The Blanks family from Te Aroha pulled off a special achievement with mum, dad and their two teens all achieving black belt level in the martial art tae kwon do.
Not only have their efforts brought some positive health and fitness boosts, it has brought them closer as a family, helped with mental relaxation that helps tackle the stress and challenges of life, work, and school.
Their tae kwon do achievements have been well earned with a lot of time and effort required over a long period with ongoing training twice a week for two hours.
Their journey in martial arts started seven years ago when mum Julie and son Jago, now 15, became part of the Feast Tae Kwon Do family in their small Waikato town where they have lived for 20 years.
Not long after, daughter Mia, now 13, and eventually dad Michael joined as well.
Says Julie: "Originally, I started only to get my kids going and had no ambition to go ahead with it. As a child I used to do judo and really liked it, but that wasn't available in Te Aroha."
Their teacher is Grand Master John Feast who has been in martial arts for 50 years - and gives his age only as "over 70".
He owns Feast Tae Kwon Do which offers classes in Morrinsville, Tauranga, as well as Te Aroha and will soon start classes in Matamata.
John is really proud of the success of the Blanks family, saying : "It is really rare that a whole family have black belts, so it feels really special. They all worked really hard for it and they are very dedicated to the sport."
Julie, who works at Te Aroha Storage Sheds, says she wanted her kids to join a martial art because of the sport's combination of fitness and health, but also self-defence and mind-relaxation components.
"Especially for my daughter, I was keen for her to learn how to look after herself."
She says the sport had only positive effects. "You can see kids changing for the better which is really rewarding. All different personalities come to one happy medium during the sport and the 10-colour-grade system pushes you and awakes a discipline that at the end makes you proud."
She observed positive changes in her family from tae kwon do, especially for her husband who is a medical engineer working on CT scanners and cardiac x-ray machines for Canon Medical.
"Mike suffered from a bad locked-up back for a long time, but when he does martial arts, it seems like he doesn't have these problems."
Julie says Jago and Mia - who both attend Te Aroha College - have developed new skills and are more calm and relaxed dealing with stresses at school and in life in general.
"Through the self-monitoring and self-control component of the sport, the kids became more relaxed and they learned how to get their head into the right place."
Julie says their black belt journey brought them closer as a family.
"We were helping each other achieving the black belt and it brought huge communication skills to the family – and the communication has continued after we all got our black belts."
Julie was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a while ago and says she feels like tae kwon do is helping her muscles. Due to the disease, achieving the first-degree black belt was more difficult for her.
"People getting diagnosed with such a disease think it's the end, but I didn't want to think that way. Grand Master's ability to understand individual abilities helped me to get the black belt.
"He knows your limit and pushes you until you reach it without going too far."
The Blanks even have future plans in the sport.
"Although we can't make too many plans too far ahead due to my disease, I'd love to see my kids and husband become tae kwon do instructors.
But even before that, we still have a lot to learn: When you become a black belt, you realise you actually just started."
She also wants to see the Feast Tae Kwon Do school develop as Julie is also involved behind the scenes. "I am helping the school with my admin skills."
What is tae kwon do?
Tae kwon do is a Korean martial art that focuses on punching, jumping and kicking-techniques at head-height.
The sport especially concentrates on speed and flexibility. In addition to the physical part, tae kwon do also consists of mental and spiritual work.
There are 10 coloured belts for 10 ranks with the black belt being the highest rank. After the black belt, starts the senior section characterised by nine ranks with each rank called dan or degree.
Roughly every four months participants sit a test and can move up a rank until the black belt. Grand Master John has the eighth dan or the eight-degree black belt.
With the black belt achieved, there is no set time on when to move to the next dan which can take several years.
Also, the majority of physical work is completed and black belts then focus on mental and spiritual work or breathing techniques.