Martial arts students travel to Rwanda for memorial tournament!

Martial arts students travel to Rwanda for memorial tournament. High Park Martial Arts students are heading to Rwanda in April for a memorial tournament marking the anniversary of the genocide to remember those who fell victim in April, 1994. Desmond Maynard blocks a kick from Kimberly Davies while (l-r) Ilka Guttler, Martin O’Connell, Eileen Jensen and Paula Burrows. Staff photo/LISA RAINFORD



Eileen Jensen, a second-degree black belt, can barely contain her excitement about her upcoming trip to east Africa.

Jensen is one of five students from High Park Martial Arts who is travelling to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, with their Sensei Martin O’Connell to take part in the ‘Never Again Karate Tournament.’

The memorial tournament at Kigali’s National Stadium Amahoro will take place during the 18th anniversary of the genocide to mark friendship and solidarity while remembering those who fell victim in April 1994.

“I’m so excited about it,” Jensen told The Villager in an interview Thursday, March 14. “I’ve never been to east Africa. I’ve been to south Africa and north Africa, but never the east.”

The invitation to Kigali came from Theo Uwayo, president of the Rwanda Karate Federation. The relationship between Uwayo and O’Connell began several years ago when a High Park Martial Arts student went to Rwanda to work on a film shoot. While there, she trained with Kigali students. Although impressed by their Dojo, she felt bad they lacked proper uniforms. Upon her return to Toronto, O’Connell asked his High Park Martial Arts students to donate their gently-loved uniforms to send to Kigali.

Grateful for the gift, the two schools maintained a friendly relationship through letters. Last fall, Uwayo invited his Toronto counterparts to participate in the memorial tournament.

“It’s going to be a major adventure,” said O’Connell, whose High Park Martial Arts celebrates two decades in the Junction this year. “We’ve been to China, to Japan, but Rwanda is off the map.”

The group departs April 16 and returns April 26, although Jensen, an avid traveller, will stay an extra couple of weeks. She has booked a tour of Kenya.

When she began taking karate lessons 10 years ago, Jensen said she knew nothing about it. Her daughter, a personal trainer, gave her a one-year membership to High Park Martial Arts as a Christmas gift. She says she loves the discipline of it, not just the physical aspect, but the mental one as well. Fellow karate enthusiast and traveller Ilka Guttler shares this sentiment.

“It’s more than just running on a treadmill – there’s lots of learning, both mental and physical,” said Guttler, who joined the club almost four years ago.

She said she is really looking forward to the trip.

“It’s a really unique way to experience a different culture, to connect with the local people and to learn together, based on a shared interest,” she said.

Guttler is an experienced traveller, having backpacked through Central and South America.

“I feel comfortable travelling. I’m very excited to have a unique experience,” she said.

High Park Martial Arts opened at 3094 Dundas St. W. on March 23, 1992. It will celebrate its 20th anniversary on March 24, 2012 at the Royal Canadian Legion, 72 Durie St., with an all-day program for children and adults, students and special guests.