HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Inside Kimado Karate in Harrisburg, four boys between the ages of 3 and 5 are stretching for practice.
Their instructor, Eric Nkurunziza, speaks softly to each of them but makes sure they follow his directions and end every answer with “sir.” It’s a sign of the respect and discipline needed to excel in martial arts.
Nkurunziza is a world-class athlete in Taekwondo. The Rwandan native competed for the national team after coming to the United States. The 34-year-old carries some dark memories of the civil war and Rwandan Genocide in 1994, when an estimated 800,000 to 1 million people were killed over 100 days.
“There was a time where I think for two or three years where I remember not really smiling. People used to comment about me always being angry and stuff,” he said. “There was a lot of healing to go through.”
Healing came through training. Eventually, Nkurunziza became an instructor at Kimado. When the previous owner of the dojo wanted to step away from the business, he asked Nkurunziza to take over.
“I know Taekwondo and I have a greater plan for the business, but I knew I needed help,” he said.
That’s where Nkurunziza sought out an old friend from Rwanda, Felix Hirwa. Hirwa had spent the past few years traveling the world, earning a degree in business and working in Belgium, China, and most recently in Ireland for Apple. Three months ago, he packed his bags and came to Harrisburg to help Nkurunziza run the day-to-day operations.
“I’m always thinking, what can we do to make it better,” he said. “What can we do to attract more people thanks to him, I can now do what I love to do.”