The Hay River Karate Club is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and as part of season wrap-up has brought in a sensei from the south to lend a hand.
“In the last 25 years, we’ve only brought someone in like this maybe five times,” said Alex Pinto, a member of the club and co-organizer of last weekend’s clinic. “There’s been a really good turnout.”
About 30 people attended the open clinic last Friday evening at the Diamond Jenness Secondary School gym, with black belt testing scheduled for the morning after. While some travelled from Yellowknife and Norman Wells, most were from Hay River.
The invited sensei himself, Denis Labbe, is an eighth degree black belt as well as the head of a national karate organization called Shintani Wado-Kai Karate, with which the Hay River club is affiliated and also has ties in the United States and Mexico.
“The top senseis are so busy,” said Pinto. “We’ve been working a long time to bring him up here.”
Pinto said he has been working with the head of the local club, Santiago Lau-a, for a few months to bring Labbe to town for the combination workshop and testing. The idea was to bring in someone who could not only elevate a few candidates to black belt level, but also teach the wide range of participants present. Lau-a said that typically he has about 25 participants each year, though attendance varies on the season like anything else.
“Some come and some go, and some stay the whole way,” he said May 30. “I have lots of orange belts running around this town.”
The local organization has produced 10 black belts in its 25 year history, including Santiago’s wife and son. He said he hopes the clinic will not only help his regulars improve their skills, but also draw in a few new students for next year.
“I want them to hopefully learn some new techniques, something they can bring back in the fall with them,” said Lau-a. “And some can have the experience of becoming a black belt.”
The testing required for this last involves controlled sparring as well as a thorough knowledge and ability to flow through a choreographed sequence.
“You have to understand what it means,” said Lau-a, explaining that karate is first and foremost a practice of defensive skills. “That’s why karate teaches you to lead with your left side … because you have to protect your weaker side, always. If you don’t understand what it means, it’s just like a dance … there’s no meaning.”