© Herald photo by Perry Bergson
Brayden Caron, (left) and Brent Blondeau (right) are being prepared for the upcoming National IKD Karate Championships in Moncton by Sensei Marcel Lussier (centre) at his St. Louis Dojo.
A pair of St. Louis teens will be returning to the National IKD Karate Championships next week aiming to win more national titles.
Brent Blondeau, 16, and Brayden Caron, 13, will head to Moncton, N.B., for the 32nd annual national championship from May 17 - 19. IKD stands for International Karate Daigaku (college).
The two young black belts are under the tutelage of Sensei Marcel Lussier at his St. Louis Dojo.
Blondeau began training nine years at age seven. His dad asked him if he wanted to try it so the youngster watched a class. He was hooked immediately.
"When I first started I wasn't very good but as I got older and progressed I got more balance and power," he says. "It's not until a couple of years ago that I started to put all the power and snap into it."
Blondeau, a second dan black belt, will be competing in the 15- to 17-year-old age group. It will be a welcome respite from the smaller tournaments in Saskatchewan where he often competes against adults.
Athletes can compete in kumite or sparring, which is a points battle against an opponent, or in kata, which are highly detailed patterns of movement performed solo. Some athletes do both.
His instructor says that there's no fear in Blondeau.
"Brent is a very good sparrer," Lussier says. "He's a young guy but he's a very big boy. He's aggressive and he's done very well over the years. Provincially, he's won lots. Nationally, he's won lots. His goal is to make it to the world championships in Venezuela in 2015."
This will be Caron's third trip to nationals. He's already won a couple of gold medals and even competed in world competition.
"I did good at worlds this year so hopefully I'll do good at nationals," Caron chuckles.
Caron is a member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation who has received support from the band for his activities. He started training seven years ago at age six.
His specialty is different than Blondeau's.
"I'm good at kata, the moves," Caron says. "I really know how to snap and make things look fast and flashy."
Lussier says that Caron's dedication sets him apart.
"Technically he's excellent, very good and that's why he wins in kata," Lussier says. "Kata is like gymnastics. You can't stumble; you have a pattern to follow and it has to be perfect. Your balance, your timing, your speed, that's what you're judged on."
The teens know how fortunate they are to be taught by a former world champion who is one of the highest ranked karate practitioners in Canada.
"Ever since I started karate he's been someone that I looked up to just because of the enthusiasm and how he pushes you," Blondeau says of Lussier. "He just doesn't stop pushing."
His younger counterpart sees both the technical advantage and the personal side.
"He's one of the best," Caron says of Lussier. "He's really good at explaining stuff. He's fun to be with, he's funny, he has a really good sense of humour. He makes training fun."
Lussier has competed in 19 nationals, two Pan-Americans and three worlds. Lussier won the worlds in 2008 and received his seventh dan (or degree) black belt in 2012.
Lussier will be joining them in Moncton to offer his experience to the boys but he also serves on the national board of directors and is one of 13 members on the international technical committee.
Lussier, now in his 33rd year in the sport at age 50, also has the highest teaching level that can be achieved, allowing him to teach anywhere on the globe and grade up to third degree black belts. That has opened a new world of possibilities for Lussier, although his heart clearly remains in the basement dojo in his home that he started in 1990.
It comes with its drawbacks.
"It's good but they leave," he says of his students. "It's small town and they leave for work or university."
He thinks at this point he has trained a few dozen black belts since awarding the first one in 1993. Of the 10 black belts in one of the other clubs in the province, eight started in his dojo.
Back in 1990, there were two clubs in all of Saskatchewan. Now there are seven.
He teaches two classes on both Tuesday and Thursday to a club of a couple of dozen. Over the decades, the numbers have gotten as low as a dozen and peaked at 62 students.
He also works with some Prince Albert school children in an after-school program to try to keep kids on the straight and narrow.
"People think it's about punching and kicking but there's a lot of other things that you teach in martial arts," Lussier says.
During a class on a recent evening, as Lussier led the main group, Blondeau patiently worked with one of the younger students, demonstrating how to snap punches and making slight adjustments to the pupil's elbow or leg positions. It's a role Blondeau cherishes, even as he trains for the most important event of his year.
Blondeau says he started the really hard work in January to prepare for the event.
"It adds a little bit of pressure because I know all of the guys that I've fought and they know what I can do," Blondeau says. "It just adds that little bit more. I know they're going to give it their 100 per cent so I know I have it give it my all, not 100 per cent but 110 per cent just to get that little edge."
Both St. Louis teens will be travelling east to win.
"It's a long ways away so I don't want to go there and do badly," Blondeau says. "I want to do my best and give it my all."
"I'm kind of nervous," Caron admits. "You can't be too confident because if you do bad you'll let yourself down. You always have to be on your toes and ready."