11 things you should know about Rwanda karate

In 2015, Japanese master Toshihiro Mori (centre) and three other senior instructors held a three day training seminar in Kigali. File.

Last year, representatives of 27 African countries assembled in Yaoundé, Cameroon, for the 2017 African Karate Federations Union (UFAK) General Assembly and decided that Rwanda will host the 2018 Continental Senior and Junior Championships.

At the end of the colourful tournament, last weekend, officials from UFAK and the World Karate Federation said it was a great success. It was the first sporting event to be held at Intare Conference Arena, a fully integrated and secure complex with state of the art facilities for all kinds of events.


But not much is known about the seemingly long voyage, in Rwanda, of this martial art sport that brought nearly 300 of Africa’s best karatekas from 25 countries to Kigali.


Karate is a martial art developed in Japan’s Okinawa Island in the early 20th century. Here we highlight 11 noteworthy things about Rwanda karate, as well as some key turning points in its journey.


The beginning

Very little is known of the exact time ordinary citizens, other than military personnel, begun practicing karate before it was permitted in 1987.

Before then the sport was banned. But that year, according to Faustin Musanganya, 63, martial arts enthusiasts formed the Association Rwandaise d’Arts Martiaux (ARAM), an association for judo, kungfu and all other martial arts.

But there is consensus that former Social Democratic Party (PSD) stalwart, Francois Nduwumwe, who passed on in 2013, was the first to teach karate. It is thought that this was anywhere between the late 70s and early 80s.

Musanganya first signed up for Karate lessons in 1977 as a university student in Belgium, and returned home in 1983. He recalls that by that time, Nduwumwe, ARAM’s Secretary General, had already started teaching karate.

“He was, surely, the first person to teach karate in Rwanda. I think he was at least eight or 10 years older than me.”

Nduwumwe studied martial arts while in Switzerland. He taught the Shito-Ryu style but later did Shotokan.

The most common styles 

In Japan, Shotokan-Ryu, Wado-Ryu, Goju-Ryu and Shito-Ryu are the four main styles of Karate. Shito-Ryu is the style that preserves most of the original Shuri-te techniques.

In Rwanda, Shotokan and Wado-Ryu are the most common styles today. Founded in 1936, Shotokan is a style of karate, developed from various martial arts by Gichin Funakoshi – who is attributed as being the ‘father of modern karate’ – and his son Gigo Funakoshi. The Wado-Ryu style was founded in 1939 by Hironori Ōtsuka, another Japanese master.

Inauguration of federation

Officially, Rwanda Karate Federation (FERWAKA) was established in 2008, when it obtained legal personality as per a ministerial order. But it had existed for nearly a decade before. The year 2008 then gave the country’s karatekas a new lease of life.

At the end of the 2015 JKA technical seminar, Toshihiro awarded the late Jean Sayinzoga (RIP) the sixth Dan, Rwanda’s highest so far

Visits by Karate masters

HidekazuMizutani was the first Japanese karate instructor to visit Rwanda from 1987 to 1989 under the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers Program. He still visits Rwanda for training workshops.

In 1988, Teruo Kono, another master among the group of Japanese instructors going overseas to promote Wado-Ryu, visited. Kono who passed on in April 2000 aged 66 was, among others, the best fighter in Japan from 1956 to 1960.

In 2009, Kawazoe Masao visited Rwanda to introduce Shoto-kan and based on his advice and arrangement, Russian karate instructors were invited to Rwanda from 2010.

In 2015, Toshihiro Mori, another Japanese master of Shotokan, visited. He was accompanied by and assisted by Kamino Masaru and Kasijiima Keiichi [RIP] when he conducted a three-day training workshop. Mori and Masaru are expected to return at the end of this month.

Patrick Dupeaux, a Frenchman, and Ray Young, chief instructor at Sweden WadoRyu, are other non-Japanese experts who often visit to train Rwandans.

Japan Ambassador Cup

Mizutani sensei was again invited to Kigali in August 2014 for the inaugural Japan Ambassador’s Cup where he officiated as the main referee at the final match.

This was a new annual tournament organised jointly and sponsored by FERWAKA and the Japanese Embassy. There were about 150 participants but the number has more than doubled ever since. The third annual Karate Ambassador’s Cup took place in February at Amahoro Stadium.

Japan Karate Association membership

Rwanda became a member of the Japan Karate Association (JKA), one of the most influential and oldest karate organisations in the world, in June 2015.

This was after a three-day JKA technical seminar at Amahoro National Stadium, the first of its kind in Rwanda, conducted by three prominent Japanese instructors led by JKA Executive Director, Mori Toshihiro. The JKA specializes in the Shotokan style. If all goes according to plan, the second JKA seminar, in Kigali, is scheduled for September 20 to 24.

Highest black belt rank

At the end of the three-day JKA technical seminar, Toshihiro awarded the late Jean Sayinzoga (RIP) the sixth Dan, Rwanda’s highest so far. Sayinzoga’s honorary award, Toshihiro Mori said, was for his assistance and promotion of karate in Rwanda. Sayinzoga who passed on last year and a few other elderly Rwandans contributed to the development and promotion of the sport in the country.

Close to 3,000 Karatekas 

Today, it is estimated that nearly 3,000 Rwandan men, women and children practice Karate and the number is growing. There are karate clubs in almost all corners of the country today, with the major ones – especially those for kids – found in Kigali, Rubavu and other major towns.

Zone 5 leadership

In August 2014, the executive committee of the Union of African Karate Federations (UFAK) decided that Rwanda would temporarily lead Zone 5 of UFAK. This was after they observed that there was an absence of statutory activities for the previous four years and repeated failure of the sitting committee to organise sporting activities in the Zone.

The interim executive committee comprised the Presidency: Rwanda; Vice Presidency: Egypt; and Secretariat: Kenya. Zone 5 comprises Rwanda, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania, Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia and Burundi.

During last year’s UFAK General Assembly, FERWAKA president Théogène Uwayo was picked to be President of Zone 5.

Egypt’s Giana Lotfy (in blue), current World title holder, was a force to reckon with in female kumite -61kg at the UFAK Chapionships 2018 in Kigali. Sam Ngendahimana

UFAK Junior and Senior Championships 2018

Hosting the 17th African Seniors Karate Championships and the 9th African Juniors Karate Championships, last week, was by all means a big coup for Rwanda karate.

Being allowed to host the Continental Championships was a sign of confidence and trust by the World Karate Federation (WKF) and the African Karate Federations Union (UFAK), according to Uwayo. The UFAK Junior and Senior Championships is the biggest and most glamorous karate event on the continent.

It was the first time Rwanda, or any country in the east African region, was hosting a Karate tournament of this magnitude. For the first time, WKF President, Antonio Espinós Ortueta, and UFAK President, Mohamed Tahar Mesbahi, and other top world champions, visited the land of a thousand hills.

The competition itself was a sight to behold. Rwandan youngsters had a chance to see, among other stars, Egypt’s Giana Lotfy, 23, the current World title-holder prevail in female kumite -61kg and win her first medal since her victory at the 2016 World Championships.

The World champion and 2014 continental title-holder ruled the competition with an impressive demonstration of efficient karate.

Ndutiye’s historic gold

The icing on the cake during the UFAK Junior and Senior Championships 2018 was the moment when a senior three student, Maic Shyaka Ndutiye, 17, trounced three opponents in the finals to win Rwanda’s first ever gold medal on the big stage.

Overall, Rwanda’s performance – eight medals including its first gold established the country as a Karate powerhouse on the continent, Uwayo said. Rwanda finished sixth in the tournament.



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