Life is very interesting. Some 27 years ago I walked through the doors of a local Karate school in Montreal where I was living and grew up. I wanted to find a new sport after hockey. I played fairly competitive hockey from the age of 5 until 17. I was never motivated enough or skilled enough to be at the professional level, so when High School ended, so did competitive hockey for me.
I had always wanted to learn a martial art in a serious manner. I had taken a year of Judo when I was 6 which I really enjoyed but I always wanted to do more striking type work. I had in my later teens dabbled for a year with White Crain King Fu, (my Sifu also moved shortly thereafter to Toronto and we have reconnected here since). I also learned and taught unarmed combat in Army Cadets and Reserves. I knew that with the Montreal winters and being of an age that liked to go out and socialize a lot, I would only stick to the training if the location was within a 10 minute walk from my apartment.
I looked in the yellow pages (there was no internet in 1988) and found three possible studio’s within that distance. The first one I went to see was a Shotokan Karate dojo. It looked like good training (from the little that I knew at the time), but didn’t really spark anything within me, I felt pretty neutral about it. The second place was a Tae Kwon Do School that had a big reputation and a big location closer to downtown. I remember walking up the stairs and asking about classes. I was taken into the head instructors office and after he gave me the once over pretty much told me that it would be too tough for me and to think about it. I was dejected and felt like I must look like the biggest loser in the world to be told that I didn’t look tough enough to join a Tae Kwon Do school. What I didn’t know was that he had inadvertently given me the best gift in the world with his rejection.
The third place I checked out and the closets was a place across the street from the Montreal Forum. I had seen it for years as the metro station was there and I often got standing room tickets to the Canadian’s games. It was Shihan Andre Gilbert’s Kyokushinkai Karate dojo. Now as I mentioned, in those days we learned about the various martial arts styles from magazines like Black Belt and from martial art B movies. There wasn’t any internet. I had no idea what Kyokushin was or represented. I walked up the three flights of stairs to the top floor of the building with trepidation. I didn’t want a repeat of the past experience, but I was also committed to find a place to train. As I entered I experienced something completely different than any place I had ever seen, even in the army. These guys were working harder faster and with more intensity than anything I had seen before. Then they paired up and actually started to fight. I don’t mean the light touch dancing/sparring that the Shotokan or Tae kwon Do schools did. These guys were hitting and kicking each other hard and not flinching and they were all completely focused and most of all happy about it!
When the class ended Shihan came over to speak with me. He didn’t ask me, he told me he would see me at next Monday’s class and he looked forward to it and his inviting confidence had me sold. I returned at exactly the class and time he told me and signed up. 27 Years later he is still my Sensei and Shihan, mentor and friend. I owe so much to him as without that moment that day, I would not be standing here today and our dojo would not exist.