My name is Denis “Mister Knuckles” Magua. I am a 34 year old martial artist living in Johannesburg, South Africa.
My first exposure to martial arts was, like many, a Bruce Lee movie. This occurred at approximately the age of 3. Most kids this age have no idea what their future holds for them, but somehow, I instinctively knew that martial arts would be a part of my life forever. Being too young to join any of the martial arts clubs in my area, I had to settle for watching “kung fu” flicks for the next couple of years. Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan held me spellbound and I couldn’t get enough of them.
Upon entering into grade 1 my brother, Norman (18 months older than me), and I were enrolled at the local Judo club which was situated in our primary school. It seemed a far cry from the flashy kicks and punches I was so adamant on learning. I soon forgot about that and grew to love it. I practiced Judo for most of my primary school career. Even though I no longer practice Judo, I am still a big fan and have many fond memories of it. It gave me a very good grounding and I still credit it with giving me a great understanding of body movement and manipulation.
The early years of high school afforded me a new opportunity. One of the schools “old boys” was a Tang Soo Do instructor and started a club in the school grounds. My brother and I signed up and practiced in this art for a couple of years. The club eventually closed due to lack of students and enthusiasm from the instructor who took it over from the “old boy”. I can credit those years to the attainment of much of my flexibility. Had I not started stretching at that age I think it would have been a lot more difficult for me to attain the level of flexibility that I have developed.
On leaving Tang Soo Do I took a 6 month break from the martial arts. I had become a little despondent with training due to the attitude of the instructor. My brother heard of an ITF Taekwon-Do club in the area and he enrolled. He spent the next 6 months trying to convince me to try a class. I wouldn’t even go and watch! Eventually he persuaded me to attend a “bring a friend day”, and that’s all she wrote. I was flabbergasted! It was like something inside me just clicked and I knew that this was what I had been searching for all my life. As I watched the instructor and some of the advanced students my blood ran cold. I had just turned 16 at the time.
Having always been a boxing fan, I decided to start cross training it with my Taekwon-Do. I found a fantastic trainer who taught me a lot about footwork and punching style. A couple of years down my trainer tried to convince me to consider professional fighting. I never took up boxing in order to compete – it was purely for my own interest and enjoyment, so, I said “No”. He then, very diplomatically, told me to choose between Taekwon-Do and boxing. I chose Taekwon-Do. Although I really enjoyed boxing, it never gave me the burning desire that I had, and still have, for my Taekwon-Do.
I have had a relatively successful tournament “career” within Taekwon-Do. I have won many local tournaments, including: club championships, inter-styles championships and several National championships in various divisions and weight classes. I have represented South Africa in international tournaments and World Championships on several occasions. I have received Bronze medals at the World Championships on two occasions. I have, and still do, coach the national squad along with my brother. My personal focus, however, has not been on competing since about 2003. I take a keen interest in self-defense and the real world application of traditional Taekwon-Do technique – what it was originally designed for.
I think my greatest joy and accomplishments comes from instructing. I opened my first club as a 1st Degree black belt in 1999 and have been instructing ever since. I love the fact that I can direct and encourage my students in their training, and often, even in their lives. I have had students of all ages, genders and nationalities – and I’m sure I have learned just as much from them, as them me. I think it is through instructing that I have learned what martial arts is truly about and all credit is due to them for that.
As a student of Taekwon-Do I have had the opportunity to meet, train and grade under some of the top masters in the world.
I am currently a 5th Degree Black Belt in ITF Taekwon-Do. I own and run a successful martial arts gym in Malvern, Johannesburg East (Mister Knuckles Taekwon-Do Gym). I am the co-founder of the Magua Taekwon-Do Club, co-founder and vice-president of Taekwon-Do South Africa, and co-founder of Magua Hosin-sool (urban self-defense).
So, why “Mister Knuckles”? Because of my big knuckles, of course! I am a firm believer in the conditioning and hardening of the attacking tools. Due to my love of breaking all kinds of materials with my hands it has been a necessity to condition them, and so, over the years I have developed sizable knuckles great for breaking bricks, boards, or any potential attacker that stands in my way.
As Co-head coach of the team that went to Rome, Italy in 2014 for the World Championships and Colour belt world cup. The team brought home 11 medals, a huge achievement for team SA.