Moms, coaches and a former teacher cheer on Yellowknife Karate athletes at the Canada Games
When Trang Pham dropped her son, Matthew Bui, at Yellowknife Airport en route to the Canadian Winter Games in PEI, she felt a mixture of nervousness and excitement.
Watching Monday’s games online, her heart was pounding as 17-year-old Bui competed in karate against youth from across the country.
“I see they’re doing their best and my heart keeps pounding, pounding, like, ‘Do it boy! Let people know where we are, we’re from a small town — we’ve got that!'” Pham said Tuesday. a day after Bui’s first fight.
Bui and Vincent Lumacad, also 17, made history this week when they became first to compete for Team NT in karate at the Canada Games. PEI, which hosts the games this week and next, asked that karate be included in the list of sports teams that would compete that year.
The young men have been with the Wado Karate Club in Yellowknife since they were seven and ten years old respectively.
“The competition has been really fun so far,” said Bui on Tuesday. He’s met new friends and athletes from across Canada and seen new techniques and styles.
But karate is not just about technique. It’s a way of life that Bui said teaches him discipline and how to work hard.
“That is important in the future [if] I want to do something, I know I have the ability to pursue it and focus on it and force myself to do it and finish it,” Bui said.
Reinstated after the judges made a wrong decision
That discipline and focus was already evident at the tournament, where Bui had a difficult start during Monday’s kata, an event in which athletes perform alone in front of a jury. They are judged on technique, athleticism, speed and the spirit with which they move.
The judges initially disqualified Bui because they thought he had performed a different form of kata than he announced. Coach Heather Fidyk, the president of Karate Alberta, formally protested the disqualification and a review of the video showed Bui had done what he promised.
In the end, Bui finished ninth and Lumacad eleventh.
“It’s the very first time these two athletes have competed at this level, so definitely small fish in a big pond. And they did extremely well,” said Fidyk.
On Tuesday, Lumacad participated in kumite, which is about fighting someone. He won his first game against Saskatchewan and narrowly lost the following games to Alberta and Quebec.
According to Lumacad, being able to compete at a national level has been a great experience so far.
“I was nervous, but it’s a natural thing … so I think I did well to calm those nerves, calm that fear inside me, and I just go out there and do my best.” And I think I did pretty well,” he said.
“Just to be in this atmosphere of competition and karate and other people who are like-minded in the sport is amazing.”
With his match over, Lumacad said he is now focused on supporting Bui, who will compete again on Thursday.
The two are accompanied in PEI by their karate teacher, Sensei Masaya Koyanagi, who has been training them both since they were little.
He said he was worried his club would meet national standards given the isolation at Yellowknife.
Lumacad and Bui made those worries go away.
“They trained a lot,” he remarked. “I was worried about their ability compared to the others, but coming to the national tournament I am sure that our club is not far from the national level.”
A 2nd grade teacher comes
The games will see more than 3,600 participants competing between February 18th and March 5th, as well as many fans.
Kristie Strunk, who used to teach at Yellowknife and now lives in Moncton, NB, is one of them. She came across a Team NT Facebook post and recognized the names of two 2nd graders who used to be in her class.
Early Monday morning, she jumped in the car and drove almost two hours to watch them compete.
“I was really impressed, especially given the fact that they never really competed in big competitions,” she said.
Both athletes were shocked to see an instructor they hadn’t seen in a decade, specifically Lumacad.
“I told him how proud I was of everything they did,” Strunk said. “His comment to me was, ‘Well, teachers like you are [us] Who we are.’ … It’s just heart-melting as a teacher.”
The road to the Canada Games
Lumacad’s mother, Angie Viloria, has been watching the competition from Yellowknife.
She was the one who first alerted the club that karate would be entering the Canada Games this year – and that there was a time constraint if they were to send anyone to compete.
“Vincent was so excited. He was jumping up and down,” she said of the moment her son found out he was going to the games.
She said she originally wanted to get him into martial arts for the fitness aspect. He has risen through the ranks at the club over the years and now has his black belt and also helps tutor younger children.
“He said it himself – he learned discipline, loyalty, respect, hard work, setting personal goals and focus,” Viloria said.
“I really think he has all those qualities. He’s really, really good at those things, so I’m pretty lucky.”
Pham said her hope is that more families and youth would get involved in the karate club.
“We need more people at the club and we want everyone to do it [be] be able to have that experience one day,” she said.