The Moose Jaw Koseikan Judo Club has a long history of, well, making history -- largest registration, largest national tournament representation, most competition medals, the list goes on.
But the record they're about to set today will likely never be broken.
Seven of the club's students -- Kailey Large, Stephanie Legault, Brian Smith, Jeremy Williams, Garth Rivers, Derek Porter and Josh Wiens -- will grade for their first degree black belt, easily the largest number of students taking the test at the same time in Judo Sask's history,
And as one can imagine, it's going to be a special time for long time Koseikan head instructor Cliff Wiens.
"I'm really excited for these kids, I'm almost like a parent because I've spent a lot of hours with them over the last seven or eight years," he said during a break from training Thursday. "It's going to be like watching them all graduate from high school."
The sheer number of his students taking to the mat today is one of the most impressive aspects for Wiens, who has already seen nine judoka reach black belt status under his tutelage the past eight years.
"It's never happened before in our province that so many have taken the test at the same time," Wiens said. "There have been a husband and wife go for it at the same time before, and a set of twins before, but never this many from one club.
"They're all people who've stuck with it over the years and are about to have chance to be rewarded for all their hard work, and that's the best thing you can hope to see."
The test isn't a matter of simply walking out on the mat, throwing a few compatriots, and picking up the belt, either -- each tester will have spent countless hours practicing and honing their techniques to the point of near flawlessness.
The grading will start with a two-hour written exam that will cover many aspects of the sport and martial art, from officiating to history to overall knowledge.
Each competitor will then take to the mat for the most intensive part of the test. First up will be performance of the black belt kata, followed by a demonstration of 10 or more throws chosen at random by the grading board -- meaning each tester will need to have perfect knowledge of all 40 of judo's standing-to-ground takedown techniques -- along with five each of the sports arm locks, chokes and hold downs.
The test will conclude with a fighting demonstration to show the testee's knowledge of combinations and skills in actual competition, after which the judoka will be told of his success or failure.
Wiens himself will also be taking to the mats as he looks to earn his second degree black belt -- something that will come as a long overdue accomplishment given his time and stature in the sport.
"Well, I had to do my forms the other day, one of them asked how long it had been since my last grading, and it's been 35 years and one month," he said with a laugh. "And I had to do my points up (awarded through competition, officiating, coaching and involvement in the sport), you need 160 for second degree and I have just over 1,700. So I guess it's about time I did it."
As is usually the case when talking to the humble sensei about his accomplishments in the sport, Wiens is quick to deflect attention elsewhere, turning the conversation to the extraordinary level of camaraderie seen in the club in weeks leading up to the tests.
"One of the neat things about this is there's almost been a team atmosphere even though it's an individual sport," he said. "Everyone is pulling for everyone else, even in workouts. Someone will finish practicing his or her kata and everyone will applaud, and everyone is more than willing to step in as the uki (throwing partner) for someone else. We're all pulling for each other and we all want to see each other make it."
And while earning the black belt in a martial art is often considered the pinnacle of achievement, those who pass the ultimate test Saturday will likely join Wiens in this last belief.
"There's a saying in judo, once you have your black belt, that's when you really start," he said. "Now that you have the basics down, now you get into the different variations and things like that. It's when you really start to get going."
The exam portion of the event is slated to begin around 10 a.m., with the on-mat portion beginning around 12:30 p.m.
Spectators are more than welcome at the dojo, but will be asked to bring the highest level of decorum given the intense nature of the testing.
Appeared in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald November 29, 2003