It began as a way to stay fit for rugby, but judo has since taken Dylan Leney on a journey he did not expect.
Now, an array of bronze, silver and gold medals hangs on the wall of his family's home, but the 15-year-old Palmerston North Boys' High School student's acquisition of laurels is far from over.
He says the pinnacle would be to represent New Zealand at the Nanjing Youth Olympics in 2014. It will take intense training and unwavering determination. "I'll need to win a lot of competitions, like Oceania [Judo Championship].
"I'll probably have to go overseas to train, and get a black belt."
He has a brown belt, but Dylan says the gap between the two can be difficult to bridge.
In May, Dylan won a silver medal at the Oceania Judo Championship in Cairns. He beat two Australian competitors, but lost to a fellow New Zealander.
Back in New Zealand, Dylan won a gold medal in his weight category for the third consecutive year at the Secondary School Judo Championship at the beginning of this month.
The literal translation for judo is "the gentle way", Dylan says. It may sound like a contradiction, but there is much more to judo than unarmed combat. It is about training the body and mind.
"You have to think, and as you get higher up [in the rankings], you have to look and think about what the other person is doing and change, adapt, to suit what will happen." The sport gives him focus, he says.
Practitioners are encouraged to teach younger students how to fight, which Dylan does with his two younger sisters and other members of the club.
About seven years ago, Dylan joined a judo club in England. Not long after, he moved to New Zealand with his family, where he continued with the sport at Palmerston North Judo Club. Initially, he says, his decision to learn judo was to help with his fitness for rugby.
It's good cross-training, he says.
"I really only did it as something else to do. Then it became a bit more serious.
"You have to use your whole body. It's all about doing throws, so there's a lot of lifting involved. I like speed work, and it's good for rugby. It helps you build your strength."
He trains in judo three times a week. On the other days, he has rugby and basketball training.
Dylan has travelled all around New Zealand to compete at judo tournaments, as well as to Tahiti, Brisbane and Cairns. Last year, he spent a week at the Australian Institute of Sport for the "hardest week of training" he has experienced.
"I was one of the youngest and everyone was older and bigger. They don't smash you, but they don't let you go soft."
Reaching the top in judo often requires travelling to countries such as Japan or France, Dylan says, so New Zealand and Australia sometimes train together.
The sport is never one-sided, and a fight can change in a split second.
"They can do something and then you can counter them.
"If you don't win, it's your fault.
"And there are always lots of people watching, because there are only ever two fights at a time at competitions, so there are a couple hundred people watching two fights."
Combat is divided into four-minute fights. "If the scores are still level after four minutes, it goes for another two minutes."
It's non-stop and nerve-racking, topped by a surge of adrenaline.
"It's really good. You get really excited and sometimes yell out. You can't really help that."
The first fight is always a challenge, he says.
"But after that I'm normally OK because I get in the zone."
- © Fairfax NZ News