Taekwondo master tests Iqaluit’s martial arts community
“Since we started the Taekwondo, our attendance rates have been over 85 per cent”
Joel Denis strolls around the Aqsarniit Middle School gymnasium in Iqaluit with his hands behind his back, eyeing a group of 20 kids balancing on their hands and forearms in almost military-style alignment.
“If I see any knees hit the ground, we all have to do it again!” says Denis.
Denis, 33, is of small stature, but despite this, his voice carries a long way — he’s a no-nonsense type of character when it comes to the practice of Taekwondo.
And it’s no wonder — he’s been practicing the ultra-disciplined martial art, which originated in Korea, from the age of five.
Since then, he’s gone on to win a Taekwondo World Championship with Team Canada in 1997, and he’s now a fourth-level black belt.
That gives him the opportunity to travel around the world to train and test schools of Taekwondo students.
And that’s why Denis flew from Ottawa to Iqaluit for a visit sponsored by Sports Nunavut. In Iqaluit, Denis taught students from Nov. 22 to Nov. 25, and put Iqaluit’s Taekwondo Society to the test.
Only fourth-level black belt-holders can, in fact, test Taekwondo students, and it’s important to be tested and graded regularly so students can move on to a different belt classes.
“The students here are pretty awesome. They have been training here for two years without a test,” Denis said. “It really shows their focus and dedication to the martial art, that they’ve been here that long without a grading.”
“It’s also pretty important for any taekwondo school to get exposed to different styles, I would think particularly in the North,” he added. “They might not get a lot of exposure to different styles, different instructions that some of the schools would in the South.”
More than 20 students finished their grading and went on to achieve a different belt colour over the past weekend.
Iqaluit has a large following of Taekwondo students in Iqaluit since the formation of the Iqaluit Taekwondo Society two years ago. Since then, roughly 100 students have signed up to learn the sport.
And it’s not easy either — Taekwondo, which has been an Olympic sport since 2000, combines combat techniques like kicking, blocking, dodging and moving.
Participants get points for landing powerful kicks and punches, if they have the right technique.
Denis thinks the biggest benefit Taekwondo brings to kids in Iqaluit is the feeling of self-confidence they get when they master a certain technique or achieve a goal by moving on to the next level.
But Don Peters, head of the Iqaluit Taekwondo Society, who’s also the principal at Aqsarniit, said the benefits go much deeper than that.
Peters started the program in 2010, and since then, attendance rates in his school have risen considerably because of it.
“If the kids are at risk of quitting [school] these type of activities, after school, keeps them busy and active. Those are the type of things that ensure that we have good attendance,” Peters said.
“Since we started the Taekwondo, our attendance rates have been over 85 per cent. Whereas we were quite low when we started these programs several years ago,” Peters said.
The kids learn structure through Taekwondo, he said, adding that “it’s more than just a sport, it’s a style — it’s a way of life.”
Not only are more kids taking these lessons of discipline, respect and self-confidence learned on the mats to the classroom — they’re getting good at Taekwondo, too.
Peters took two kids to the Canadian National Championships this past May.
There, Jason Gibbons took home two gold medals in sparring and patterns, and Seth Perkins won a silver and bronze medal in the same competitions, both in the blue-belt class.
The other winner was Peters himself, who won a gold medal in black belt in his age and weight class. That meant he went on compete at the World Championships of Taekwondo in Estonia, and placed twelfth out of 65 contestants.
But now Peters is focused on the kids’ performances.
“This year there’s going to be four kids testing for their black belt. And I’ve got one fellow here who, in another couple years, may be able to at least go to the Canadian Championships to compete,” Peters said.
The next step is to form a relationship in Greenland to help challenge their skill levels.
“Greenland is very strong, they have a lot of black belts. Actually, the Taekwondo program there, they have several European champions,” Peters said.
“We’re hoping as early as August next year we’re going to send a team to Greenland.”