by Peter Leitch
July, 1995

We had carpet. It was wall to wall and that's okay, but anyone who has ever worked out on carpet will tell you it's not ideal. When running was a part our warm-up exercises, we would dash from room to room past old wooden filing cabinets, around carved oak balustrades, through wide archways and over wood, linoleum, and yes, carpeted floors. The ceiling was coming down in a couple of places, but the leaky pipe that caused it was fixed soon after we took up residency in our dojo.

And we had steam heat. The same stuff used to power old battleships and to cook lobsters.

My home away from home was our dojo in Thunder Bay, and I guess the fact that it used to be a shipyard drawing office brought to mind the battleship thing. But have no doubt; we really were the cooked lobsters!

Just over a year ago I was transferred to Thunder Bay. Eager to continue my karate training, I began getting in touch with the local Wado-Kai Black Belts Sensei Neil Prime directed me to. I was also keen to meet the famed Northern Ontario karateka.

After a couple of phone calls, I arranged to meet up with Sensei Jon Laroche and his student Norm Bettencourt. Our first work-out together was in Norm's apartment and it was then that I mentioned the possibility of the old drawing office being available to us.

With surprise and enthusiasm the general manager of PASCOL Engineering, Mr. Wesley Allan, generously granted us permission to use the second floor of what used to be Port Arthur Shipbuilding's main office building as our dojo.

We worked-out regularly twice a week and occasionally managed to squeeze in one or two extra nights. Our club of three "swelled" to four with the addition of a new brown belt karateka - Tim. On one or two special occasions, three Black belt karateka visited our humble dojo. Imagine! Eight of us - what a crowd!

Actually there were nine of us. Gina, Sensei Jon's dog, presided over most of our work-outs from a cool, comfortable vantage point in a corner of the room. Sometimes she would get up to lick your face if you were sweating too much doing your push-ups. Unwary night-watchmen or late night office workers who strayed up the stairs to check out our kiai's were greeted by Gina's best machine-gun bark. Only those intruders she fancied were permitted to remain.

I am back in St. Catharines now, and strange as it seems, I miss that old dojo, with all its banging pipes and staple-infested carpets. At times, with the windows open, the cold night air of winter in northern Ontario made for a rare, if not surreal setting for the hard physical and mental work-outs we had.

Just as Funakoshi once said; any place can be a dojo. The senseis, the karateka, the honesty and sincerity of the practice... these, not the four walls, the floor and the ceiling are the elements of a dojo.

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