All about community

COMMUNITY MAN: Barry Kingi-Thomas is a full-time firefighter and mixed martial arts instructor. Pictures by Paul Rickard
EPITOME OF HUMILITY: “An advocate and a role model, generous, selfless and the epitome of humility,” was how Gisborne firefighter and mixed martial arts club Te Kura Awhio founder and coach, Barry Kingi-Thomas was described in a Tairawhiti Men of the Year Award nomination this year. The aim of Te Kura Awhio was not only to teach mixed martial arts but to foster in its members self-discipline, perseverance, resilience, physical fitness and respect.

FOR a quietly spoken bloke, Barry Kingi-Thomas is a fighter on two fronts, but in a good way. His working life is divided between his job as a fulltime firefighter and as martial arts instructor.

He and his wife Bev started Gisborne’s first MMA club — Te Kura Awhio eight years ago as a “social enterprise” and moved into the old Army Hall on Stout Street in 2012.

“Helping the community was the way I was brought up. My grandfather was a volunteer with the Te Karaka fire brigade and worked in our community until the day he died. I had seen the selfless work he and others did in my community.”

Barry has been with the fire service for 14 years. His 48-hour working week is split between two day shifts and two night shifts. With an average of six callouts a week, he is also expected to respond off-duty.

“I’m either working on this side of the river or the town side of the river,” he says.

“The Taruheru defines my life.”

This side of the river is Te Kura Awhio.

Bev is co-director of the school. The club would not be possible without her to run most of its operations, says Barry.

“We run an OSCAR (Out of School Care and Recreation) programme for five to 14 year olds. Bev does a lot work coordinating that. She’s also a teacher of girls and women’s self-defence and is a national board member on the Women’s Self Defence Network — Wahine Toa.”

Bev teaches self-defence to girls in schools from the East Cape to Opotiki and from Gisborne to Wairoa.

Barry and Bev met as high school students. Inspired by Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li movies Barry took up taekwondo as a school-leaver and moved into town. While working for the Post Office Savings Bank and ANZ Bank, he trained in Wu Chi under Arthur Cunningham and Wipere Ngata. Bev joined him in the Chinese martial art.

“I trained there for twelve years and taught there as well,” says Barry.

Rangataua o Aotearoa

“We eventually got to a point in our training where Wipere thought we should try something different. I thought about going into aikido but did the opposite and went to ROA (Rangataua o Aotearoa) and trained with Taka Mackey and his daughter Melissa.

“That was a huge turnaround. Taka taught me not to take myself or the art too seriously.”

After five years of training with ROA he took up judo under Jason King. He began to see mixed martial arts (MMA) take a foothold in New Zealand.

“I checked out broadcasts and tapes and thought I’d like to try some of that. No one in Gisborne was training it though. That was frustrating because I could see the potential in it as a martial art.”

Barry and about 10 others who were interested in MMA took a grass roots approach and began to teach themselves. Schools and church halls functioned as training rooms. They made regular trips to Whakatane to train with Brad Kora and brought world champion Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioner Steve Oliver down from Auckland to train them.

After taking redundancy from ANZ Barry completed a diploma in business at what was then Tairawhiti Polytechnic. In the late 1990s, he took on a managerial role with Pacsat Cable TV, a television company Bev worked for.

About two years later he managed a programme under Te Runanga o Turanganui a Kiwa (TROTAK) that encouraged Maori participation in sport and in reducing negative lifestyle outcomes.

“This time was an eye-opener for me,” he says.

Obesity, diabetes and other negative health statistics Maori are over-represented was part of his motivation to start Te Kura Awhio.

Joined the Fire Service

In 2003 he left TROTAK and joined the New Zealand Fire Service.

“It was pretty much right after that I decided to start Te Kura Awhio. It was an inevitable decision. No one was doing MMA, so we had to start it ourselves, mixing grappling and striking techniques.”

Then Julian Matenga turned up.

“Julian spent a few years in the army in Christchurch. He’d done some MMA while he was down there. He thought he’d retired but heard we’d been doing some training. He came down and did some training with us.

“That was when we really started our MMA programme.”

Barry and Bev had some strong ideas about what Te Kura Awhio was there for.

“We saw MMA and BJJ providing many positive benefits for individuals, families and the wider community,” says Barry.

MMA helps students develop skills such as self-discipline, perseverance, resilience, physical fitness, diet and nutrition.

“We have a good ratio of borderline at-risk kids to steady, reliable kids. You need steady, reliable kids the others can look to. If you have a good mix you have an opportunity to steer them all in the right direction.”

Bev’s involvement in the Womens Self Defence Network has highlighted a lack of services for boys, says Barry.

“There is no coordinated national programme for boys to learn about relationships, about their health and the health of their partners and family. We would like Te Kura Awhio to be a place where young boys can come and learn how to become men.

“In traditional Maori society men looked after their women and children. In many ways we want to encourage our rangatahi to look towards those examples.

“Be a warrior, but care for your whanau.”

FOR a quietly spoken bloke, Barry Kingi-Thomas is a fighter on two fronts, but in a good way. His working life is divided between his job as a fulltime firefighter and as martial arts instructor.

He and his wife Bev started Gisborne’s first MMA club — Te Kura Awhio eight years ago as a “social enterprise” and moved into the old Army Hall on Stout Street in 2012.

“Helping the community was the way I was brought up. My grandfather was a volunteer with the Te Karaka fire brigade and worked in our community until the day he died. I had seen the selfless work he and others did in my community.”

Barry has been with the fire service for 14 years. His 48-hour working week is split between two day shifts and two night shifts. With an average of six callouts a week, he is also expected to respond off-duty.

“I’m either working on this side of the river or the town side of the river,” he says.

“The Taruheru defines my life.”

This side of the river is Te Kura Awhio.

Bev is co-director of the school. The club would not be possible without her to run most of its operations, says Barry.

“We run an OSCAR (Out of School Care and Recreation) programme for five to 14 year olds. Bev does a lot work coordinating that. She’s also a teacher of girls and women’s self-defence and is a national board member on the Women’s Self Defence Network — Wahine Toa.”

Bev teaches self-defence to girls in schools from the East Cape to Opotiki and from Gisborne to Wairoa.

Barry and Bev met as high school students. Inspired by Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li movies Barry took up taekwondo as a school-leaver and moved into town. While working for the Post Office Savings Bank and ANZ Bank, he trained in Wu Chi under Arthur Cunningham and Wipere Ngata. Bev joined him in the Chinese martial art.

“I trained there for twelve years and taught there as well,” says Barry.

Rangataua o Aotearoa

“We eventually got to a point in our training where Wipere thought we should try something different. I thought about going into aikido but did the opposite and went to ROA (Rangataua o Aotearoa) and trained with Taka Mackey and his daughter Melissa.

“That was a huge turnaround. Taka taught me not to take myself or the art too seriously.”

After five years of training with ROA he took up judo under Jason King. He began to see mixed martial arts (MMA) take a foothold in New Zealand.

“I checked out broadcasts and tapes and thought I’d like to try some of that. No one in Gisborne was training it though. That was frustrating because I could see the potential in it as a martial art.”

Barry and about 10 others who were interested in MMA took a grass roots approach and began to teach themselves. Schools and church halls functioned as training rooms. They made regular trips to Whakatane to train with Brad Kora and brought world champion Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioner Steve Oliver down from Auckland to train them.

After taking redundancy from ANZ Barry completed a diploma in business at what was then Tairawhiti Polytechnic. In the late 1990s, he took on a managerial role with Pacsat Cable TV, a television company Bev worked for.

About two years later he managed a programme under Te Runanga o Turanganui a Kiwa (TROTAK) that encouraged Maori participation in sport and in reducing negative lifestyle outcomes.

“This time was an eye-opener for me,” he says.

Obesity, diabetes and other negative health statistics Maori are over-represented was part of his motivation to start Te Kura Awhio.

Joined the Fire Service

In 2003 he left TROTAK and joined the New Zealand Fire Service.

“It was pretty much right after that I decided to start Te Kura Awhio. It was an inevitable decision. No one was doing MMA, so we had to start it ourselves, mixing grappling and striking techniques.”

Then Julian Matenga turned up.

“Julian spent a few years in the army in Christchurch. He’d done some MMA while he was down there. He thought he’d retired but heard we’d been doing some training. He came down and did some training with us.

“That was when we really started our MMA programme.”

Barry and Bev had some strong ideas about what Te Kura Awhio was there for.

“We saw MMA and BJJ providing many positive benefits for individuals, families and the wider community,” says Barry.

MMA helps students develop skills such as self-discipline, perseverance, resilience, physical fitness, diet and nutrition.

“We have a good ratio of borderline at-risk kids to steady, reliable kids. You need steady, reliable kids the others can look to. If you have a good mix you have an opportunity to steer them all in the right direction.”

Bev’s involvement in the Womens Self Defence Network has highlighted a lack of services for boys, says Barry.

“There is no coordinated national programme for boys to learn about relationships, about their health and the health of their partners and family. We would like Te Kura Awhio to be a place where young boys can come and learn how to become men.

“In traditional Maori society men looked after their women and children. In many ways we want to encourage our rangatahi to look towards those examples.

“Be a warrior, but care for your whanau.”

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