MEET BLESSING – COMMONWEALTH MEDALIST RUNS SUCCESSFUL LUXURY CARD COMPANY

Taekwondo Maestro, Ms. Blessing Nwakanma, is a 2nd Dan Kukkiwon & 4th Dan National Black Belt Holder who represented Nigeria at the 2014 Commonwealth Taekwondo Championships, where she won two medals. The beautiful and elegant Nwakanma is also an Entrepreneur whose luxury card company have produced more than 75,000 hand-made cards over the past six years and services major supermarkets in Lagos. In this interview, the double Commonwealth Taekwondo Medalist and Obafemi Awolowo University trained graduate talks about her taekwondo and entrepreneurial experiences.

 When did you start Taekwondo?

I started Taekwondo in 2005, in my 300 level when I was in the University. Our club was and is still called the Awoversity Taekwondo Klub. I started under GM George Akinola and we had many instructors like Seun Ajomale, Peace Ogunnowo, Leye Dawodu, and Jimmy Ogunnowo.

When I started competing, the initial emphasis was on Kyeorugi [fighting] but after about three years, I started doing Poomsae [forms] and combining both aspects in competitive events.

Tell us about your competitive history?

Internationally, I represented Nigeria at the 2014 Commonwealth Taekwondo Championships, where I won two medals – a Silver in the Group Poomsae and a Bronze in the creative Poomsae.

For the National Sports Festival, I lost in Ogun 2006 in the Round of 16. This was my first major championships. Subsequently I lost in Kada 2010 edition at the Quarterfinals in both the Kyeorugi and Poomsae and went on to win a Gold in the Poomsae event at the Eko 2012 edition.

For the Korean Ambassador’s Cup. I won a Bronze in the Kyeorugi event in 2010. In 2013, I won three medals – a Gold medal in the Team Poomase, Silver in Individual Poomsae and Silver in Kyeokpa, and was also won the MVP award at that edition. I stopped competing in Kyeorugi after 2013. At the 2014 Edition, I won three medals – Gold, Silver, Bronze in the Team Poomsae, Creative Poomsae and Kyeokpa. In the 2015 Edition, I again won three medals – Gold, Silver, Silver –in the Team Poomsae, Creative Poomsae and Kyeokpa respectively.

At the 2016 Lagos International Classics, I won two medals – a Gold and Bronze in the Poomsae events.

Blessing Nwakanma poses with her Gold Medal at the 2016 Atlanta Opens, alongside the two opponents she defeated in the Finals.

How did you handle stress before and during competitions?

I try as much possible to relax and stay focused. I keep my mind in the competition mood so I do not get distracted. Consequently, I think about the end results and the reasons why I am competing and what I want to achieve.

The Commonwealth Games was the first time you represented Nigeria? How did you feel flying national colours for the very first time?

I felt so great. It was a wonderful experience and I felt very proud representing the country.

Blessing Nwakamna [Front Row – First from Left] as part of the victorious Nigeria National Team to the 2014 Commonwealth Taekwondo Championships.
Blessing Nwakanma with fellow Poomsae Team Master, Josephine Esuku and Adaeze Asigbe, after winning a Silver in the Team Poomsae Event

 You have been coaching young kids and teenagers? How did you empower yourself to be able to carry out this challenging task?

By doing relevant courses, like I attended the International Olympic Committee [IOC] – Nigeria Solidarity Coaching Course, which was done in 2015 in Ogun State. I also attended the Kukkiwon International Master Coaching Course Certification Seminar, which was done in Calabar, Cross River in 2016. When you add the coaching knowledge to the experience I gained as a National and International Athlete, it helps me impact more knowledge to my students.

Blessing teaching kids at the Master Pius Martial Arts Academy in Atlanta, Georgia USA
Blessing at the Kukkiwon International Coaching Course in Calabar, Cross River

What did you study in the University?

I studied Chemical Engineering at the Obafemi Awolowo University. Even though I was admitted in 2002, I graduated in 2008 because of a two-year strike.

 You ignored Chemical Engineering and opted for manufacturing fashion cards. Tell us about your company – Nebshyne Ltd – and why you opted for this career path instead of what doing what you studied in the University?

I have always had a flair for creativity and a passion for making fashionable cards. I never really enjoyed being away from my desk making cards. Initially, I wanted to study architecture, but I never got admission to study that program instead Chemical Engineering was the option offered to me. I accepted it because it was under the Engineering field and I also loved Engineering so I wanted to give it Chemical Engineering a try. Consequently, even though I worked as a Chemical Engineer with the Lagos State Government, my passion has always remained with exploring my creative side through making luxurious cards. My company, Nebshyne Ltd, is a luxurious card-making company that makes high-end and affordable hand-made cards tailored to special events in people’s lives.

Some cards made by Nebshyne Ltd

How did the company start?

It started way back when I was in Obafemi Awolowo University. I had friends in the Architecture department and I noticed that they made cards for students who paid for it. As I watched them, I picked up quite a few things, got more interested and started doing it. I used to take my designs to them and get better as time went on. Students started buying my cards and I was making a little from it, especially at peak period like Valentine and Birthdays. As time went by, I became an expert at it and started training other people, so the company gradually came together. It was officially registered in 2010.

Blessing making cards at one of her branch offices in Somolu, Lagos

 How much work has your company done since its inception?

Since we began, we have made more than 75,000 hand-made cards and supply major supermarkets in Lagos like Hubmart Supermarket, Domino Supermarket, Party Perfect Stores, food companies – Maverick Equinox, Ebony Life TV, Abiba Supermarket and a few others.

What are the challenges to your business?

I aspire to Increase quantity of quality staff that can deliver quality cards. Currently, the bulk of the creative work is tied to me, as my staff handle mostly only the operations. I need to find and train a lot more creative staff so I do not have to work overtime every time to meet up with the huge demand for our cards.

Do you think having a business that pays the bills meet relieves pressure on you as an athlete?

Yes it does. In Nigeria, being only an athlete does not make you financially stable. After one’s sporting career finishes, what next? Having a business makes you focus more as an athlete. When you think of the fact that the allowance you get from camp cannot sustain you, it gets you thinking and worried on how to pay the bills after camp. So having a business helps you not think of paying those bills and you can just focus on being an athlete.

Does your business interfere with your training as an athlete?

No it does not. When I am working, I am there with full concentration and when I am competing, I am focused as an athlete.

Blessing with Grandmaster Jin Beom Kim during the IOC Coaching Seminar on Olumo Rock in Ogun State.

 What is your advice to athletes out there who have no back-up plans?

I will advise them to get something to do – a job, a handiwork, just something to support themselves. Any kind of work that will bring in legal income. Definitely, having multiple income sources is just the way forward.

 As a woman, did sports and the martials arts help your confidence in any way?

 Yes, it did and it still does. The confidence that I have built over the years does not just end up in my athlete phase, it follows me to other areas of my life. Whether I am at work, at home, or walking down the street, there is this aura around you that people see and feel that you are doing something outside the ordinary.

Has Taekwondo ever helped you in any confrontation?

Yes it has. I have been harassed once, robbed once. I defended myself on both occasions. These incidents made me value the martial arts even more.

Blessing strikes a Kungfu pose in this photo

 What does having the first ever female taekwondo federation president mean to you?

It just shows you how strong women can be. Her emergence as the president has encouraged a lot of women in the sport to move forward in their careers. It is awesome having a female president right now, who is taking control and making the difference in the Nigeria Taekwondo Federation.

NTF President, Margerert Binga [left] present Referee participation certificate to Blessing Nwakanma at the 2017 NTF Referee Certification Program
 With your busy schedule, do you still have time for Taekwondo.

Of course, I still train myself and I run a Taekwondo school at the weekend. I taught taekwondo at the Lekki Taekwondo Academy for five years before setting up my own taekwondo school. In-between, I also take executive self-defense classes.

Master Blessing teaching Kiddies at the Lekki Taekwondo Academy, Lekki, Lagos

Yesterday was International Women’s Day? As a successful woman in your own rights, what is your opinion on the role of women in society?

Blessing poses with a gorgeous evening dress

Women play an important role in different aspects in life, in the home, and in the workplaces in some cases, and their businesses. You know that adage, that what a man can do, a woman can do better. In general, we have more women who are Entrepreneurs than men. We have lots of women going into fashion, the make-up business, food industry, craft business and so on and so forth. When put together, women play an important role in building up the economy., and there are even more women gearing to start up something. Women tend to bring a different perspective than the men to any situation or place that they find themselves in, and this helps to bring a balance that is healthy.

For members of the Public in the Lekki area wanting to start Taekwondo lessons, or who want to place orders for tailored events cards, Ms. Blessing Nwakanma can be reached at 0802825311. You can also view her company’s card designs at nebshyne_design on Instagram, nebshyne design on Facebook, or visit www.nebshynedesign.com