Hobbling and clutching his collarbone, Keanu Wipani winced a little as he gingerly kneeled for a photograph with partner Brooke Adams in Hastings yesterday.
The 17-year-old packhouse employee and father "just likes to fight".
The difference now, of course, for the former streetfighter from Mahora is that he expends energy in the dojang even though it's a lot harder.
"You're on your own and you have to have new types of skills and there's different rules," said Wipani yesterday after competing in the 44th New Zealand Koyokushin Karate Tournament at the Hastings Sports Centre.
The former Hastings Boys' High School student started off in the full-contact colts division yesterday before his prowess convinced organisers to promote him to the open men's heavyweight division where he clinched his maiden title.
It was a rewarding tourney for the fledgling Hawke's Bay Combined Martial Arts Club who are going to use the "Green Dojang" of the Wooster Karate Club relocating at St Aubyn St.
Club mate Jack Marshall, 22, won the men's middleweight division, Jaskaran Singh, 16, a Karamu High School student, won the colts heavyweight division while Kelvin Jones, 15, clinched the lightweight division for 14- to 15-year-olds.
Add to the collarbone injury a pulled calf muscle and a thigh strain following repetitive kicks from different opponents, but Wipani knows his life could have been worse off had he not embraced the martial arts discipline.
"I would have been a druggie," he said, thankful mostly to senpai (head student) Pita Hokianga and sensei (trainer) Daniel Penn for also keeping him out of prison.
"He's [Hokianga] pushed me a lot and the training with Dan's helped pull my head straight," he said, looking forward to his 18-month-old son, Taylor-Ray Wipani, taking up the discipline.
Adams, a former Hastings Girls' High School student, has also pulled on a gi (whites) for almost a year and reckons motherhood has made her "go much harder".
With stamina in the 2min x 1 round bouts essential, a healthy diet is vital.
"We eat stuff like lettuce, cheese and ham sandwiches before fights," she said after taking up karate following encouragement from her partner's uncle, Monty Wipani.
With defeats to black belts and more experienced opponents, the blue belt won the Open women's division.
Keanu Wipani aims to make it to the world champs before becoming a professional fighter.
Penn said it was a realistic goal for him, considering they would raise funds to take him to Sydney for the Australia kyoushin nationals in August.
The Bay combined club has no more than a dozen members in its five-year existence.
"We've never pushed for numbers because we're always about students and giving back to the community, not money."
Growing up in Flaxmere, Penn saw many friends join gangs so he decided to set up a dojang to help them, said the stay-at-home father whose partner Dawn Taylor works for Winz.
Hokianaga, 19, was the first student he got into the straight and narrow.