Sensei Konaka ‘bows out’


Karate teacher from Madang’s Manam Island passes on after devoting the last part of his life to serving his wife’s people in Bougainville

He will be remembered and missed for many reasons. For some, it will be that smile on his face. That and his strength of character.
The Japanese art of karate-do had chiseled his mind and body into a rock of a character.
Joseph Tanepoakoko Konaka was born on April 4, 1965 in Baliau Village on the volcanic island of Manam in Madang. educated at the nearby Bieng Primary School and Malala High School.
The dream of a career in agriculture might have drawn him to the erstwhile Sepik Agricultural College in Maprik. But then he shifted to accounting and business management at the Divine Word Institute (Diwai).
At Diwai, his best moments were in trying to perfect the Japanese art of karate which had set the pathway for him to success in his career and life generally in all of his years.
Joe was committee to the art and eventually became sensei or teacher.
Following a short illness Joe passed away on Nov 24 in his wife’s homeland of Bougainville.
Brother in-law Morris Opeti and daughter Joanne spoke of his devotion to family and Bougainville affairs up until his passing during the funeral.
He is survived by wife Rachel, four children and two grand children.
Below is a tribute by his school mate and current president of the PNG Karate-Do Federation Carl Mari’Bera. It was read by another federation esecutive John Ali at Joe’s funeral at the Charles Lwanga Catholic Church on Tuesday Dec 7. He was laid to rest at Centa village, Tinputz, on Dec 10.
JOSEPH Tanepoakoko Konaka or Joe Konaka Sensei, as he was commonly known within karate and around the martial arts fraternity, started training in the art of karate-do in 1985 under the tutelage of the late Linus Petilau Sensei, and the former PNG Shotokan and Kyokushin karate chief instructor, the late Fonte Siming Sensei. We were directly trained by those two PNG karate stalwarts, and amongst our many colleagues were; Desmond Oa, David Wallace, Andrew Mepi, Ben Neil, Herman Kisok, and the late Andrew Tukiki, who all later got promoted to sensei.
Konaka Sensei and I were classmates and thru karate-do, we forged a long lasting and respeful relationship for 34 years. We never addressed each other by name, but only as ‘Bigmahn’ in respect to each other. Apart from studies and training we also used our spare time working with SVD Brother Paul Brokeman in his carpentry shed making Japanese Nanchaku weapons, which Konaka Sensei later became very proficient in. After graduating from Divine Word in 1987, we both took up jobs in Lae.
Konaka Sensei joined the ANZ Bank, whilst I joined Sullivan’s Pty Ltd. After settling into our respective jobs, we co-founded the first ever formalised Shotokan Karate club in Lae top town at the old Anglican Church located along Lae’s 7th Street in February 1988. We were Orange belts then, and went on to be graded by Siming Sensei for both our green and purple levels.
In June 1988, we moved our club to the Niall Reserve Hall with the assistance of fellow karateka Roy Stanley Sensei. But Stanley Sensei left Lae abruptly, so we had to toil by ourselves. It was at that club that we both attained the rank of brown and black belts for both Shotokan and Kyokushin karate styles.
Training in martial arts, and particularly, in karate in those days were like religion, but used to be hard and difficult as there were hardly any well taught instructors then; and so students had to learn by themselves for the most part of their development. Although we were separated from our instructors, we made it a point to visit Madang at an average of three times a year to get additional training tips from them to complement our magazine/book readings, video and movie shows.
In 1988 during one of those trips, we got involved in an accident along the Usino-Bundi road, but thank God we came out alive, and so our enthusiasm and journey were preserved and prolonged. Unlike others, we were fortunate to have each other as training and sparring partners during the best part of our Karate journey. At the Niall Reserve, our club got traction and attracted many more students, many of whom later represented PNG in various tournaments and events, and later became black belts and instructors themselves. Many Karate instructors and students today are directly or indirectly connected to the Lae Niall Reserve Shotokan/Kyokushin Karate club.
Niall Reserve club is the reason of karate’s wide expansion throughout PNG today.
As far as competition is concerned, Konaka Sensei was a pioneer and part of a select few, namely, Linus Petilau Sensei, David Wallace Sensei and Michael Sari Sensei to represent Karate at the first ever PNG Martial Arts Championships in Port Moresby in 1989. They all won their respective divisions in that inaugural tournament, with Konaka Sensei becoming the PNG Martial Art Under 70kg champion. In the same year, Konaka Sensei, Michael Sari Sensei, and Stanley Hanku Sensei (who later known as Stanley Nandex) were selected for participation in the South Pacific Kyokushin Full Contact Karate Championships at the Gold Coast, Australia.
I left Lae and established the UPNG Karate Shotokan Club in 1990, and a few years later Konaka Sensei also left Lae and started the St. Paul’s Karate club at Gerehu in 1993, after bequeathing the Niall Reserve club to the late Wallace Sensei. Sensei Konaka was a tough karateka and a full contact fighter specialist.
It was a speciality which he passed on to his students. He had his last competition in 1995 with Stanley Sensei and I at Australia Kyokushin Full Contact Championships in Sydney, Australia; in which another PNG karateka, Walter Schnaubelt Sensei also participated as a representative of Queensland then.
Konaka Sensei was involved in many karate-related events, ranging from grading of his students, doing fundraising, staging karate demonstrations, participating in tournaments and training camps in those days. Notably amongst them were the hard and painful traditional training sessions at Sagalau Farm, Madang Police Club, Divine Word, Niall and at Unitech.
After 1995, and due to work commitments, Konaka Sensei stepped back from the limelight, but focussed his efforts in training his students at St Paul’s. Amongst his many achievements were being credited to have trained and groomed the first two PNG females karateka ever to participate in an Australian Open in 1996, and in the Oceania Karate Championships in 1997, and as well as the first PNG Sensei to produced the first ever athlete to participate in a children’s international competition in 1996.
Some of his students, who had progressed on to do exploits are Joseph Kubul Sensei, Elizabeth Ali, Sempai John Ali (silver medalist, 2003 Pacific Games), Willie Tony and Ali Lavai.
Unfortunately, his employment with Chevron in 1999 caused him to stop formalised club training as he was posted to Chevron’s operations site and could not continue running his St Paul’s Karate club. But upon leaving Chevron after several years, he returned to Port Moresby, and was elected as Karate PNG’s secretary in 2012, in time for Karate PNG’s preparation for the 2015 Pacific Games in that year.
The road to the 2015 Pacific Games was tough, but with everyone on deck including Stanley Sensei as Vice President and Wallace Sensei as one of the National coaches, we guided the preparation of athletes, and Games’ planning right through to the Karate competition in the Games.
During the Games preparations, Konaka Sensei and his dear wife Rachel Konaka were very much part of the whole process and success through their various assistance and contributions. He was the tournament director in the many lead-up events we held during the three and a half preparatory period (2012-2015), and was the electronic scoreboard supervisor during the 2015 Pacific Games in Port Moresby, he stayed on as Karate PNG’s secretary until he resigned in early 2021 due to personal commitments.
Konaka Sensei was a tough, formidable and aggressive fighter both in the ring and in the ‘ultimate application’.
He was a thoroughbred, and ‘hot blooded’, a hard trainer and fearsome karateka! He will be remembered for his generosity, his will (as he often said, if there is a will, there is a way) his discipline and timeliness.
My brother Sensei, you were very time-sensitive, and beat us all in that regard. You’re simply the stickler for punctuality!
So long, my brother. Sumimasen, arigato gozaimasu. Sayonara Sensei.
Carl Mari’Bera
PNG Karate-Do Federation