Photo by Brian Paglia / As Heru Kamau keeps his intensity high throughout his creative form open hand routine.
J Colmenero has never seen a kid like Heru Kamau.
He’s seen plenty of kids in nine years of karate instruction at Championship Martial Arts in McDonough. They usually follow the same script — a few years of enthusiastic interest that withers soon after.
McDonough's Karate Kid
See photos of Heru Kamau, a 6-year-old from McDonough with amazing karate skills, go through his routine, from stretching to the last technique.
He’s never seen a 6-year-old practice in CMA’s private work-out room for three hours after class. Or make CMA’s elite demonstration team so young. Or keep winning and winning at tournament after tournament.
“He’s so much more advanced and focused than the average 6-year-old,” Colmenero said. “It’s very rare. He definitely shows higher belt techniques than where he is.”
Kamau will see how elite he is this weekend. The young McDonough native will compete in the U.S. Open ISKA World Martial Arts Championships in Orlando, Fla., on Friday and Saturday. He’ll go up against 25 of the top competitors in his age group from around the Southeast.
That may sound like a lot for a 6-year-old, but Kamau isn’t fazed.
“I’m not scared to fight people all over the world,” he said.
Kamau isn’t scared of much.
Not of swimming, which he learned after five lessons.
Not of reading, which his father, Ra Kamau, helped him learn by 2 years old.
Not of soccer, which he excelled at enough to be his rec team’s MVP and an all-star selection.
Well, maybe reciting poetry.
Heru Kamau won a poetry contest and had to recite it in front of a crowd.
“Oh, yea, I was nervous,” Heru Kamau said.
But he’s never been apprehensive about karate.
At 4, he saw the 2010 remake of ‘The Karate Kid’ that starred Will Smith’s son, Jaden, and he was hooked.
“He came home and was like, ‘I want to do karate! I want to do karate!’” Ra Kamau said.
That wasn’t a hard sell for Heru’s parents. Ra Kamau grew up boxing. Heru Kamau’s mother, Laya Lee, did judo for three years.
Once on the mat, Heru Kamau was almost unstoppable.
“People would come up to us at tournaments saying how good he was,” Ra Kamau said.
“That’s when we knew he was special,” Lee added.
At the recent Battle of Atlanta Karate Tournament in June, Heru Kamau won first place in creative forms and creative weapons routines, third place in point sparring and was a finalist in continuous sparring.
At the Universal Martial Arts Challenge at Mt. Zion High School in April, he finished first in creative forms and creative weapons.
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That he has gotten so good so fast isn’t a surprise to his parents. Heru’s always been ahead of the curve.
He tested out of kindergarten at Flippen Elementary School after just two weeks and was moved up to first grade. He finished at a fourth-grade reading level by the end of this past school year. He took a budding author’s course at Mercer College for Kids this summer. He joined the CMA demonstration at 5, the youngest, lowest belt ever to make the elite 8-member team that’s picked from over 200.
“He shows a lot of enthusiasm,” Colmenero said. “That’s what separates him. He’s willing to go the extra mile.”
Heru Kamau’s days are certainly packed. He’s up at 8 a.m., does three hours of homework after breakfast, swimming lessons, goes to an hour-long karate class followed by three hours of more practice.
It’s a lot, but Heru Kamau seems to be fueled by it all.
Indeed, Ra Kamau loves the impact karate has on his son.
“We were just trying to wear him out,” Ra Kamau said, “but it keeps him focused, disciplined. He enjoys it. He likes doing everything.”
But Heru Kamau loves karate. There’s a DVD collection full of Bruce Lee movies to prove it. Lee’s back gets the brunt of surprise kicks walking around the house.
Even Heru Kamau knows he can’t do karate forever.
So how long will Heru Kamau, karate prodigy, keep it up?
“Until I get tired of it,” he said. “Seventeen [years old], maybe 20. I might be a football player.”