GRIC Youth Earns Junior Black Belt in Karate

Christopher Lomahquahu

Gila River Indian News


A Gila River Indian Community youth has overcome several hardships to achieve what few individuals his age attain: Travaris Wright, 15,  from District 5 received his junior black belt in karate last June.


“He started when he was nine,” said Darla Hoover,  Wright’s mother. “He loves it, but there were times when it was hard for him.” Wright, a Casa Grand Union High School student, has endured many trials from the time he started instruction in karate at the District 5 multipurpose building in 2016, including family loss, financial hardship and a lot of travel. 


It was all worth it last summer when Wright, his mother and close family members traveled to Oak Grove, Missouri, for his test,  after which he was awarded the status of junior black belt from the United Ryukyu Kempo Alliance. The URKA is an national organization committed to teaching a form of karate that originated in  Okinawa, Japan. 


“Rolling Fist” Ryukyu is based around five core precepts, which are “good moral character, honesty, perseverance, respect and restraint or self-control,” said Jenifer Tull-Gauger, Wright’s instructor, who owns and operates East Valley Martial Arts (EVMA) in Mesa with her husband, Kirk Gauger.


She said Wright has done very well since his early days when classes were at the multipurpose building. He came upon the class when he was attending his school’s science fair in the nearby gymnasium, she recalled, and from there he pursued his interest in karate. 


“He thought he’d just try it out and then loved it from day one and caught the passion for it,” Tull-Gauger said. “So then we ended up not being able to teach there.” 


That was just one of the difficulties Wright has faced since taking up karate. It started when he lost his grandmother and then his grandmother’s sister. Coupled with other hardships, these losses caused him to halt his karate training. “When his grandmother passed away, he stopped going for a while, but I told him that even though grandma is not here, she would want you to continue,” said Hoover.


Hoover said after some contemplation, her son decided to pick up karate instruction once more. Although he was ready to get back into the dojo, it was still a challenge to travel the long distance to Mesa, where Wright’s instructors were based.


She added that the cost associated with her son’s instruction was another challenge, setting him back again.


“One day they had reached out to us again and told us there was a scholarship there, [and] her and her other instructors considered my son and how … he was determined to continue his instruction,” said Hoover. 


Thanks to that rare opportunity, Wright picked up where he left off and  continued to impress the Gaugers and instructors at EVMA. Tull-Gauger said Wright’s commitment to karate is what factored into the school’s decision to award him the scholarship. 


Despite the challenges Wright faced leading up to testing for his junior black belt, Tull-Gauger said, he was prepared for the multi-day tests with people from around the country.


“It has been a stop, start with his whole instruction not being near his home, understandable losses in his family and with COVID,” said Tull-Gauger. 


Last October, Hoover lost her husband to, which also impacted Wright. She said her son learned all the fundamentals of basketball from her husband and that it is Wright’s goal to play on the boys’ team at his high school. 


For a time, Wright was unsure of taking up karate again, but with the support of his mother and instructors, he continued his participation in something that he has made his own. 


“When we had his dad’s services, I invited the instructors from my son’s dojo… I thought I would make it a surprise, because I know it would have meant a lot to him to know they were there to support him,” said Hoover. 


Hoover also thanked the Community and family members for their show of support last year, when they hosted food sales to raise money for travel expenses to Missouri. “It was really good with the Community’s support,” said Hoover. “I was amazed by the amount of people that came out just to see him and wanted to help him out.”


Hoover said the pandemic has been tough on the family, but her son has shown how important it is to take care of others. Tull-Gauger said Wright continues to demonstrate his leadership skills by helping younger students with their techniques and leading his peers and newcomers to the world of karate at their dojo.