In just 18 months, RMIT student Semakadde Kakembo has gone from raw beginner to world champion contender in the sport of Brazilian jiu jitsu.
Later this month, he heads to New York for intensive training with one of the sport’s great names, Marcelo Garcia, a black belt and five times world champion.
And from 1 to 4 June, Kakembo will be competing in the world championships at California State University in Los Angeles, in the 64kg and under division (light featherweight).
The Bachelor of Legal and Disputes Studies student became involved in the sport by accident.
“I was playing soccer with Hume City in the National Premier Leagues and wanted to do some training in the off-season to keep fit," he said.
“I saw a martial arts studio and signed up for a one-week trial – but the sport clicked.
“It’s very technical and involves a lot of grappling. I love the fact that a smaller guy like me can beat a bigger guy without a handicap system.”
Kakembo entered his first competition after just a month, losing his first game but winning the rest.
He went on to win his division (light featherweight, white belt) at the Australian Jiu Jitsu Championships last year – a title he aims to defend later this year.
And he beat bigger, heavier opposition to win the male white belt open weight category at the Arnold Classic Australia in Melbourne in March.
As for the world championships – “I’m in with a chance.”
Kakembo faces a punishing training routine – up at 4.30am to swim at the Broadmeadows pool in Melbourne’s northern suburbs and training three times a week at the Limitless Mixed Martial Arts gym in Sunbury with his coach, Troy Skidmore.
“A lot of the progress that I’ve been lucky to make has only been possible due to Troy’s excellent coaching and dedication to improvement. I’m really grateful to be part of a team like Limitless.”
Alongside this, he’s studying three subjects a semester and one in the holidays.
Kakembo attributed his success in balancing sport and study to staff in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies – in particular the Deputy Dean of Justice and Legal Studies, Dr Michele Ruyters, and Program Manager, Dr Peta Malins.
He also praised the backing he’s received from Sally Tanner, who is Senior Coordinator, Sport, in RMIT Link’s Sport and Recreation team.
Tanner said: “RMIT Sport is focused on assisting every member of the RMIT community with their sporting ambitions.
“That ranges from beginners wishing to have go at sport for the first time through our Social Sport on Campus activities to intermediates wishing to compete regularly in clubs or representative teams, to helping elite athletes such as Sem get to world championships through the Elite Athlete program.
“The Elite Athlete program is more than simply funding, it’s about assisting student athletes to balance the demands of training and sport.”
Story: David Glanz