Special to the Nation by David Bergeron

In the land of the rising sun the people of Japan have practiced karate for centuries. The words – honour, justice, courage, mercy, politeness, honesty, loyalty, character and self-control – describe a way of life, which they called bushido, meaning the ways of the samurai, the warrior.

Shotokan-1My story starts in 1988, when I was 14 years old. I lived in many foster homes before my aunt took me as one of her own. We lived in Chibougamau and I was a normal teenager – I think. I was very active doing sports, and I had lots of energy. But I also had a problem with aggressiveness, anger and lack of patience. Seeing those qualities in me, my aunt asked if I wanted to learn karate at the polyvalente (French high school) with my cousins. She knew something that I didn’t know. I said yes right away, thinking I would learn how to fight.

When I started, I met my teacher or sensei (Japanese word for master) Claude Bédard. He began the course with a good warm-up, and then we did some techniques. I learned the basics, such as stances and basic punches with kicks, that’s when I discovered that I had new muscles hiding in my teenage body. The pain didn’t last long and thus began my journey in the ways of the warrior.

After many years of practice, I’ve notice many changes in myself. I noticed that my aggressiveness was gone and so was my anger. I had more concentration and more patience. I had control of myself. It was actually my aunt who noticed the change much earlier than I did (smile).

Shotokan-2I remember doing a few camps with a Japanese master who came here once or twice a year. I noticed how calm he was and how much culture he had in his background. For me as a teen it was like meeting a real samurai with strict codes of honour of the bushido warrior. I was impressed by his flexibility and capacities both mental and physical.

Unfortunately, I had to stop karate at 17 when I left Chibougamau to go to college. The other town didn’t have a dojo (Japanese for a place to practice martial arts), and there was no karate offered at the college.

In 1994, I was already an adult – so says my aunt (smile) – and started working as police officer in the community of Oujé-Bougoumou. Then in 2000, I made a leap to the Sûreté du Québec as a patrolling officer. Today I’m still there as a team leader (the equivalent of sergeant), but I’m still patrolling. Karate has even helped me in my functions as police officer.

Years later, in 2012, I decided to return to karate. I had had back surgery and I needed to find a sport where I could develop my back strength and flexibility. I was anxious at first because I was out of shape, no flexibility… maybe I was becoming an early “cheynoo” (smile). So I continued my training as a brown belt 2nd kyu, but I needed two more belt exam for a black belt.

Karate belts are as follows – first you start with a white belt, followed by yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, brown 3rd kyu, brown 2nd kyu, brown 1st kyu, then first black belt 1st dan and then you move up to 2nd dan black belt all the way to 10th dan.

Like I said, I continued my training where I had stopped. I had to re-learn my katas (simulated fight techniques). It didn’t take too long to get back to where I left off. Except for my flexibility, which I have to work on more, it’s like riding a bicycle: once you know how to ride you don’t forget.

Sandrine Rioux and Joey Vallée doing Chanbara ( soft sword ) Photographer: Katherine Ann Bergeron.

Sandrine Rioux and Joey Vallée doing Chanbara ( soft sword ) Photographer: Katherine Ann Bergeron.

After a first session, my daughter wanted to start karate, and so began her journey. Like the ancient Japanese where the father taught the child, maybe I will have a chance to do so with my daughter. I told her that I would help her, for I know the benefits of this martial art as my aunt knew before me.

I noticed that the Karate Shotokan Club in Chibougamau had many students from Mistissini and Oujé-Bougoumou. I was happy to see many of them in advanced class. As for me, I went to camps in Repentigny in early 2014 where I obtained my 1st kyu brown belt and then I felt that I could get to black belt. I trained hard and with the help of my senseis – Claude Bédard, Réal Lavoie, Sylvain Tremblay and François Poirier – and many others, who shared their knowledge and experience with me.

In late June, I was in Mirabel, where I was training at a summer camp with two Japanese masters – Sensei Katsumata, the head sensei in Quebec, and Sensei Makita from Japan. It was very hot, the atmosphere was tense, and I could hear all the whispers in the crowd – so began my black belt exam. I had to start with techniques that I had to master, then I had to perform two katas and finally my combat kumite exam in front of the Japanese masters. I was nervous, but I was ready for I had been training for this.

When I completed my exam, a feeling of peace came over me and the pressure was gone at least for that day. The results would be known only the following day after the last training. When the classes were done I sat down with my friends and teachers and listened to Sensei Katsumata announce the names of the students who had passed the exams. My heart trembled, it was like a dream and then I heard my name. I had passed my first-degree black belt exam (shodan).

A new journey was just beginning. When you get your black belt it doesn’t stop there, it just continues and so will my journey in this martial art. People say the sky is the limit, but don’t forget after the sky, is infinity. A wise Chinese man once said when you reach the mountaintop, continue climbing.

Admiring the student

By Claude Bédard, head instructor at the Shotokan Karate Club

David receiving gold medal in combat from sensei Claude Bédard

David receiving gold medal in combat from sensei Claude Bédard

I am very proud of David Bergeron for having become the first Native to receive his black belt in northern Quebec. David is the kind of person who will give all of his time and energy to achieving his goals. Karate is far from easy and David is the kind of student who learns well, takes directions and corrections, and doesn’t need to have things repeated or explained 10 times. In short, he is teachable. He performs well in competitions.

On May 3, a regional competition was held in Chibougamau with over 70 participants. David won a silver medal in kata, a bronze in team kata, as well as a gold medal in kumite (sparring). Members of the Shotokan Karate Club in the Chapais-Chibougamau who practice with David appreciate him because he clearly cares for others, is very polite, and has a wonderful sense of humour. He is a positive role model for the other club members, both young and old.

We have had First Nation members, including Joseph Blacksmith, George Matoush and Willie Loon, who have reached their brown belts. They were very good at the sport, but had to stop for health and personal reasons. Let’s hope that upon reading this article, they will be drawn back to the club.

We have quite a few other First Nations members training with us, such as Charlo Blacksmith and Andrew Neeposh. Both are working hard to obtain their black belts. I am prepared to put much energy and time into their training to ensure they achieve their goals. I haven’t a doubt in my mind that they will be the next Natives to get their black belts.

I feel great pride for the First Nations karatekas (karate students) who train in our club because they promote a healthy way of life, free from alcohol and tobacco. They are very conscious of their health and well-being, which is a positive example for us all. I’m please to note that out of our 100 to 150 members, there is a sense of harmony and respect between our Native and non-Native members.

Congratulations to all and long live the martial arts!

Claude Bédard, 5th Dan, is the chief instructor for the Chapais-Chibougamau Shotokan Karate Club

About The Shotokan Karate Club of Chapais-Chibougamau

The Shotokan Karate Club of Chapais-Chibougamau performs well provincially and is very active. In the last six years at the Coupe Jeunesse d’Association Karate Shotokan, which is a provincial competition, the club has placed first four times, and second twice. Two club members were selected for a World Championship in Japan. Unfortunately, one competition was cancelled due to the SARS outbreak in the host country. The other competition was not attended because of a conflict in work schedules. Happily, one girl and two boys were chosen to attend the World Championships in Scotland in September 2011 and all performed well. At the AKS 2014 Provincial Competition, Sensei Claude Bédard won the gold medal in Kata Black Belt 40+.

For those who wish to participate, every year the club organizes a regional competition, and attends regional and provincial competitions in other communities. The club organizes two training camps per year in Chibougamau with a Japanese master. The club also takes part in the winter and summer camps organized by the AKS. There are eight instructors and assistants to teach students ranging from the ages of six to 65.

For more info: www.karatechibougamau.com

Club winner of the AKS 2014 Coupe Jeunesse

Club winner of the AKS 2014 Coupe Jeunesse