Don Tiger: Freetown’s Kung-Fu Master

Africa, General comment, Photojournalism, portrait

OK, so I’m not sure he’s a Kung-Fu master. I have no idea what sort of status he is, but from my amateur eye (although I have watched a lot of Jackie Chan) he was very good. Don Tiger (probably not his real name unless he has kick-ass parents) is a Nigerian martial artist who I met in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He’s also shot a few amateur Kung-Fu movies in Nigeria and South Africa during his time; that’s right, in my book I’m mates with a Kung-Fu Movie Star.

When I met him he was head of security at Dubai’s, a watering hole I frequented every now and then, and a club that used to have one of the worst reputations on Freetown’s Eastside in terms of drugs and stabbings. There was a huge gang culture there. That is until Don ‘The Super Don’ Tiger arrived.

Within a year or so he had kicked out (quite literally at times according to the barman) a number of troublemakers and slowly the place lost it’s rep as the bad boy bar it once was. Back in April I went along with a mate of mine, Lewis Swann to one of Don’s workout sessions.

“You should have seen him the first time I came,” said Lewis in his slurred Texas twang, “he spent like half an hour making sure his ‘fro was perfect before training”. Lewis was taking part. I wasn’t. I got a bit of exercise from dodging out of the way from his kicks, twirls and unannounced roundhouses. He was fashionably late (preening his locks possibly) so I photographed Lewis warming up with couple of Don’s budding pupils.

My neck certainly doesn’t look like that…

Don then arrived to show them how a warm-up is done by a Kung-Fu movie star.

That’s Don, in the foreground with a really serious looking face. If there’s one thing Don is, it’s serious. I think the painting of him at the back of his work-out spot particularly picks up on this fact too. The artist really nailed the serious look.

Don demonstrates his flexibility. He can go further to touch his face on the ground.

Serious.

Flying knee-kick (apologies if this is the incorrect term – they tend not to mention what moves are in the movies, they just do them).

He really is the Super Don.

Don held this position perfectly still for about a minute. Apparently it’s really hard.

That punch bag is in for a treat…

Don knocks Lewis’ gloved hand aside with a roundhouse about 7 foot high.

Lewis’ rather scared face is because Don managed to roundhouse kick his sparring glove off his raised hand. I didn’t even realise it had gone until it landed on my head. True story.

Unfortunately this mini-character photo essay from a brief sparring session doesn’t have a fairytale ending. I saw Don a number of times, had a few beers with him and a few chats about where he came from and where he wanted to go. Perhaps he had the potential to become a kung-fu movie star… he certainly had the moves and the look, but when I came back to Freetown after three months away Don was no longer at Dubai’s. He’d beaten up the bar owner with a metal pole after an argument (I should say Don was always in a good mood each time I saw him). The bar owner survived without permanent damage, but Don was arrested. As far as I know, he’s still in prison. I imagine he’ll survive ok in there, better than anyone that crosses him at least, but Freetown’s prisons are certainly the wrong place to start if you want to kick ass on the silver screen.

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3 thoughts on “Don Tiger: Freetown’s Kung-Fu Master

  1. Oh no! Don’s in jail? Is the Dubai owner the big guy named Joseph or was it Jones? He must have really pissed him off, Don was a pretty calm fellow.

    Awesome photos Tom, it’s comical he’s using golf shoes to train kung fu 🙂

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