Melissa Dunn started karate at five years old because she wanted to win medals like her older brother.
Fast forward ten years and the year 11 student at Villa Maria College has achieved that and then some.
Next week she will fly to Santiago in Chile for the World Karate Federation Championships where she will compete in the junior division.
In a rare occurrence Dunn has been selected for both karate categories for the Worlds – kata and kumite.
“Kumite is the skill of fighting, which includes attack and defence. Kata is a solo performance of precise movements on the mat that relate to the fighting style,” she says.
Not surprising then Dunn is equally comfortable with both disciplines of the sport.
“If someone said to me right now that I had to choose, I honestly don’t think I could pick one over the other. Both disciplines are different but they compliment each other.”
This is Dunn’s 7th year of selection in the New Zealand team. She is a Black Belt with Kofukan Karate – a feat she achieved at just 12 years old. She is also a member of the Canterbury Westland Team.
Dunn credits her “awesome coach and good friend” Sensei Rebecca Dobson of Kofukan Karate with helping her achieve her success.
When she started competing at age 7, there were no girls of her age to compete with so having a female coach was pretty unique.
Dunn competed against the boys for two years and at 10 years old was selected for the NZ Team to compete at the 2013 Commonwealth Karate Championships in Montreal, Canada. She won a bronze medal.
She then went on to compete at the 2015 Commonwealths in Delhi, India – again winning bronze.
Dunn, who holds numerous national and regional titles has also represented NZ at The Karate Oceania Championships in Fiji, New Caledonia and Auckland – winning gold, two silver and four bronze medals.
In 2018, on World Karate Federation rankings, as a cadet, Dunn was ranked 7th in the world for kata and 20th in the world for kumite. She now moves into the Under 18 category and her rankings start again.
Dunn says there are so many components which drives success in karate.
“You have to be really fit and strong, it’s very physically demanding. It’s also important to have a strong mental game. Discipline and focus are essential.”
Dunn believes these skills help in all aspects of her life. She achieves excellent grades at school and while she said it can be a juggle, she makes sure she is organised before she leaves to go on a tournament.
“I don’t want to be in Santiago and thinking about school work, so I make sure I’m all up to date before I leave and school has been really supportive with this too.”
Dunn said she has also been working with performance coach John Quinn.
“He’s helped me with some really useful techniques like visualisation before going on to the mat. He’s also really helped with evaluating my goals.”
While Dunn has enjoyed a variety of sports over the years she is now solely focused on karate. The sport doesn’t receive much in the way of funding and all the trips Dunn goes on are entirely self-funded.
“I’m incredibly lucky that I have such supportive parents, they will be travelling with me to Santiago as well – and have been to all my tournaments.”
Next year Karate is in the 2020 Olympics for the first time. However disappointingly for Dunn it’s not being included in the Paris 2024 Olympics.
“If Karate was to be kept in the Olympics that would be my ultimate goal. I would also love to be selected into the Senior World Champs team when I am old enough.”
In the mean time Dunn is completely focused on each task at hand and putting out her best performance each time she takes to the mat.
“I think just continuing on and bettering my performance from each competition is a realistic goal to have.”
Words: Kim Nutbrown