Trident High School student Nikeisha Popata Manuel and fellow Rangataua o Aotearoa – Whakatane club members, Tahia and Zavier Tuhimata, left for Thailand yesterday where they will represent New Zealand at the 4th International and Thai Martial Arts Games and Festival.

NIKEISHA Popata Manuel is one of three Rangataua o Aotearoa –Whakatane martial arts members on their way to compete in the fourth International and Thai Martial Arts Games and Festival.

The trio will represent New Zealand at the international martial arts festival to be held in Thailand, which begins next week and comprises a sudden-death competition over 14 days.

Trained by renowned ROA instructor and former international competitor Charlie Moeke, Popata Manuel, 16, is joined by fellow club members Tahia Tuhimata and Zavier Tuhimata, both 18.

From Whakatane, both Tahia and Zavier still train at ROA, but work in Tauranga and have had to add travel to their rigorous fitness and strength training sessions in the build-up to the international event.

Both Tahia and Zavier will compete in the K1, glory and boxing divisions. Zavier will also compete in the boran event. Popata Manuel will compete in the K1, glory and boxing and is looking forward to wearing the Silver Fern and representing New Zealand.

GUARD UP: Nikeisha Popata Manuel will compete in the K1, glory and boxing events at the 4th International and Thai Martial Arts Games and Festival in Thailand. Photo Troy Baker D8191-48

Fighting for your country elevates the intensity, but Popata Manuel is no stranger to the gritty competitiveness required for such a physical sport.

In spite of only taking up competitive martial arts just over a year ago, Popata Manuel trained with her dad, a former boxer, from a young age. When he took up kick boxing, Popata Manuel was told to come along.

In line with the physicality of martial arts, Popata Manuel also loves playing rugby sevens.

Though the rugby boots have taken a back-seat as she and her team-mates increased the length, intensity and also the temperature of trainings.

Since the New Zealand team was officially named late last year, the trio have spent many hours training outside with jerseys on to mimic the 38-degree temperatures likely in Thailand.

The four coached sessions and two two-hour sessions on Saturdays are supplemented with running and strength work carried out by the fighters in their own time.

The training has seen Popata Manuel lose 10 kilograms and drop an entire weight class and she is now the fittest she’s ever been.

“I love the trainings and competitions and am the fittest I’ve ever been in my life.”

Careful about her diet, the fighter wants to maximise the training and energy levels through good nutrition.

In 2018, her first year competing, Popata Manuel had five fights, including competing at Carl Cowley’s Mortal Combat Fight night in Whakatane. At one of those she fought team-mate Zavier with a final tally of two wins and three losses. Popata Manuel attended several national training camps, which, combined with her fighting ability and results, cemented a position in the New Zealand team.

The trip has entailed various fundraising efforts to get the three fighters to Thailand and pay the almost $3300 total each. Moeke and the three fighters’ families wish to thank everyone who has supported them and enabled them to make the trip and experience their first international competition.

Last year, Carl Cowley’s Whakatane Fight Club fighter Zaane Walker represented New Zealand at the International and Thai Martial Arts Games and Festival and won his age and weight division in kick boxing as a 14-year-old. Walker went on to win the New Zealand light middleweight Thai boxing title in September last year.

The three ROA – Whakatane fighters left New Zealand yesterday to travel to Thailand with coach Charlie Moeke and supporter Nataha Ratana-Manuel.