Attaining a black belt in the sport of Judo may seem like the end result to years of hard work and dedication, but according to Vern MacDonald, it more accurately signals a new beginning.
MacDonald, who along with Cliff Wiens started the Moose Jaw Judo Club (now known as the Koseikan Judo Club) out of Vanier Collegiate 13 years ago, achieved his black belt standing in Saskatoon. He's now looking forward to the challenges the next phase of his life brings.
"When I got it (the black belt) it felt great, like the end of one part of a journey. Now I have another road to follow," says MacDonald "I have reached a junction in the journey, not the end. This is just the beginning for me in my Judo career."
Students of Judo (judokas) work their way up through six belt levels before attempting their black belt. Once the black belt is achieved, judokas can continue their learning process in degrees up to ten.
Testing for the black belt itself includes a written exam and a pre-arranged series of throws (called nagekata). Although the student is the one being graded, a team effort is required for a sucessful result.
"You rely a lot on the support of your family, your club and your partner," says MacDonald, adding that an "uki" (partner) is a nessesary part of testing because it's he/she who takes the falls.
"Your partner can fail you too. If it wasn't for my partner Ken (Blandford), I couldn't have done it. The amount of time that I put in, he did exactly the same. All the extra workouts and time travelling, he put it in with me."
Judo, a martial art, originated in Japan in 1882 and was adapted from jujitsu which was slowly dying out due to it's violent content (sucesssul throws included breaking bones). Judo today is based more on a sport philosophy, the theory being to use maximum efficiency with minimum effort.
Because of this sport element, MacDonald says competing in the olympics is, "probably every judoka's dream" and points out that at least one Moose Jaw judo hopeful is on her way to living out that dream.
Nancy Jewitt-Filteau, a third degree black belt out of the Koseikan club is currently on her way to claiming a 1996 summer olympic berth.
"She (Jewitt-Filteau) fought in nationals two weeks ago and placed third. Now she has a fight off June 1st in Montreal and if she wins two of her next three fights, she's on her way to Atlanta," says MacDonald.
Although MacDonald himself isn't yet olympic bound, he's content with his new black belt status.
"I was born as a white belt at the Moose Jaw Judo Club and now I'm a black belt with the Koseikan club. To wear it gives you such pride because you know you earned it," he says.
Appeared in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald May 23, 1996