Taekwondo exponent Ben Evans has returned from Argentina not only having accomplished a personal milestone but also teeing up Hawke's Bay as a global stage later this year.
Evans graduated with a fifth-degree black belt in Buenos Aires a fortnight ago but also secured the rights to host the International Special Needs Taekwondo Games at the Pettigrew-Green Arena in Napier on October 5.
"It's pretty cool because we have nine countries coming so that in itself is quite amazing," says the 28-year-old from Napier who also is the New Zealand International Taekwondo Federation president.
Early last year ITF president Grand Master Choi Jung Hwa had opened the world's first dojan (gym facility) for special needs students along King St in Hastings.
An 18-member contingent, including 11 special needs exponents, went on to scoop 43 medals at the five-day ITF World Championship in Buenos Aires in August that year.
Evans reckons that success is having a magnetic pull on other countries wanting to compete here.
Grand Master Nestor Galarraga, of Argentina, who also is the ITF tournament committee chairman and took Evans through his black-belt grading, will bring a team from his country. Other participating nations are Australia, Canada, England, Ethiopia, Greece, Netherlands, Russia and the United States.
Evans says the desire to host the international special needs games was something he had thought of after the trip back from the world championship last year.
"I thought, 'What can we do to promote Hawke's Bay and New Zealand'," says the bloke who is HB ITF regional director, asking for the date to be moved earlier from the traditional November event because Hohepa Homes Poraiti has offered free accommodation to the tourists.
Evans had initially spawned the idea to head of special needs Bethany Hoquard at Havelock North High School in 2006 and from it emerged 10 Down Syndrome, autistic and cerebral palsy pupil participants as part of their PE assessment programme.
The instructor had found out in May 2015 in Toronto, Canada, that his concept would have formed the basis of the historic inclusion of special needs taekwondo as a division of the world championship for the first time in Brighton, England, in July the following year.
Evans hopes to hold trials on June 27 at HNHS to select about 40 Kiwi representatives to the special needs games here. His triallists will be from 7 to 70 years old from both genders.
His black-belt grading in Buenos Aires from April 13 was part of an international instructor's course that had lured more than 500 participants , in conjunction with a three-day seminar.
"When you get to fourth degree [dan] you become an international instructor but when you become fifth it is a milestone because it's all that training you've done to get to your fourth and then you wait for another four years to get to the fifth.
"I'm thinking now, in 11 years I can reach my seventh degree if I wait five years on my fifth degree then six years on my sixth one," says Evans who will be 39.
While it sounds daunting, he is willing to make the commitment although when he first got into the art at 7 he never thought he'd come this far.
"I haven't skipped any levels so the black-belt element is pretty much my life devoted to each level, which is important because you need to do each rank in time."
The thickness of the 10cm thick pine-tree slabs he had to smash had tested his resolve.
"I've compared the pine that I have here in my office and compared it with the one I brought back, [the latter] is a lot heavier and harder to break," he says, revealing he had to break three with sidekicks which required three exponents to hold and three more to brace the trio from behind to absorb the impact.
He had broken five boards with his hands at the world champs last year but this time his right fist had bounced off.
"This is the best grading I've ever heard," he says, nursing a bruised wrist. "People, in the past, always talked about one day you'll have to use your left side and it never happened before this one."
However, Evans emphasises his latest black-belt acquisition isn't just about the discipline but also a coming of age, so to speak, even though it may seem to some as a high price to pay for a sense of liberation.
"It's a big development to maturity because the older you get the more wiser you become so, I think, the degree [dan] goes with it."
Evans says the years invested in training incrementally not only enhance the values of tae kwon do but also reinforce a strong sense of oneself, rather than individuals just going through the motions of life.
His ultimate goal is to become a master, that is, reaching seventh dan. Once there, he'll give some thought to embarking on a journey to becoming a ninth dan (grand master).
Choi, who is the son of the founder of the art and conducted the seminar at Buenos Aires, had struck a chord with Evans.
"I've always got time to listen to him because you don't get better than that," he says.
Evans is mindful the higher he goes up the order the more responsibilities he'll have to shoulder in a code where the "taekwon" entails the physical fulfilment of the art and "do" feeds the soul.
A lion's share of about 250 affiliates to the NZ ITF are based in the Bay but he tends to travel round the country, especially with his special needs portfolio, to look at ways to boost their numbers.