by Sensei Peter Leitch
About three years ago, I found myself transferred to the city of Thunder Bay for a period of about eight months. During the time I was there, I met and trained with Sensei Jon Laroche and Sensei Rick Leveille.
One weekend after a four hour drive, Sensei Jon and I arrived in White River for a regional Black Belt workout only to discover that we had missed the workout by a week! Luckily for us, Sensei Rick happened by the local A&W where we were just beginning to wonder where everyone was. Undaunted, Sensei Rick made a couple of phone calls and arranged an unscheduled Black Belt workout in Wawa.
With an hour's notice there were eight of us working out at Wawa's local union hall. I will always remember that workout. The seriousness, effort, concentration and spirit shown in the various sparring techniques and katas still sticks in my mind. These guys loved their karate and welcomed us as honoured guests.
The Northern Ontario clubs had always been great supporters of and fierce competitors at Southern Ontario tournaments and I began to see why.
I returned to St. Catharines only a few weeks after that workout, missing the regional tournament I had hoped to attend.
So as soon as I found out there was a tournament in Wawa scheduled for the 26th of April 1997, I knew I had to attend.
I guess my enthusiasm was a little infectious, because before long Senseis Neil Prime and Walt Fast decided to make the trip. We made plans to drive up on the Friday before, and back on the Sunday after. Sensei Rick Leveille helped make the arrangements and had us booked into the same hotel as the clubs from Timmins, Hearst and Sudbury.
The drive took us about eleven hours, and we were pushing it. (The cop who stopped us just outside of Wawa gave us a break and a warning!)
Not that we were in such a rush that we missed all the scenic beauty of Northern Ontario. The stretch between Sault Ste. Marie and Wawa was breath-taking. Sensei Walt was our official hawk spotter and between sentences Sensei Neil stopped to agree that yes the frozen lakes tall spruce forests were pretty much OK by him.
After checking into our hotel and having supper, we went looking for a souvenir shop which sold plastic snow spheres. No such luck. We got a couple of group photos by the famous giant Canada Goose with my camera. (We discovered on the way home after another twenty shots that there wasn't any film in the camera! I'll never live that one down.)
The tournament registration began bright and early the next day. Again, we were warmly greeted and made to feel very welcome by the local club members. It was also a chance to renew old acquaintances. Sensei Jon Laroche and I even managed a laugh at our last ill-scheduled visit to Wawa.
After registering around 180(!) karateka of all ages, some of whom had travelled for more than four hours, the competition began. Senseis Neil and Walt and I helped out with the judging and witnessed that day some of the most spirited and exciting competition any of us could recall. The women's kumite and the team events kept the judges and everyone in the bleachers on the edges of their seats.
No less exciting was the Black Belt competition. Sensei Neil literally bounced back from a 2-0 score to win his final match for first place. Sensei Walt was unfortunately disqualified for head contact. Yours truly managed to place first in the Shodan division kumite.
Good sportsmanship was evident in every event from every competitor and I felt honoured to be able to participate in such a tournament.
After the tournament we had a chance to socialize over supper back at the hotel. It was a chance to get to know the Northern Ontario Senseis and their students just a little bit better.
It ended up being a late night with some pretty good conversation to boot. After a later than planned waking, we had breakfast, said some goodbyes and hit the road.
The trip home seemed longer than the one to Wawa. (Sensei Neil's imitation of a dirigible required us to keep rolling windows up and down.) We even saw a moose near Sudbury standing in the ditch by a gas station. But we were too preoccupied going over details of the weekend, to be very interested.
One thing we did decide within a few short mile of the Great Goose: next year's tournament in Wawa was already marked on our calenders.
From Senseis Neil and Walt and myself thanks for a great weekend. We'll see you next year, if you don't see us first!
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