Sensei Gerry Pienaar fought for two years for New Zealand to recognise adaptive karate.
The fight has paid off, with one of his students now being able to qualify to compete for New Zealand in adaptive karate at the 2026 Commonwealth Games.
A local karate club sent five competitors to the 2023 JKS National Karate Championships in Auckland recently, all returning home with a medal and qualifying for the JKS World Karate Championships to be held in Japan next year.
JKS Shotokan Timaru member Ellie Pillar, a year 11 Timaru Girls High School pupil who has a physical disability which impedes her hands and her lower legs, competed in both the able-bodied premier grade for 14 to 17-year-olds and the adaptive division.
Pienaar said despite her physical challenges, Ellie came away with the gold in both categories.
She can now qualify to compete for New Zealand in adaptive karate at the Commonwealth Games.
She was not the only club member overcoming the odds.
They trained hard for months leading up to the national competition to be eligible, Pienaar said.
For Pienaar, the 52-year-old sensei got silver in his category, despite being ‘‘too old’’.
Karla De Beer, Tamzyn Elder, and Yasmeen Bennison were unexpected medal winners when they were entered in the top premier division in their age groups, despite not being at that level yet.
He had entered them in the category simply for the experience, and he was so proud they had still all come away with a medal, he said.
‘‘The team spirit from all of the girls was amazing, they supported and encouraged each other even though some had to compete against each other.’’
The busy weekend away in Auckland was topped off with him passing his grading to reach Sandan — third dan black belt — while Ellie passed her Nidan— second dan black belt, he said.
He felt it was a great learning opportunity for himself and Ellie to learn from other sensei and consolidate their skills to be able to pass their knowledge on to their JKS Timaru students.
Pienaar, who works for CCS Disability, helps people with disabilities to have access to the same opportunities as ablebodied people.
While adaptive karate was ‘‘massive’’ internationally, New Zealand had only just embraced it, he said.
Dojos in Timaru and Christchurch were leading the charge in New Zealand.
Adaptive karate was for participants with any kind of disability, ranging from physical to anything on the spectrum, but it was ultimately up to the individual as to what grade they competed in. Out of the 47 members at the JKS Timaru dojo, six had disabilities. As teachers, it was not what they gave the students, it was what the students taught them, Pienaar said. While google might have lots of advice, he felt the information gathered there could pigeonhole people. ‘‘Education comes from students’’.
He had noticed, even with able-bodied students, some were ‘‘visual’’ and some ‘‘academic’’.
The club was a registered notfor-profit organisation which allowed people in the community who were struggling to have the same opportunities as others.
The organisation helped people who were missed in the community, he said.
He felt if it were not for Ara polytechnic, they would not have had results like that.
Ara had opened its doors and allowed everyone ‘‘young and old to enjoy and reach their potential’’, he said.
Ara, CCS disability and JKS Shotokan Timaru had proved it took ‘‘a community to raise a child’’.
There were more females than males at the dojo, and a portion of those females were mothers learning alongside their children, he said.
JKS Timaru members train every Tuesday and Thursday night from 5.15pm at Ara Gymnasium.
For more information about JKS Timaru Karate, visit its website jkstimaru.co.nz or JKS Timaru on Facebook.
JKS National Championships results —
Ellie Pillar, 2 gold medals in 14/17 years premier kata and open adaptive kata; Sensei Gerry Pienaar, silver in the 45+ kata; Karla De Beer, 2 silver, 1 each in her age group 14-17 years premier kata and kumite; Tamzyn Elder, bronze in 14-17 years premier kumite; and Yasmeen Bennison, bronze in 10-11 years premier kumite.