Reported by Deanna Cheng
About 300 competitors displayed their karate skills at the 16th Annual Sato Cup Invitational Karate Tournament last month. While some came from other provinces such as Quebec and Saskatchewan, others came from outside the country.
The tournament welcomed competitors from Japan, India, the Philippines and Grand Cayman Islands.
Building cultural skills through karate
Beyond the displays of athleticism, karate has a less publicized side of connecting individuals to each other and to survival skills.
Martial arts has helped new immigrants adapt to Canada faster in more ways than one.
For Naotaka Takeda, a newly minted Canadian and second-degree black belt, the karate community was an opportunity to practice his English language skills and learn about the Canadian culture.
"I feel like a part of Canada because of karate," he said.
The 31-year-old moved to Canada about three years ago with his wife. He had studied in Vancouver two years before that and fell in love with the city.
Karate made the transition easier because it's a mixed culture, Takeda said. "[The culture at Odokan Dojo] is half Japanese, half Canadian."
Takeda and his wife have secured steady jobs through friends in the karate community.
Cultural training differences
When asked about the difference between how he trains in Japan compared to how he trains in Canada, Takeda said, "For me, thinking traditionally was more important [in Canada] than in Japan."
Canada has kobudo divisions in tournaments whereas Japan has none. Kobudo refers to weapons training.
Another difference is in the training. Takeda said, in Japan, martial artists practice repetitions. "There's more 'fun' practice here. Canadian people are easy to get bored."
Canadians question the importance of doing 100 front punches in sumo stance, he said. "In Japan, you just do it."
Navid Ghorbanpour, 35, started karate in Iran when he was five years old and the martial art fostered a stronger mentality in him to overcome obstacles, including learning new cultures.
The head instructor at World Top Martial Arts said balance in karate mimics balance in life. "There's a time for protection, there's a time for competing."
A fifth-degree black belt, he retired from competing about ten years ago and focuses on teaching at different locations within Metro Vancouver.
Ghorbanpour said techniques and movements can't be too powerful nor too soft. Not too flexible nor too hard. "It's given me the ability to adapt and survive as the body changes," said Ghorbanpour. "I will stick with it as long as I live. For the rest of my life."
He applied this understanding of adaptation in karate to transitions such as learning how to survive and thrive in Canada.
Canada's and karate's cultures of respect
For Dheva Setiaputra said the biggest lesson from karate and Japanese martial arts in general is the culture of respect.
The 26-year-old biochemistry student came to Canada in 2000 from Indonesia and has been practicing karate for the last two years at University of British Columbia.
In Indonesia, Setiaputra said, the income gap is bigger and more visible on the streets. When he came to Canada, he noticed the culture was more "egalitarian".
"Here, it's not OK to be dismissive of janitors, etc.," he said,
Karate reinforces the idea of respect. "It's paramount in the culture," Setiaputra said.
"You don't trash-talk anyone or gloat. You respect your opponents, your colleagues, everybody."
The Sato Cup tournament was named after sensei Akira Sato who often travels to teach karate in other countries. Sato is an eighth-degree black belt who came to Canada in 1970. He founded his dojo in Vancouver with affiliated dojos across North, Central and South America.
Each year, the tournament hosts different groups to entertain and introduce the crowds to new cultures.
This year, the tournament hosted the Vancouver Okinawa Taiko drummers who talked about the history of taiko drumming.
Historically, in the Okinawa prefecture, martial arts were banned and the citizens came up with a sly way to train by hiding the techniques and movements in a dance, creating a kata. A kata is a sequence of techniques, stances and transitions. Each one has its own rhythm and timing.
In previous years, the tournament has hosted Hawaiian dancers, Chinese lion dancers and other cultural groups.