Behind the Gloves: Carl Van Roon

Soon to be 37 year old Carl Van Roon is an 11 x Martial Arts World Champion from Auckland, New Zealand, holding titles with the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) and ISKA. He is a proud father of two daughters (4 & 7 years old) and has dedicated much of his life to representing NZ overseas in Kickboxing, Karate, Taekwon-Do and Open Martial Arts tournaments with an International career that spans over 20 years. Van Roon is the head coach of VRMA (Van Roon Martial Arts) based in Mount Eden, Auckland which has now produced a new generation of World Champion Martial Artists. He describes his vision for VRMA as a gym where traditional martial arts values meet innovative, scientific training methods.

Van Roon holds a Masters Degree in Sport Science, having completed research for his thesis in the area of mindset coaching. He now describes incorporating these mindset coaching principles in his coaching as second nature, saying they were essential in helping him to reach his own potential and that he now enjoys helping others to do the same. Van Roon identifies first and foremost as a Martial Artist and secondly as a fighter. For him, he is just as happy building the confidence of a struggling child as he is in creating a new generation of champions.

He spared time to talk about how he got into the Martial Arts, his passion for coaching which he describes as his ‘calling in life’ and his recent mixed martial arts debut.

Van Roon started martial arts at 10 years old with Ashihara karate (a full contact, Kyokushin type derivative) at Mt Eden Normal Primary School under the tutelage of Chris Dessa and Angelina Carden, with whom he earned his first Blackbelt in the martial arts. Van Roon continues to stay in touch with his original instructors saying:

“In fact Sensei Angie even attended my recent MMA debut, which was special considering it was a quarter of century ago that I started training with her”.

“I first started competing in Martial Arts as a child, and had my first full contact fight when I was 16 years old. It was Kyokushin style rules and I ‘got a hiding’. I fought a man in his early 20s and I just didn’t have the authority and durability but I think it forced me to look at my skills honestly and this gave me more motivation to expand my skill set. From a young age I was always interested in becoming a complete martial artist not just a ‘partial artist’.”

From his late teens onwards, for more than a decade, Van Roon ended up fighting all over the world in ITF Taekwon-Do World Championships, Open Martial Arts tournaments, Karate tournaments in Japan, at the WAKO (World Association of Kickboxing Organisations) World Championships and more, securing 11 World Championships along the way. In more recent years he has Coached many of his students to win on the world stage, taking out Junior and Senior Taekwon-Do World Championship titles, World Open Martial Arts titles and more.

Talking about how he ventured towards MMA, Van Roon says he started training in MMA more seriously while living on the Gold Coast between 2011 and 2014.

“I was training with an amazing coach and all around inspiring human being Vincent Perry who is the head coach of PUMMA (Potential Unlimited Mixed Martial Arts). Coach Vince drew on similar inspiration as I had with his philosophy on Martial Arts, including finding inspiration in the ideas of Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do: ‘Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless and add what is uniquely your own.’ This was what attracted me to his school, and from there I began to work with his fighters team, I continued deeper study into BJJ and wrestling and found myself totally reinvigorated as a Martial Artist! Not that my passion ever really left! Coach Vince has an amazing team there, including several students who have done well in the UFC, One Championship, etc and I’m grateful for that time.”

Van Roon returned to NZ in 2014 and the following year he started Van Roon Martial Arts, marrying his experiences as a World Champion and Sport Scientist into the teaching of his own stand up striking system and principles with a focus primarily on those competing on the World stage.

Today Van Roon Martial Arts (VRMA) offers classes for all ages in both traditional disciplines including Karate and Taekwon-Do, as well as combat sports such as Kickboxing and MMA under the one roof. The program also features tricking (gymnastics and acrobatic kicking), strength and conditioning, private coaching options and children’s classes specifically geared to empowering young people through mindset coaching. VRMA welcomes new recruits whether they are motivated by self-development or the competitive side of the the martial arts.

Van Roon made his professional mixed martial arts debut in February at Eternal’s 50th event which took place at Auckland’s Skycity Casino. To prepare for his debut, Van Roon worked alongside UFC Fighters at CKB with coaches Eugene Bareman and Doug Viney.

Reflecting on his time during this training camp, he said, “I’m grateful to be a part of the team at CKB. I learn something everyday from the crew and I enjoy being able to share my experiences regarding my own long range striking style with the team.

I love reconciling older approaches to new circumstances and seeing parallels or cycles in what techniques, tactics / strategies etc are utilised depending on the rules or situation.”

The camp involved training alongside multiple elite athletes and fighters, like Israel Adensanya who is current UFC middleweight champion, Mike Diamond, Brad Riddell, Kai Kara France and Daniel Hooker, who were preparing for Eternal 50 as well as UFC’s Auckland event, which took place the day after the Eternal fight night.

“What I loved about preparing for this fight was, to quote my good friend and team mate Brad Riddell, is that it is essential to “Callous the mind” and the conditioning and volume of training or “embracing the grind” forces you to prepare physically, mentally and emotionally for battle.

In many ways it’s pretty similar to preparing for a World Championships. If you want to win, you have to be obsessed.”

When asked about NZ’s success in MMA on the world stage, Van Roon responds:

“Obviously it’s brought mainstream recognition and success to combat sports which here in Aotearoa are minority sports. I gradually see decreasing resistance to the idea of MMA as a credible “real sport”. It’s funny, over the years a lot of the public and even many people in traditional martial arts have said things to me such as “Oh but MMA isn’t a real Martial Art is it… It’s more brutal, it’s more of a brawl” but for me this is an ignorant statement. Of course, MMA can be very brutal but for those who say it isn’t true martial arts, I think they need to take a good hard look at what they are really doing themselves. It’s easy to hide behind dogma and tradition, and not test yourself or expand your mind. In MMA, you not only have to box (the sweet science), kickbox, strike as a Muay Thai fighter, watch out for spinning s##t from TKD people, wrestle, roll / apply BJJ, avoid getting flipped on your head by a Judoka etc but you also have to understand the interaction of each of these unique and beautiful martial arts, and how to use one to mitigate another.”

“What could be more interesting and artistic than expressing yourself under ever changing circumstances with fewer restrictions than ever while still being relatively safe? So to sum it up, I think the world is gradually seeing that there is more to MMA than brawling and that the skill and self-reflection required to rise to the top is legitimate, just like other ‘credible sports’ or traditional martial arts.”

Describing his MMA debut as an enjoyable one, Van Roon isn’t counting the possibility of another MMA fight.

“It (my debut) definitely pushed me to expand as a Martial Artist. I learnt a lot about myself and look forward to growing more.”

When asked what advice he had for someone considering taking up combat sports, Van Roon says he would encourage the person to see the path in combat sports as more than just a means to win a fight, satisfy their ego or become stronger / fitter.

“I would invite them to approach combat sports in the way that traditional martial artists have for thousands of years, and that is as a vehicle for expanding the individual’s capacity to make the most out of life, strengthen themselves and then help others to do the same; basically turning the challenges in combat sport into a means for self-reflection and killing off one’s lesser self… Something I’m still working on.”

Sharing his thoughts on what Martial Arts will be like in the coming years in New Zealand, and internationally, Van Roon thinks it will only be bigger, and more professional, organised and established.

“I think there will be more youth involved than ever as the younger generation has been so inspired.”

The most rewarding part of being an athlete for Van Roon is inspiring others to do their best, and “giving others the permission to see the best in themselves, instead of apologising for being their own shining light.”

When he isn’t training or coaching, Van Roon can be found in the film and tv industry as a stunt performer and actor, specialising in fighting for camera. Asked about his history in film and tv, Van Roon rattles off a list including the Hobbit Trilogy, Power Rangers, Shortland Street and many more. He says it’s also an exciting time for the industry as NZ has come to be seen as a covid free sanctuary for productions which still features a solid infrastructure. He says he had a massive 2020 but due to confidentiality agreements can’t yet tell me which productions he was in.

To find out more about Carl van Roon and VRMA, follow IG @vanroonmartialarts (instagram)

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Written by Agent 33