Kaitao Intermediate School teacher Tamati Bryers, pictured with Tawhai Ratana, is making a difference with his boxing classes. Photo / Andrew Warner
A groundbreaking initiative at a Rotorua school is teaching its rangatahi new skills, thanks to an educator with a passion for boxing.
Tamati Bryers of Ngāti Tura is a kaiako (teacher) at Kaitao Intermediate, who has started training tauira (students) the art of boxing at the school's new boxing gym, Te Ara o Tū - the pathway of Tūmatauenga (the god of war).
"We opened after the blessing a couple of weeks back and this makes us, as far as I can see, the only school in the whole country that has a boxing gym on site," Bryers said.
Bryers said the benefits of boxing were evident in student retention, improving behaviour and confidence. This is all attributed to the discipline the sport required.
"Part of the deal is that this kaupapa is incentivised. They're on a behavioural contract. This is an agreement that they will earn the right to be here."
Bryers said this meant the students were "engaged in the kaupapa", listened and were respectful.
Improves self-esteem and health
"Importantly, they're happy, they're healthy, they're all smiling and they're enjoying themselves."
Bryers wanted to share his love of boxing with the tauira of Kaitao because he learned the sport from a young age and found it beneficial for his own well-being.
"I grew up in Western Sydney and the police had a youth programme where they would teach youth boxing and form positive relationships.
"They ran a few gyms around the city and I would often go along with my friends to train with the police.
"I started training properly at 14 and found that boxing improved my self-esteem, my health, and ultimately it translated into better performance in other sports."
Bryers has a track record for starting kaupapa that supports students. When he lived in Whitianga, he was a solo dad and founded the Whitianga Boxing Academy.
Formed a club
"When I moved back to Aotearoa, I continued to box and learn other martial arts.
"I also started teaching and was struggling with the cost of living, so I hung up a bag in my shed and started teaching after school.
"The club grew, and I founded the boxing academy in Whitianga - this was my first time coaching and we had some success in the Auckland Boxing Association amateur tournaments."
Bryers said the parents of the rangatahi he taught in Whitianga were impressed with their children's improved discipline, confidence, health and wellbeing.
"That's when I knew I was onto something good," Bryers said.
With the opening of the Kaitao Intermediate boxing gym, Bryers hoped to replicate the success of Whitianga Boxing Academy at the school.
Converted a shed
"I began work at Kaitao last year and saw there was a shed that was being used for storage, so I asked for permission to take it over and convert it into a boxing gym."
Bryers collected some of his own gear from Whitianga and, with the help of the community, he was able to get Te Ara o Tū up and running a couple of weeks ago.
Bryers also acknowledged Rotovegas Boxing and Fitness Gym owner Aaron Warren for his support as he shares a vision of what boxing can do for our youth.
"That's my why, growing the sport I love and helping students learn more about themselves, and what they are capable of with hard work and dedication."
Kaitao student Alyah Warmington-O'Neill, 13, has boxed before and wanted to continue with the sport. She said that she wouldn't have been able to without the support of Bryers and proclaimed that, "he's the bomb."
"I want to get in the boxing ring - the best thing about this has been learning new combos."
Thirteen-year-old Kaitao student Ziantae Prentis-Waterreus boxes to keep fit, and signed up to train at Te Ara ō Tū because she recognised that as a young woman, she needed to learn self-defence.
"It's really important to know how to protect myself."
Prentis-Waterreus appreciated Bryers' effort to bring this kaupapa to Kaitao.
"He's so cool! Bringing his own talent and personal interest to share with us is a really nice thing for him to do.
"I don't think you'll find this at any other school."
Her mum, Maria Prentis, said that she noticed a big difference in her daughter.
"Boxing makes her happy and we see that in her. She wants to feel fit and she's a great team player so sport is good for her.
"It's so great to see that my daughter is interested and loves what she does, we're very happy," Prentis said.
"Our whānau are very proud of her."