WALLINGFORD — At 10 years old, Tristan Barhorst was not just interested in bettering himself.
For example, when it came to karate, Barhorst was not just a student. He wanted to be a teacher too.
So as his own skills and knowledge grew, he sought to share them with his younger peers, mentoring and coaching them.
It was those qualities that led Barhorst's sensei, Rick Griffin of Leadership Martial Arts in Plantsville, to make him a member of the studio's elite Special Winning Attitude, or SWAT Team. Barhorst became a junior instructor. He was one of the youngest of eight SWAT team members in a studio with more than 175 students, Griffin said.
Barhorst, who had been training in karate over the past four years, was just two belts away from earning a black belt. He died suddenly on June 12 after he was struck by a vehicle whose driver had attempted to pass a parked ice cream truck in Cheshire.
A week later, Griffin spoke during Barhorst's funeral. He also presented the boy's family with an honorary black belt. Soon, another plaque and black belt will hang on a wall at Leadership Martial Arts, in honor of Barhorst.
“I truly felt in my heart that he exemplified all of the characteristics a black belt should be,” Griffin said. “He was respectful, hardworking... he represented those skills very well.”
Griffin said SWAT team members are “the most dedicated, most compassionate students who really possess a skill for wanting to help others.”
Christi Carrano, Barhorst's mother, said her son was dedicated to obtaining a black belt under his teacher's tutelage.
“It was very important to Tristan. He learned so much,” Carrano said.
Carrano hopes to instill the same passion for karate in other children. She has established a new fund in her son's name at Leadership Martial Arts.
“We're going to be setting up an award to some of the more gifted kids that are excelling and those who cannot afford the tuition,” Carrano said.
Anyone interested in donating to the fund can do so through Webster Bank. It is titled the Tristan D. Barhorst Leadership Martial Arts Scholarship Fund.
Carrano said her son admired Griffin, who instills discipline, hard work, motivation and community service.
Becoming an instructor to his younger peers was a role Barhorst quickly relished.
“He really liked working with the little little kids,” Carrano said.
“He would jump up in front, and take charge of the class. He would be the one handing out high fives, big smile to the kids, telling them good job,” Griffin added.
The scholarship seems like a natural extension of Barhorst's desire to help others, Griffin noted.
“Tristan would have wanted to help others who may not have the opportunity to do it themselves or might not have had the opportunity to try the program,” Griffin said.
At Leadership Martial Arts, Griffin had bestowed the nickname Tristan “The Tsunami” Barhorst onto his young pupil.
“Tristan was very proud of that nickname,” his mother said. “Rick knew he was just a ball of positive energy. He brought it all every single time and gave it everything he had — every time. He was always on a quest to be his best.”
Furthermore, he “was just a great person,” Carrano said. “Tristan was just a kind, sweet, caring soul.”