When taekwondo black-belt instructor Camille Pruckmuller visited Pentecost Island in Vanuatu in 2015, she gave the villagers a pleasant surprise.
Once Pruckmuller and three other black belts were incorporated in the tribe, the chief, using an interpreter, disclosed he didn’t realise his son was learning to become an instructor under her tutelage over the years.
“He also said he didn’t realise that Master Pruckmuller was actually a lady so everybody laughed and I didn’t know what he had said until the son had translated it,” she says with a grin.
Put another way, the humble Bay City dojang in Hastings is finding countless disciples beyond the shores of New Zealand.
That year she had noted more than 70 exponents in the island nation, wearing a mish-mash of hand-me-down taekwondo uniforms she had sent back with some of her fruit-picking students coming for seasonal work in the province through the RSE (Recognised Seasonal Employers) scheme.
“But they were very immaculately dressed and there to train.”
It had struck her how the islanders were lacking in basic amenities.
“It was an eye opener — no running water and all those other things,” she says, mindful New Zealanders take such things for granted.
“It was a very basic island but they are such beautiful people.”
For that reason, when a swag of islanders acquire black-belt status they will spread the gospel with conviction once they return home.
Walter Rockliff Tahi was among those who passed with black belts at the dojang last Sunday.
Tahi (not the chief’s son), who turned 32 on Tuesday, hails from Pentecost Island and was instrumental in inviting Pruckmuller and her accomplices in 2015.
Tahi, who has been working here for the past nine years, has two children with his partner Jackeline Jack.
It took him six seasons – each season extending from November to May – to incrementally hone his discipline to become a black belt after graduating through the myriad colour rankings.
“He can talk their language and he knows how to get the best out of students. That’s what I find here. It doesn’t matter what they bring, you just work with the best they can do and that’s all you do, really.”
Pruckmuller says the minute she had welcomed him through the doors to the dojang Tahi felt at home.
“He was like a little sponge and was soaking everything I could teach him,” she says, admiring his dedication, commitment and motivation for training.
He had a magnetic impact on other orchard workers, some days enticing up to 20 to a session, including some Solomon Islanders and Tongans.
Pruckmuller is returning to Pentecost Island and Port Vila where, assuming everything goes to plan, there should be three clubs running in both areas in August.
“If they go well their children and grandchildren should be coming through.”
What amazes her, including in the Solomons, is the number of women gravitating to the discipline.
“Before it used to be a big no-no for females so I’m looking forward to seeing them all again.”
Pruckmuller was intending to go to China to attend clinics there but changed her plans when she realised how much more fruitful it will be to split the cost of that trip between Vanuatu and the Solomons where pidgin English is the mother tongue.
Tahi’s compatriots, Peter Bovi and Tom Kamisak, also passed with black belts.
“I pushed them hard from start to finish, starting with a 5km run in under 30 minutes in the rain,” she says.
Tahi, who had attended a couple of martial arts classes in the islands, recalls the noticeboard outside the Bay City dojang catching his eye as he walked past it the first time.
He returned to the workers’ billet along Omahu Rd to discover some islanders were already frequenting the dojang.
“It’s all about going out for a game,” he says, catching the bug and starting a modest club with six boys three years ago.
Tahi, who trains here with countrymen Samson Timothi, of Tana Island, and Fabrice Antoine, of Malekula Island, sees his black belt as an opportunity “to teach the boys a little bit more at home”.
When Master Pruckmuller asked him in his initial visit what the future was with taekwondo, he feels she had planted the seeds of growth in Vanuatu in his mind.
“I told her I just wanted to be like her, training someone coming after me.”
He relishes the fitness he acquires from taekwondo, seldom feeling tired after an entire day’s work in the orchards.
Tahi, who is indebted to the New Zealand and Vanuatu governments for establishing the RSE scheme to give them an opportunity to enhance their lives, also has learned the value of respecting other people.
“Having a black belt means not to offend other people or hurting them.”
He dreams of a membership growth in the island nation where soccer is the major sport and where he has taken a box of balls for children to play with.
Source: NZ Herald