We’re few women in the country playing the martial. I’m glad it has won me medals and trophies for the university and the country and beyond,” Ochen says.
In her own words . . .
I do my best to execute my duties with total devotion and dedication and challenges in my working experiences are my source of inspiration because I learn a lot from them.
One of the things I promised myself is that when God gave me this opportunity, I would teach anybody if they lost their parents, and encourage them not to feel pity in their lives.