Oku Damashi Martial Arts, a studio local to Wheatland County, sent 11 of their students to compete at a national tournament, and each athlete returned home with a medal.
Dojo Owner, Tammy Thankachen, said she was overjoyed to learn of her students’ success over the course of the tournament.
“Nationals was fantastic. I myself could not be there this year because I had a prior engagement, but my son … went as our head coach and then a couple of our youth stood in when needed,” she said. “I can’t express how proud I am of these guys. I knew they could do it, I just needed them to believe in themselves. Four of the kids went last year and made Team Canada and I was super proud that they decided to do it again this year.”
Regarding the other seven students who attended the tournament to represent Team Alberta, it was their first time going to nationals.
Safiya Chouinard (13) was one of the first-time athletes to make her debut on the national stage this year, who earned a silver medal in continuous sparring for her category.
“I was pretty nervous for my first time, but by the end of it I was pretty confident. My training is going to be a lot harsher on continuous and point sparring in order to get ready for worlds,” she said.
Thankachen’s students competed in two different categories of sparring – continuous, and point. Continuous sparring, similar to a boxing match, is a timed event during which athletes will continue to engage each other until a timer runs out. Points are added up at the end of the round.
Point sparring, instead stops fights in between athletes landing clean, legal strikes against their opponent.
Students of Oku Damashi Martial Arts learn a very traditional Japanese style of Karate called Goju-Ryo, which refers to the combination of hard strikes and soft, flowing techniques athletes learn and utilize.
“The four who went last year compared to this year are completely different competitors. You could really see their confidence grow and their skillset was more refined,” said Thankachen. “It is a unique, satisfying and proud moment for me to know how well my students can do.”
The next steps for Thankachen’s students will be to begin their training and preparations to attend a world tournament in Orlando, come October.
Last year, Thankachen and several of her students attended a similar international tournament which took place in Ireland.
“It’s about strong mind, strong body and having fun … My biggest thing for them is to go have fun, trust themselves, trust their skills and trust their training,” she said.
Gemma Alce (10), who claimed gold for continuous sparring in her category, is also looking forward to representing Canada in Orlando, for worlds.
“I feel pretty confident that I am going to place in Orlando and I really enjoyed doing Nationals this year,” she said. “I feel like I could have done better in my point sparring this year, but I am pretty happy with my continuous sparring.”
Thankachen and her students often train alongside another dojo, Silverback Martial Arts, in order to further develop their skills.
By John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jun 01, 2023