Taekwondo is the art of self-defense that originated in Korea. It is recognized as one of the oldest forms of martial arts in the world, reaching back over 2,000 years.
The name was selected for its appropriate description of the art: Tae (foot), Kwon (hand), Do (art).
Despite the game having attracted only few people in the country, Michael Letoluo, a 37-year-old Maasai man is thriving in the game.
Letoluo who was born and raised up at Olokurto ward in Narok North Sub County says he was not able to transit to secondary school after sitting for his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) for lack of school fees.
He remained at home to help at his parents’ farm as his colleagues joined high school until in the year 2008 when he left home to look for casual jobs.
“I left for Nakuru and fortunately I was employed as a watchman in one of the security companies in the town. I was very determined in my job such that I used to run from Mawanga estate where I was residing to Nakuru town every day,” he recalls.
Little did he know that there was someone who used to watch him running back and forth every day. One day, the man approached him and asked him to accompany him in the running sessions.
“I was too shy to introduce myself to the stranger as a security guard. Instead, I pretended to be an athlete who was running for fun. The man later introduced me to the Taekwondo training sessions,” says Letoluo.
He recalls the man took him to the training ground where many people who were more experienced in the game used to meet where he began training him Taekwondo.
“Everything about Taekwondo was new to me. I thought the game involved just throwing legs and hands in the air aimlessly. Little did I know it was an art that was to be done in a particular way,” Letoluo says.
The experience made Letoluo very excited that he quit the security guard job to fully participate in the taekwondo training that was very involving.
Later, Letoluo learnt that his coach, who introduced him to the game, was a military personnel who was on his long holiday hence he had to return back to the barracks.
Before he left to the barracks, Letoluo said the military officer booked for him his first game at Nyayo stadium commonly known as ‘Nairobi Open’.
“Nairobi open is a game for champions across the East African region. I was very excited to be part of those participating in the game,” he reiterates.
Though he did not know much about Taekwondo, he says he had courage he would win in the game because this was his only hope of earning an income.
In his first game, Letoluo became a silver medalist, which made him famous across the East Africa region. This encouraged him to do more practice.
By this time, the young man had not informed his relatives back at home of his new career because he was sure they would oppose the idea of paying too much to train yet there were no financial gains.
“I chose not to tell my family as they would put me off as the job was not paying but instead I am the one who paid for training and to participate in the national games,” he says.
He recalls one of his friends and Coach Daniel Bukero, who guided and stuck close to him after he realized that he was a very talented young man.
“We used to train with Bukero until midnight even though he was my senior. He became very instrumental to me as he used to connect me to various games that were being played around the country,” says Letoluo.
During this period, the young man says he did not have any means of earning an income and used to depend on well-wishers for his upkeep.
Later he secured a job with a security company in Meru County in the year 2013 where he was paid Sh. 5, 000 per month.
“With my first salary, I bought my first Taekwondo uniform at Sh. 7, 000. I used to be informed about games over the phone,” he remembers.
In the course of time, the Kenya Methodist University realized his talent and hired him to represent them whenever they had a game.
This became so much involving as he had to travel to many parts of the country to represent the university, forcing him to drop his job in Meru County.
He traveled back to Nairobi where he lived as he continued with his training of the game that he really loved.
“I did not have an alternative means of income but I trusted that Taekwondo will pay enough money. I refused to give up though the going was not easy,” reiterates Letoluo.
Days later in the year 2015, while in the training camp, he met a Pakistan lady who introduced him to massage training.
Letoluo confesses that the massage business gave him good money that he used to purchase all the attire needed for Taekwondo and pay for the games.
In 2016 after joining the National team, Letoluo was lucky to be selected in the team that would represent Kenya in the Korea Championship that was to be held in Rwanda where he became bronze medalist.
He went back to Rwanda to play the ‘Gorilla open’ game where he became a silver medalist. In 2017, he represented Kenya in a regional competition where he became a gold medalist.
He says he has participated in all inter-county games that have been held since devolution and was awarded the best player in the finals held in Migori County in the year 2019.
Slowly, Letoluo became so famous in the world that he received invitations from different countries to train trainers in their countries.
Among the countries he has been invited to, is Bahrain in the Middle East by a famous gym known as ‘future gym’ where he went for three months to train instructors.
Later, Bahrain national team invited him to coach trainers where he stayed for six months before jetting back to the county.
Letoluo says he has since began a Taekwondo training school and massage center in Nairobi South C estate that has attracted many clients.
The husband of one wife and father of two children calls upon young people not to give up on what they believe in as in the end it will pay them dearly.
“I am no longer a hustler because apart from owning a training school, I receive several invitations from all corners that pay me good money,” he says.
As a way of giving back to the society, Letoluo says he is sponsoring 12 football clubs in his home area.
“Not many people believe in Taekwondo, so I decided to support what the young people love most. I have so far bought uniforms for nine teams and I believe the other remaining teams will get their uniforms soon,” says Letoluo.
The young man is an icon of hope to the many young people who have unique talent to continue pressing on and not to give up so that they can reap from their unique gift.
By Ann Salaton