A 52-year-old Port Elizabeth mother and teacher is South Africa’s newest world karate champion after excelling in World Martial Arts Games in Pretoria last weekend.
Erica Maritz, one of 28 South Africans in the competition, won three gold medals for her karate in Okinawan hand forms and the use of weapons (bladed and wooden).
Maritz came number one in three out of four categories against women aged 46 years and older. The fourth category for which she and two other Port Elizabeth women won silver medals was the Unison Opens, where three people move together simultaneously
“South Africa actually did very, very well. There were others that won gold medals, although most people won bronze or silver. ” Maritz, one of six participants from the Bay who were in the national team.
Telling of what inspires her to go on with martial arts, Maritz said she pushed on out of gratitude for all that she has been blessed with. Her pupils at Cape Recife High School where she is the deputy principal and teaches mathematics and business studies, are always a reminder of how privileged she is to be able to make full use of her body. The school caters for pupils with physical and learning disabilities.
“I work [with] disabled learners and every day you see how much you have to be thankful for and it’s such a humbling experience to see children [who] are so positive yet they haven’t been given everything in life physically,” said Maritz.
Maritz said her journey began in 2003 when she jokingly decided to join martial arts classes with her son Emil, a black belt. She says he is a “very good martial artist” and obtained his first Dan (senior black belt) in 2011 before shifting focus into his studies.
She developed a passion for it as she kept on and achieved her first black belt in 2006. She now has four black belts with the latest obtained in April last year.
As time-consuming as the sport is, Maritz said the support of her family, colleagues and pupils makes it a lot easier, she said.
“I am very passionate about what I do so I try and fit it into my schedule every day. It’s been a long but very beneficial journey,” she said, adding that she sometimes got up an hour earlier than usual to train and prepare for upcoming competitions.
Maritz also draws inspiration from her Renshis – the Japanese karate term for “teacher of teachers” – Karl von der Marwitz and Steve Johnson as well as Claude Johnson, Steve’s father who is the head of the style of karate she practices.
As modest as this Mount Croix mother is about her achievements, she said winning three gold medals on behalf of a whole country felt “like a million bucks,” and she is not planning on ever leaving martial arts for as long her body allows.
“Maybe if I had to drop out because of an injury I could still give back in terms of teaching [martial arts]. It would just be a huge gap in my day-to-day living if I had to drop out,” said Maritz, adding that karate has become a part of who she is.