The karate kids

Saturday December 07, 2019 Written by Published in Weekend
Dan Turua, left, Zsaleya Sword Tua, Siana Short, Callia Newnham, Shihan Dan Turua and Maka Ponia. 19120607 Dan Turua, left, Zsaleya Sword Tua, Siana Short, Callia Newnham, Shihan Dan Turua and Maka Ponia. 19120607

An unprecedented four young Cook Islands have won their black belts in karate. Rashneel Kumar meets them.


Behind the till at a local coffee shop, Callia Newnham is busy serving people their daily dose of morning boost.

At first glance, the soft-spoken 20 year old looks harmless. But looks can be deceiving.

Newnham is a highly trained martial artist in karate and the top graduate of the 2019 class, trained by Shihan Dan Turua of Cook Islands Martial Arts Academy.

She is part of the historic four who attained their black belt after 10 years of training. The other three are Siana Short, Zsaleya Sword Tua and Maka Ponia.

“I haven’t come across where I had to use this in real life situation and I hope I don’t,” Newnham says. “You learn it just in case but hope you don’t have situation that you have to use it.”

She joined karate at the age of nine after being introduced to the Japanese mixed martial arts by her mother.

“I knew it was a good idea to learn something to defend myself and I decided to try it out. Once I did I liked it and decided to keep going.”

Newnham took a break from karate when she went to New Zealand for studies in 2012.

When she returned in 2016, she resumed, working her way up to black belt level.

“Black belt is the highest you can get but there are different levels in black belt, you can become first dan, second dan, etc. I’m first dan and I intend to keep training to improve my qualification when the classes start next year.”


Seventeen year old Maka Ponia was seven when he joined Shihan Turua’s class.

“I was bullied at school. There were some students in my class who used to tease me and do stuff to annoy me,” says Ponia.

“One of my friend introduced me to karate and I joined it to learn ways to defend myself.”

Ponia had temper issues growing up. He says karate helped him calm his nerves and make him stronger mentally.

“I was very short tempered and karate really helped me to control my temper. Karate is not just about physical building but mental as well.”

Both Newnham and Ponia along with Siana Short and Zsaleya Sword Tua have also graduated to become “tutors” helping Shihan Dan Turua run classes for the newcomers.

Newnham says karate is important as it gives people confidence to deal with challenges in life – both physical and mental.

“I also think it’s quite important to be able to defend yourself when the need arises. Having karate knowledge will certainly help.”

Shihan Dan Turua, 68, has had 10 black belt students prior to the four from this year’s batch.

But this is the first time four black belt students have graduated together.

Turua says it’s pleasing to see his former students bringing their children to the academy at his shogun dogo gym in Tupapa.

He has also conducted training for police officers, prison wardens and securities at Rarotongan hotels in the past.

 “I don’t want to give up martial arts, I have gone through life and such things help us to cope with health issues,” Turua says in an earlier interview.

“When I see these young people it makes me proud to see them learn these skills as you know at this time in this world there are a lot of things happening. Parents bring their children here for self defense, discipline, self-esteem and I have had a lot of feedback from parents and students.

“I am blessed by God to be given such a talent, to become a good teacher and be an example to many.”



White Belt – White belt is the representation of very initial level of karate. It is worn by the students who have just started their study about karate. So, this white belt symbolises their enthusiasm to learn and clean slate.

Yellow Belt – Yellow belt awarded to a student when he/she demonstrates that he/she is actually adopting this learning phase in a fruitful way. It also symbolises the first beam of sun light that actually gives new rays and hope every morning. So, this yellow belt gives hope to a learner that he is actually learning and practicing at his best.

Orange Belt – Orange belt represents that student has further opened up their mind and their skills are improving rapidly. Just like when sun rays turn orange give representation of growing strength of sun, orange belt also symbolises improvement in individual’s skills.

Green Belt – Green belt represents that a very basic steps of karate learning have been accomplished successfully. Green belt is awarded to intermediate students who are refining their kills.

Blue Belt – Blue belt represents further improvement and one level up. It is awarded to students who have started learning technical skills and additional knowledge about karate. Bluer colour actually symbolises that minds and bodies of students are continuously growing.

Purple Belt – As purple represents the colour of dawn so purple belt is awarded to students who are converting into advanced stages of leaning phase.

Brown Belt – Just like the of ripening seed that is ready for harvest, the brown colour in karate belts represents that students skills are getting matured and the students are levelling up to higher expertise. So, brown belt is awarded to students whose techniques have begun to mature.

Red Belt – Just like red colour represents hot strength of the sun, red karate belt also represents that students have gained more detailed knowledge and they are well aware in discipline of their skills. Red colour also signifies danger, so student who gets awarded with red belt is considered to be more dangerous in his/her skills and knowledge.

Black Belt – Black belt is awarded to students who seek to gain deeper and complete understanding of physical and mental teaching of karate. Many people after receiving black belts are considered to be expertise in their domain and they start passing on their skills to others. Achievement of rank should be considered as a side effect of karate training and it should not be taken as a key goal. The key goal must be personal development and growth at whatsoever rank level you attain.


1 comment

  • Comment Link Shihan Dan Turua Monday, 16 December 2019 06:57 posted by Shihan Dan Turua

    Thank you Rashneel for the kind words Osu

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