- Robert Nyamongo practised Taekwondo for 17 years, getting to the top ranks of Third Dan, black.
- When age crept in and younger men started kicking his backside, he knew it was time to get off the ring.
- A sporty fellow, he needed something to fill the physical and disciplinary void Taekwondo had left.
Robert Nyamongo practised Taekwondo for 17 years, getting to the top ranks of Third Dan, black. When age crept in and younger men started kicking his backside, he knew it was time to get off the ring.
A sporty fellow, he needed something to fill the physical and disciplinary void Taekwondo had left. He picked up a firearm and he shot his way to becoming the first black African to be awarded the highest rank of Master in the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) Championship held in South Africa four years ago.
He is currently a celebrated trainer under the National Gun Owners Association of Kenya (Ngao) and mentors top shooters in Kenya. He is gearing for the 2021 IDPA championship in Kenya, the first time it is being held outside South Africa.
The competition will bring together 300 civilians and disciplined forces all over Africa at Kirigiti Shooting Range in Kiambu.
Funny thing, nobody calls him Rob or Robert or Nyamongo. Most call him “Engineer,” because that is what he has done for 24 years and his company — Site Systems —is known for numerous projects, the latest being The Address, a modern business space on Nairobi’s Waiyaki Way.
He met JACKSON BIKO at the Social House.
I suspect I have a mild case of road rage. I get worked up pretty fast. Do you think I can be allowed to own a firearm or they might see me as unstable?
[Chuckles] Before Matiang’i you might have, but now you must undergo a psychiatric check before you’re issued a firearm. Now there is thorough vetting for all firearm holders.
Everyone has to get a certificate of good conduct from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, a certificate from Mathari Mental Hospital or a recognised psychiatrist, a letter from Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), bank statements, I guess, because you need a firearm to protect something. I’m a contractor so we handle a lot of money, so I needed one. So if you don’t pass the mental test, you can’t get a firearm.
Well, I probably will fail it. How was that transition from martial arts to shooting competitively, did you find that certain skills in Taekwondo useful in shooting a gun?
The transition was pretty easy because if you’ve done any sport, then you’re swift. Everything is about balance, how good your grip is and discipline. Footwork and upper body strength are very useful especially in competitive shooting because you do a lot of repetitive shooting, you use energy, and run a lot.
Does being a good engineer help you be a good shooter in any way?
They share a lot. As a scientist, you can easily identify the mistake a student is making while shooting. As an engineer, you’re trained to observe. We use optical instruments in engineering, the same as shooting. But I don’t think an engineer would necessarily be a better shooter than, say, a pharmacist.
Who makes better shooters, women or men?
Women. This is because women have very good dexterity with their fingers. Everything about accuracy is dependent on how soft you are on the trigger.
You don’t jerk the trigger. Men jerk the trigger while women caress the trigger and that’s what makes them very good snipers.
On the range, women learn much faster than men. For the pistol, the accuracy is about 70 percent trigger control so if you have dexterity in your fingers then you’re good.
So do you think pianists can also make good shooters?
[Chuckles] They might.
Why do you think some people like guns, what is the fascination?
It’s the movies. Also, we all played cowboys or cops and robbers.
What fascinates you about it?
The science of it; competitive shooting is a science. I also love the travels it comes with; I’ve travelled all over the world. I have been to the US, South Africa half a dozen times. I’ve been all over the country. But it’s just like golf, it is a hobby. Something to run away to over the weekend.
When you talk about accuracy, how accurate are you now at this level?
I can hit this helmet with just one try, one shot, 70 meters away. Seventy meters is almost the length of a football field.
Yes. And with a pistol, I won’t miss it. One shot. With a rifle, it’s much easier because the rifle has a long barrel, the longer the barrel the more accurate it is. The pistol is the most difficult firearm to shoot and master.
Did you grow up around guns?
No. I grew up in Nairobi; went to Kilimani Primary, Nairobi School and the University of Nairobi. My father wanted me to be a doctor. So I rebelled against it — and I loved my dad — but I chose civil engineering. I didn’t even know what civil engineering was, but I grew to love it.
Are you good at it?
I’m very good at it. I’m well known in the construction sector. I’ve handled some of the most iconic structures and hotels in Kenya.
What’s your favourite gun?
A Glock. I like it because it is light and very accurate.
Have you taught your wife to shoot?
She doesn’t even want to look at a firearm, let alone want to shoot. [Laughter]. She just doesn’t want anything to do with any of that. I have two boys, 12 and 14 and they’re fascinated by firearms but one is more fascinated by cars than anything else. The other one is a bookworm. [Chuckles]
How far can you take this talent of yours or how far can it take you?
I can go professional but it doesn’t feed my family. This is my hobby. Professional shooting is a very expensive sport. One must focus on what feeds his family. Also, I’m very busy with my construction business.
Have you ever had to draw a gun at somebody?
No, and I hope I never have to. I’ve used my martial arts skills though.
You’re 49, what did you enjoy most about your 40s?
Financial security. [Chuckles] Just seeing my children grow. Reaching the peak of my career in engineering. Handling the largest projects in the country. People looking for me to handle difficult projects. People calling me to train their staff.
I’m looking forward to seeing my children through university in my 50s, teach more Kenyans in firearm skills. I’ve taught many people this. I’ve interacted with most of the discipline forces. Kenya Defence Forces, DCI, General Service Unit (GSU), who come for competitive training. They are true professionals.
What’s your biggest fear?
[Long pause] Coronavirus. I mean, I’m not going to get HIV/Aids.
[Laughter] I don’t have other fears.
What do you think your purpose is? Why are you on this planet?
My purpose is to take care of my family and to contribute positively to society. I do a lot of charity work. I also train many students in engineering and construction management.