Visitors to the Tl’etinqoxt’in First Nations community shouldn’t be surprised if they see students and staff of the local school training for their karate class by running outside – barefoot.
“Even if it’s snowing outside, we go. That’s a big thing they’re proud of. It develops grit,” said Tsilhqot’in Associated School of Karate (TASK) founder, Elizabeth Hunt, of the unique training. “They have grit and that’s the longevity in life. It’s good for them.”
Hunt, who works as a lawyer for the Tl’etinqoxt’in First Nation, said she was a point in her life last year when she thought of leaving Williams Lake when her mentor, Shihan Greg of Wado Karate, suggested she consider helping others by sharing her karate skills.
“Sensei Greg suggested that I give back what I have learned. I work here and I really care about the kids and the community and decided that this would be a great place to start a small club,” she said.
“I was introduced to karate when I was 17 and it’s been with me ever since. It’s helped me in everything I’ve done. I love the aspect of the martial art, I like the team aspect of it, I like the grading system (as) it has benchmarks, I like that it doesn’t require equipment and you can take it anywhere. It helps me in every facet of my professional and personal side of my life.”
Hunt started the club one year and three months ago and has been training about 25 members since.
“It’s great for the children. They learn how to show up, they learn how to listen, they’re learning more about their body and the centre of their body and conditioning, they’re learning Japanese, and a martial art. It’s not about the fighting but they do learn how to defend themselves and be more assertive and strong, (and) learn how to do things step by step. I think they’ve developed a lot over the last year.”
If the smiles on the faces of the students and families that turned out to watch to children get their yellow belts Friday, Dec. 1 are any indication, Hunt’s efforts are paying off.
“They have a great thing here. Good community support, great students, a lot of positive energy,” said Sensei Wayne Duguay, who travelled from Campbell River to train and test Hunt and her students.
“It was good to see it. I was glad to come up here.”
Chief Joe Alphonse, who was on hand when the students received their belts and certificates, said it has been exciting to see the progress they are making.
“When you live in a rural setting like this our kids often don’t have recreational opportunities so if we don’t bring it into our community these kids generally won’t ever have that chance,” Alphonse said, noting he is grateful for Hunt’s efforts to give back to the community through her volunteer work.
“Karate and martial arts is a universal language in itself so no matter what city these kids go to, if they want to continue they could step right into another class and they’d fit right in and become a part of another family.
Alphonse said he strongly believes where they is no education there is poverty.
He dreams of big things for his community’s youth.
“You know, at the end of the day you just want your kids to become educated. When you are a minority and you’re walking into a bigger centre you want your kids to have as much confidence as possible. The more confidence they have, the chances of them succeeding is so much greater,” he said.
“Every community has got to do their part. We have to provide opportunities like this if we want to deal with the social problems that are often encountered in Williams Lake like youth gangs.”
Hunt said TASK teaches one of the four main styles of karate in the world, called Shintani Wado Karate. Wado was founded by Master Hironori Otsuka in 1934 in Japan.
Classes are taught in a traditional way with emphasis placed on the art, rather than sport.
She said there are many benefits of karate-do training: fitness, flexibility, coordination, balance, discipline, strength, self-awareness, self-confidence, Japanese language skills and self-defense.
Karate is an excellent way to get fit and active, hunt said, noting traditional karate training develops three areas: mind, body and spirit.
TASK is taught to Tl’etinqox School children and teachers on Tuesday and Thursday. If you live in the community, Hunt encourages you to bring shorts and a T-shirt and come try it out.
“Karate is for anyone at any time of their life,” said Hunt.
Hunt was herself presented with a first-degree black belt following testing by Sensei Wayne on the instruction of Shihan Greg Reid on the Grand Cayman Island.