Like most young people, Maic Shyaka Ndutiye, 17, the winner of Rwanda’s first-ever gold medal in an international Karate contest, loves music and movies.
If you see him lost in his headphones, chances are, he will be listening to Dream Boys, a Rwandan R&B group, or American rapper Eminem.
And, yes, he is a fervent fan of Scott Adkins, an English actor and martial artist best known for playing Russian prison fighter Yuri Boyka in the 2006 film Undisputed II: Last Man Standing, and its sequels. The Rwandan hero is especially fascinated by Adkins’ specialty, kicking.
“He really knows how to fight using kicks,” says Ndutiye.
Last Saturday, the supple teen made a mark with his incredible performance at the 17th African Seniors Karate Championships and 9th African Juniors Karate Championships staged at Intare Conference Arena in Rusororo, Kigali.
Ndutiye compellingly crushed three opponents – winning all his three matches – to become African champion in the male kumite (fighting) -55kg category and, seemingly, it will take more than courage to dethrone him next year.
In his first match, he easily tamed Joshua Timothy Coleman of Namibia in round one, winning 4-0. Come round two, he stunned Senegal’s Cambe Badara (8-0) who was well rested having not played in round one.
At this point, a medal was assured. But would the young man be contented with less when gold was just a game away? They say that silver medalists compare themselves to the gold medalists; bronze medalists compare themselves to themselves. Ndutiye had a shot at the gold.
In the final, the senior three student who was making his debut on the international scene faced Egypt’s Amr Alaa Aboukora and defied the odds to win, 2-1. It was a thrilling match.
‘Great feeling to be on the podium’
Later, Ndutiye stood on the medal podium. It was quite a moment. For the first time all through the tournament, the Rwandan national anthem was sung.
Ndutiye stood tall at the medal podium. He looked up ahead and raised his right arm in typical military salute fashion. Some in the crowd thought he is a soldier. He is not! Emotion just took over and he saluted. Like a good Rwandan soldier, because he felt like one at the moment.
“I raised my hand [to salute] because I felt I had done something great and was just feeling like a great soldier. I did my best and gave my country, and Rwandans in general, something to feel good about because they supported me in every possible way.”
The picture of the teenager saluting – a proud, smart salute – on the podium as the national anthem was sung went viral on social media.
Moments later, when I asked him whether he was a soldier, a quick smile worked its way across his face and into his eyes. And he replied: “No! I just felt like one at the moment. Our national anthem was going to be sung for the first time in the tournament.”
Seeing everyone – including foreigners – stand up for the national anthem because of his stunning triumph was “a very great feeling,” he said.
“It was kind of unbelievable. It was something so important. I felt so good and very proud of myself and my country.”
Ndutiye first enrolled for karate classes, even though for the wrong reasons, when he was a primary three pupil.
“I think I was around 9, or 10. I joined a club called Flying Eagle. But I later moved to Okapi in the Gatenga area when my parents relocated.”
Young Ndutiye loved karate so much. He recalls that back then he couldn’t do any other thing other than spend lots of his free time with kids in the club learning how to punch and kick like the seniors.
His karate journey started one day when he fought with a schoolmate and was not only beaten but humiliated in front of other kids.
“We were outside class playing the normal fighting games kids play. I used to think I was the best fighter but this kid at school kicked me hard and broke my finger. It hurt so bad.
“After some time, I learned there was a place near school where children were actually learning karate. I went home and stressed my family. I told them I also wanted to go and learn karate. I surely stressed them and eventually got them to give me money for lessons.”
They say that last-borns just want to have fun. Ndutiye is a last born in a family of six. The youngest children tend to be more outgoing and charming to get attention and maybe this helped him.
‘My after-school scuffles quickly became a thing of the past’
Eventually the kid who, from the outset, joined a club so he could even the score with a schoolmate reformed when he started taking lessons. Karate changed his character and personality.
“I enrolled for lessons because I wanted skills to take on the boy who had beaten me up. But when I started practicing karate, it was very challenging. Karate changed me. My after-school scuffles quickly became a thing of the past. Friends were surprised to see that I no longer wanted to fight.”
As he grew up, a dream to play on the national team was also nurtured. First, four years ago, he became national champion in the male Kumite U15 category. And he worked even harder.
When selected among the national team’s final squad of 30 about two months ago, Ndutiye “felt motivated to do my best.”
Ndutiye says winning something big for the country was the only best way – he thought – to show gratitude to the nation.
“I thank all coaches who have been with me, my parents, and Rwandans in general.”
Coming from a family of builders, Ndutiye says, he wants to become a civil engineer in the future. “Most people in my family, including my father who is an architect, are builders. I think I can also be an engineer and get a job easily.”