2018: A golden year for Rwanda Karate

Maic Shyaka Ndutiye, 17, became Rwanda’s first and only karateka to ever win a gold medal on continental scene at this year’s African Championships staged at Intare Conference Arena in Kigali. File photo.

Shortly before Ruslan Adamov, a Russian who trained the national team for four years returned to his native Krasnoyarsk, the third largest city in Siberia, three years ago, he told Sunday Sport that more money must be injected into Karate if the sport is to make progress.

But, he stressed, the martial arts sport also needed people determined to make a difference.

After living and working in Rwanda for four years, the veteran of the Russian national team was familiar with the voluminous challenges – particularly on the funding front – local Karatekas coped with.

He observed that the Government needs to give the young generation of promising Karatekas more attention when it comes to basic financial support.

READ ALSO: Departing national Karate coach leaves an indelible legacy

However, he noted, money was not everything, “Good spirit and concentration is also vital. The desire to win is paramount.”

More than 36 months after Adamov’s stay, and indelible legacy, the blend of a burning desire to win and some coins combined to make 2018 a golden year for the nation’s Karate.

In this issue, we take a look at the year, in general, and especially the triumphant performance of the national team led by Egyptian expert Hashim Mahmoud Mohamed Hashim as well as local assistants; Petit Ndushabandi, Noel Nkuranyabahizi and Sylvestre Twajamahoro.

First, the Japanese government and the Rwanda Karate Federation (FERWAKA) signed a grant agreement under which the latter obtained much needed gear including 400 karate tatami (mats).

This was the first grant to the federation under Japan’s Grant Assistance for Cultural Grassroots Project in Rwanda.

And then, The Three Musketeers – teenagers Victor Shyaka Kaberuka (Kata), Halifa Niyitanga (kumité -61 kgs) and Jovia Umunezero (kumité -59 kgs) – who carried Rwanda’s flag at the 3rd African Youth Games in Algeria, in July, did not disappoint. Niyitanga, 18, won bronze while Umunezero, 17, won even better, silver.

The lady’s Kumite silver was the first for Rwanda on a continental podium.

From August 28 to September 2, Rwanda hosted the 17th African Seniors Karate Championships and the 9th African Juniors Karate Championships – the continent’s biggest and most glamorous karate event. Hosting it was a first for Rwanda. Nearly 300 of Africa’s best Karatekas, from 25 countries, were in Kigali vying for medals.

For the first time, the World Karate Federation (WKF) and the African Karate Federations Union (UFAK) Presidents, Antonio Espinós Ortueta and Mohamed Tahar Mesbahi, respectively, and many other Karate big shots visited Rwanda. And they were impressed.

When the outstanding show ended at Intare Conference Arena, in Rusororo, Rwandan fans wouldn’t stop marveling. Rwanda’s achievement – eight medals including its first gold – at the African Championships established the country as a Karate powerhouse on the continent, Theogene Uwayo, Rwanda Karate Federation president, told this publication.

READ ALSO: African Champs showing raised Rwanda’s Karate profile – Uwayo 

“The year 2018 was a big milestone for Rwanda Karate with the successful organization of the CHAN. The results obtained set our country as a player to reckon with in African karate,” said Uwayo.

Maic Shyaka Ndutiye, 17, a big stage debutant won gold, and become Africa’s new champion in the -55kg male kumite [fighting] category. The icing on the cake was that he did not just win gold. In a big way, taming an Egyptian was the real deal. In the final match Ndutiye who met Egypt’s Amr Alaa Aboukora, showed no fear, remarkably controlled the match and won 2-1.

For the youngster, 2018 was a golden year.

“It was just a great year. We had a successful year. Some of us attained our objectives. This is great history. Personally, it is of great value seeing that ever since Karate existed in Rwanda, I was able to raise our flag high and be number one in Africa,” Ndutiye.

For the very first time also, Rwanda’s senior fighters won medals at a continental level. Vanily Ngarambe, 25, Emery Espoir Ntungane, 25, added more medals - silver and bronze, respectively, to Rwanda’s tally.

But most importantly, for the very first time also, the national team comprised young players. The average age for the 30-player Team Rwanda at the African Championships was 21. By and large, Rwanda’s young, bold and ambitious fighters stood up to be counted. The future, despite all the glaring financial deficits, is exciting after all.

Talking of the year’s low moments, there is no doubt that had it not been for lack of funds, the federation could have prepared better and fielded a bigger squad at the 24th World Senior Championships in Madrid, Spain, in November. Travelling without coaching staff, among other challenges, only Ngarambe and Ntungane made the trip. Circumstances regarding their early exit speak volumes.

READ ALSO: Team Rwanda take lessons from poor show at world champs 

The year’s lowest moment, according to Uwayo, was “inability to find funding for taking a full team to the World Cup.”

“Provided funding is available, Rwanda should shine even more in African karate.”

But let’s not forget this. When Adamov first came to Kigali – seven years ago – Rwanda Karate was not ranked in Africa. When he said goodbye and left in 2015 it was ranked 10th continentally. Kenya, the only East African country coming closer, ranked 16th.

Today, Rwanda is ranked sixth on the continent. And gold was won in 2018.