First published in Daily Maverick 168.
He calls himself Troublemaker Faeez Jacobs. His Facebook profile says he is a Bantamweight Champion at the mixed martial arts (MMA) organisation EFC. The 26-year-old says his name “Troublemaker” means something different.
“With me, troublemaker means to not conform, to be uniquely yourself and to choose to believe in yourself rather than shy away from things. To believe that the world is for you and not against you. This is just part of my personal journey,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs struggled in high school with his behaviour, so he was dubbed “troublemaker” by a principal. Instead of shunning the moniker he decided to stick with it and make it something positive rather than negative.
Jacobs is now an MMA Bantamweight Champion. He is also a coach with the Laureus Sport for Good Bom Combat martial arts programme in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town, where he is positively changing young lives.
“I live in Grassy Park now. I grew up in Mitchells Plain and moved around many times,” Jacobs recalls. “So in high school I struggled a lot with discipline; I struggled with behaviour also. Martial arts was how I later got control over myself and where I wanted to go in life.
“I went to nine schools so that meant I was the new boy all the time; that makes you a target for bullies like you won’t believe. I was just sick and tired of people walking over me and treating me like they want.
“When I went to high school, I started getting into fights, vandalising things. I became a delinquent; I wanted to appear as though I was somebody you didn’t want to mess with. I lost sight of who I was, especially during high school. Towards the end of high school at age 17 or 18, after I was expelled in my matric year, I found myself in martial arts. I was training in my backyard and running.
“I decided I really wanted to compete and have a future in it. For a boy from Mitchells Plain, that is harder than it seems. The sport is not really available. There was a boxing club that trains twice a week, but that wasn’t enough. I had to look for a gym outside Mitchells Plain for more training. The fees were already difficult. I had to find work to pay for the fees.”
But the hard work paid off. In 2016, Jacobs was a four-time provincial and national champion. He was Western Cape Amateur Kickboxing Champion, the South African Amateur Kickboxing Champion, Cape Fight League Amateur Kickboxing Champion and the South African Kickboxing Association (SAKA) Pro Kickboxing champion.
MMA rules are a lot broader than those for regular boxing: fighters are allowed to kick, elbow or knee someone. There’s boxing, wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai involved. It’s quite free-form. It requires training in all of those disciplines to be ready to fight in any.
Jacobs turned pro in MMA in 2017 and was crowned EFC Bantamweight World Champion in 2019, ranking number one in Africa. Covid-19 has stopped his competitive fighting in 2020.
Passing on knowledge and discipline
“My day job is also fighting. I feel like that’s why I can relate to the boys at the Mitchells Plain School of Skills so well,” Jacobs said. “Because I’ve been there, I can understand them. Some of them struggle with it because people let them down, and they struggle to open themselves up.
“They are the underdogs and there is so much negativity about their lives and the areas they live in. Some other kids, when they find something positive, a lot of them grab it with everything they have.
“As part of the Sport for Good programme, at the Mitchells Plain School of Skills I teach Bom Combat to a group of boys. It’s mostly wrestling techniques and a style of Olympic wrestling. I also teach Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It’s all defensive tactics.
“They could be used for self-defence, if somebody grabbed you around the head and started headlocking you. Or grabbed you from behind and tried to choke you down to the ground. That’s what I’m teaching the boys at Mitchells Plain.
“You see the change in the kid: he walks differently, he wants to be more outspoken in what he thinks. He’s got motivation and flair, a different level of peace.”
His students range from 14 to 18 and were selected because they were disruptive and also displaying aggressive behaviour at times. They’re the ones that tend to get into fights more often and struggle to have self-control. They’re struggling with channelling their emotions.
The school, where Jacobs has been teaching since April 2019, is not only about fighting. It’s focused on welding, cooking and carpentry, and other practical skills. Jacobs sees the students on weekdays for two-hour Bom Combat sessions.
Jacobs recalls that in the beginning it was difficult as they were reluctant. The boys come from difficult areas and are used to seeing a lot of destructive behaviour. Once they open up their lives and see what the programme does, they see they can apply self-control and see that within self-control, there is power.
“A boy of 17 in Mitchells Plain contacted me recently and said that because of our training he was able to cope better during lockdown,” Jacobs said with pride.
“He was doing push-ups in the backyard and running at the beach, shadow boxing and practising singular exercise. It gave him focus and something to keep busy with, and to be healthy in his mind. It has become a lifestyle for him now.
“Before lockdown, while school was still happening, I got many reports from teachers saying that my boys had become calmer, in better moods and were more teachable. It’s the escape from their reality, having someone invest in them, getting them to do something they feel matters. It builds towards their self-esteem, their confidence, the way they see themselves. I feel like so often they have a lot of emotions bottled up and there’s no outlet.
“And being able to exercise in a healthy way like this gives their mind a break. Gives them a release they need. If they don’t get that release in a healthy way, they’ll get it in an unhealthy way.
“Some of these kids have been in juvi [juvenile detention], been involved in gangs, have had court cases against them … it’s horrible. They were misunderstood for a big portion of time. They just needed some guidance and some sport. This thing inside that when you push yourself and get to explore yourself in a different way, it makes you feel confident in your abilities, it builds trust within yourself,” he said.
There are about 35 to 40 kids involved in the programme and Jacobs is one of two coaches.
They’re not able to run the Bom Combat programme currently because of Covid-19 restrictions. But Jacobs keeps communicating with the students, sending them videos over WhatsApp of exercises and moves.
There’s no word yet on when Bom Combat is allowed to resume even though the school itself has been operating. The sooner it restarts, the better. It could save a life. DM168
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