To the uninitiated, martial arts may give off an air of being the same sport passed down from generation to generation.
But it’s not always that way.
The local Fort Frances Wado Kai Club places a strong emphasis on constant evolution and lifelong learning, according to Sensei Chris Bazinet, who started up the club in 1991 with 11 students, two of whom became black belts.
Wado Kai is a “Japanese karate style” that combines classical jujitsu with shotokan karate, according to a club brochure.
The sport was founded by Hironori Otsuka in 1939, and brought to North America by Masaru Shintani, one of Otsuka Sensei’s students.
The local club, which numbers about 30 students this year, practices Tuesday and Thursday nights at J.W. Walker School.
“I learn every day I’m on the dojo floor,” noted Bazinet. “I tell the students that we never stop learning.
“I’m still learning how to do the low block, which is one of the first techniques you learn,” he added.
Because of that open attitude, Bazinet tries to give input from as many different sources as possible, which wasn’t as easy when he began the club.
“The biggest change is that when I started, I was the only black belt and so they only got instruction from one person,” he explained.
“Over the years, I’ve gotten more black belts that assist.
“It’s always better to get not only your own instructor’s, but other people’s ideas on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it,” Bazinet reasoned.
“These students benefit from a variety of teaching,” he stressed.
One of those black belts is Ben King, who began in the club as a white belt about a decade ago but completed the six steps to become a black belt at the end of the last semester.
King, who currently attends Confederation College in Thunder Bay, agreed with Bazinet that there are multiple ways to approach something that seems basic.
“Different moves can be interpreted in different ways,” noted King, who is a law and security student.
“Say you threw a punch. The next move is not to just keep it up there and admire it, but to pull it right back.
“[You can] interpret it as ‘pull it back so it doesn’t get grabbed,’ but there’s also the elbow aspect where your elbow bends behind you,” he remarked.
“That can be interpreted as a move—as an attack going straight behind you.”
King admitted he’s had to adjust to changes in routine over the years, noting that since participants always are striving to improve, some moves may evolve slightly.
He added any changes alter the way participants perform a ‘kata’—a series of techniques performed in a specific order.
“Some moves will change if there’s a flaw found in it,” King explained. “There have been a couple of times where I’ve had to re-learn moves from different ‘katas.’
“You could interpret it as minor but when you’ve done it thousands and thousands of times, it burns its way into your memory,” he stressed.
“Every move that I would make while doing that kata would be pretty much how I would unconsciously do it in a fight.”
Bazinet added that as the participants develop, so, too, do expectations of them. This also makes it possible for participants with a wide range of abilities to practise together.
“The expectation of a low block for white belt is different than what the expectation of a low block is for a black belt,” he noted.
“They can train in the same basic foundation techniques. [But] depending on your level, we’re watching to see if you’re progressing and if you’re applying your technique the way you should be as you get better at it.
“Once we have the foundation, which are the basic blocks, kicks, and punches, we can do some of the fun stuff—the advanced stuff, the combinations.
“Until the foundation is set, we can’t do that,” he said.
Bazinet explained the club has a wide variety of members, ranging in age from six to 52. He stressed that athletes can progress at their own pace, and that senseis are happy to help if the effort is there.
He also recommended that Wado Kai is a good martials arts choice for women and seniors because power isn’t the driving force behind the moves.
“What makes Wado very good for women, for small people, and for older people is that you are not trying to use power to power the block,” he explained.
“The block is just the secondary technique. The shift is your defence,” he stressed.
“When you talk about Wado as compared to others, that would be the primary thing, the use of the body and the hips to shift.”
Bazinet said the objective of the local club is to build self-confidence—a goal the feels generally has been achieved.
“They tend to be more positive about life and more positive about the beings around them,” he observed. “We’ve had a lot of young kids with parents that have come back and said, ‘It’s really helped my kids outside in the real world, in real life.’
“That’s what it’s all about.”
Bazinet also made clear that the club doesn’t teach violence, and that moves only are to be used once all other options have been exhausted.
“[The objective is] not to leave here and go and beat up somebody,” he explained. “The first thing we teach is that the first self-defence technique is to turn and run.
“If you can avoid the problem, that’s the first thing.
“Fighting is not the key to this. It’s building self-esteem,” Bazinet stressed.
The local club participates in three or four tournaments each year, and tries to attend the North American competition in Welland, Ont. every other one.
Classes run from September to May since those in the summer months tend to be poorly attended.
Bazinet concluded by reiterating that Wado Kai is easily accessible.
“Anybody should be doing this,” he said. “It’s good for your body.
“You’re pushed to what your body can do and not beyond that,” he explained. “There’s no pressure.
“You can come in, enjoy it, and you learn self-defence at the end of the day,” he added.