McDonough karate prodigy publishes book

By Diane Smith
Times Correspondent

Henry County has a new, published author. Flippin Elementary student, Heru Kamau (with help from his father, Ra Kamau) has just finished Ashikoo, the Black Snake. The book is just one of many accomplishments under the soon-to-be black belt of this nine-year old boy.

Heru Kamau holds his 2014 Starcade World Champion Belt and his book, Ashikoo, the Black Snake. Photo by Seth Jackson

Unlike the heroic snake in his literary work, Heru is not an intimidating figure. He has a quiet and respectful demeanor. At about 70 pounds, Heru is the average size for a boy his age. But that’s about the only place one would use the word “average” in describing this accomplished young man.

His last name, Kamau, provides the first insight as to what lies within this young McDonough resident. The name has Kenyan origins and, translated, it means silent warrior. That definition could not be more apt for this winner of multi world championships in the realm of karate.

Heru first became interested in karate at the age of four, after seeing the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid movie starring Jaden Smith. His parents, Ra Kamau and Laya Lee, enrolled him in classes at Championship Martial Arts (CMA) in McDonough. Unlike many young students who stick with the program until something else catches their attention, Heru embraced karate and quickly began to leave his mark in local, state, national and even world competitions. On the mat, his inner warrior appears, and he wins tournament after tournament.

Kamau’s karate instructors at CMA tell a tale of intense dedication and drive. Heru and his father are at the studio three or more times a week for a 45-minute session – and then head to a back room for three hours of exercise and preparing and practicing routines for tournament competition. Instructor J. Colmenero has stated that Heru has consistently shown higher belt techniques than where he is on the climb to black belt – an accomplishment for which he is currently training.

Before a visit to CMA on a cold, rainy Sunday morning to be interviewed, Heru had just finished doing a mile run in preparation for his black belt test. The test is scheduled for May 16. In addition to being able to run a mile in 8 minutes, contenders for this prized belt are also required to pass a “ten minute” test. It entails completing 100 pushups, 100 sit ups and 500 kicks within a ten-minute time frame.

The coveted black belt, however, is just another milestone in Heru’s journey. He has already won championships with the National Blackbelt League (NLB) in “under belt” competitions, finishing first in forms, weapons, sparring, musical forms and musical weapons. His song of choice for the musical portion of the competitions? Appropriately enough, he maneuvers his nunchucks and places well-aimed kicks to James Brown’s “Super Bad.”

Heru Kamau’s list of wins in local, national and world championships is astounding. He has won over 260 awards, including 160 trophies, championship belts and plaques. When asked if the Kamau household has a trophy room, Laya laughs and says “We have a trophy house.” Indeed, the first thing a guest encounters upon entering their home in McDonough is a room with trophies lining an entire wall. Many of them tower over the head of the nine-year old who earned them.

On a recent weekend, Henry County’s “karate kid” competed at the Universal Martial Arts Championship in South Carolina. His winning streak continued as he took first place in several categories, which qualified him to compete in the (age) 17 and under grand championships. This nine-year old dynamo defeated all of the older competitors and walked away with the championship belt and a cash prize.

Proud father, Ra, stated, “Heru was congratulated by competitors, judges, spectators, martial arts legends and hall of famers, and was even asked to be in some movies!”

In addition to his outstanding record in the world of karate, young Kamau was also a junior Olympic qualifier in track until a hip injury curtailed that endeavor. Last year he competed in track nationals and came in third in the 800 meter run.

This tale of athleticism does not, however, tell the complete story of Heru’s successes. He began to read at the age of two, with parental help. He tested out of kindergarten after just two weeks and continues to excel academically at Flippin Elementary in the Henry County School System. There he is enrolled in the TAG (talented and gifted) classes and sometimes tutors younger students. Heru was nominated to attend the National Youth Leadership Forum in North Carolina this summer and has been invited to be on the Junior Beta Team. A portion of his summers in 2012 and 2013 was spent at Mercer University’s College for Kids, and he has short stories published in the University’s books from the program.

The tale of Ashikoo was written while Heru was getting a taste of college at Mercer. It is about a black snake that goes about helping people. The idea grew into the book, recently published by Sky Light Books, a division of Tandem Light Press. In the fully-illustrated paperback, the snake wears a special mask that empowers him to help the people of Asia, where the story is set. Heru will be promoting Ashikoo, the Black Snake at book signings in the coming weeks at Greenbrier and Southlake Malls. The book is available on Amazon ( and also at Championship Martial Arts on Jonesboro Road.

As Heru and his family prepared to leave CMA following the Times interview, Nes Rodriguez (one of the head instructors at the studio), called out affectionately “See ya, Champ.” It’s a fitting salutation for this small, silent warrior as he heads into another week of preparing to be the best he can be in all of his many undertakings.