Belts, not blows, were dealt out during an annual judo camp in Hay River, and the attendance during the three-day event demonstrated just how much the martial art is exploding in the territory and beyond.
Thirty-nine judoka from as far as Iqaluit and Colville Lake joined martial artists from Fort Smith, Yellowknife, and Hay River to practise, compete and raise their personal ranks. This is the third annual camp run by Mario Desforges, president of the NWT Judo Association.
The annual training camp took place Feb. 3 to 5 at Ecole Boreale and featured special guest, Akinori Hongo.
Hongo has won two world cup medals for Japan and placed second in the All Japan Championship for his weight category in 2011. He is currently training in Montreal.
NWT communities adopting judo are sprouting up slowly but steadily thanks to Desforges’ grassroots program aimed at targeting school-aged youth.
Desforges lives in Yellowknife but travels to Hay River at least once every two weeks in order to train a growing number of students in the town.
He recently travelled to Colville Lake, a community that now has 20 students, some of whom he teaches via Skype.
“It’s a great individual sport, and it’s a sport that’s structured around school,” said Desforges. “If you can walk, you can do judo.”
The NWT Judo Association has approximately 1,000 active members who practise the sport across the territory. Desforges said it’s his job to grow these numbers, and his efforts are being supported by the Aboriginal Sports Circle of the Western Arctic, which aims to increase physical activities in the communities.
Over the next three years, Deforges plans to visit 18 communities with practices and camps. The goal is to have 22 communities active in judo over the next four years.
On Saturday afternoon, the 39 camp participants were put through boot camp-type drills, and Desforges was the unforgiving sergeant. He instructed each student to complete their circuit, jumping, crawling and resistance training.
“You do the best you can,” yelled Desforges.
There were struggles and strains and a whole lot of groaning but the students were able to complete the vigorous training.
After almost 20 hours of practice, students returned home to their communities until the camp returns next year – potentially bigger – and maybe with eve more of a competitive edge.
“This camp gets kids ready for the national level,” said Desforges.
The NWT Judo Association has been established for more than 45 years, and the NWT ranks fifth for the sport in Canada, boasting most judoka per capita in practice.
The association received a grant from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs to run the camp.