A Sad But Avoidable Story…News . Profiles
From Hastings, New Zealand… A 47 year old Black Belt dies during sparring match with a 10 year old Girl…
Around 100 friends and acquaintances of Hastings security guard Tony Caldwell turned out for his funeral last week. But one of his biggest admirers was not there to bid farewell to him. The 10-year-old girl, a student in his karate classes, was kept home by her father.
Mr Caldwell, 47, died last week after a sparring session with the girl, who was being graded for a black belt in Kyokushin, a form of karate. Although coroner Peter Dennehy ruled that the martial arts instructor died of a heart attack, the girl’s father says she is still deeply traumatized by the death. “She had no sleep at all that night; nightmares all the next night and a few every night since then,” the girl’s father said. “When she was punching him and then he went down like that, clutching his chest … she’s connected it.” She had wanted to go to Mr Caldwell’s funeral last Wednesday, but her father thought the sight of an open casket would have been too upsetting. He said his daughter had gone to stay with her grandmother and had been off school for a few days. He wasn’t sure whether she would now return to the sport she loved. “She’s now getting private counseling because she’s really not dealing with it,” he said, adding the family was trying to keep her mind occupied with other things. The girl’s father said that although Mr Caldwell had looked very tired during the sparring session, the instructor had urged the girl: “hit me harder, hit me harder”. “That’s when he sort of … as he went down he was grabbing his chest with one arm. [My daughter] started freaking out.” The father bundled the shocked juniors from the room as two nurses and three first aid-trained corrections officers tried in vain to resuscitate Mr Caldwell.
Mr Caldwell’s friends say he had dangerously high blood pressure and cholesterol levels and flushed so badly when exercising that he was nicknamed “Pinky”. His best friend, fellow Kyokushin fighter Tom Kupa, had encouraged him to resume instructing a few months ago. Mr Caldwell began training in his late teens at the Hastings International Kyokushin Karate Club. He won two national titles and was a member of the “thin white line” of Kyokushin fighters who, in the 1980s, fought the best in New Zealand. He ran his own karate club in Hastings until five years ago, when he retired to concentrate on his job as a store security guard. His death was attributed to a heart attack. The coroner said Mr Caldwell had been “a fool to himself” for continuing to fight. “We didn’t have a postmortem because he had a medical history [high blood pressure and cholesterol],” said Mr Dennehy. He had wanted to sit the girl down and explain that her punches did not kill her instructor. She was not to blame, “apart from forcing the fellow to do the exercise. He entered the fight. He was basically the author of his own misfortune”. On the day of his death, Mr Caldwell fought about 20 90-second bouts against black belts. Overseer Solomon Purcell said he had been knocked down a few times, but performed with “competency and professionalism”.
Mr Caldwell spent the past 13 years as a security guard at Hastings Pak’N Save but had never told his bosses about his medical problems. “He used to eat a jumbo sausage every day for breakfast, tomato sauce, everything – that was his ritual,” said store owner David Smith. “If I’d known he had health problems I would have had him up about it.” Mr Smith had never seen Mr Caldwell use his martial arts skills but said having him around made staff feel safe.
The funeral was packed, with Pak’N Save staff dressed in green-and-gold on one side and karate club members in black-and-gold on the other. Mr Caldwell was cremated last Wednesday, and sisters Glenis and Kerry buried his ashes in Hastings Cemetery last Friday, alongside their parents and another sister. “We’re struggling a bit,” Kerry said. “We’re trying to put the family back together.” The sisters said they had given Mr Caldwell’s newly-earned Yondan (fourth-degree black belt) and certificate to the Kupa International Martial Arts Club, to hang on the wall in the TV room they had dedicated to him.
To anyone who knows Mr. Caldwell, please post a comment here in his memory…
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