Discipline and respect are foreign words in the vocabulary of a rambunctious tot. So when Kieran Givens first started taking karate lessons in the dojo at Gauthier’s Martial Arts — a sanctum ruled by respect where discipline is demanded — he soon found himself in Sensei Gill Gauthier’s clutches. “He wouldn’t follow along and didn’t do what he was supposed to do and was interrupting the class, so I had to take him out of the dojo and give him a talking to,” recalls Gauthier with a chuckle. “I never had a problem with him again after that.”
In fact, Givens is now keen on karate and has become very good very fast. Late last month, he and Morgan Sloane represented Canada at the 2011 World Congress of MartialArts World Cup in the Dominican Republic, each returning with multiple medals. “I won two golds and a bronze,” said Kieran, 6. “It was fun. I liked the airplane ride the best.”
Sloane, 11, also mined gold in sparring while winning silver in kata and bronze medals in both weapons and another division of sparring. “I did better than expected,” said Sloane, a junior black belt. “I think for me, getting called up to the podium was the high-light… it just felt so good to know that all the hard work you put into it paid off. I think it would have felt different if we came home without any medals. So, it was rewarding.”
The medals won in the Dominican are the result of toil and sweat in Gauthier’s upstairs dojo on Mississaga Street and in the duo’s home away from home in Bowmanville. “We took the kids down for training to a club in Bowmanville every other weekend (for nine hours of work over two days) and for 40 hours of training over the Christmas break,” said Jackie Givens. “That really helped them get prepared for worlds.” And while there was a lot of travel and sacrifice, Givens said she doesn’t regret it. “It was worth every minute to see these kids with their medals, to see their hard work pay off… It’s awesome,” she said.
But the medals are just part of the equation. Kieran, the youngest Canadian competitor at the international event, got to carry the Canadian flag in the opening ceremonies and both he and Sloane made new friends. “I became friends with Kieran. He was six, too,” said Kieran of the boy with the same name from Great Britain whom he befriended. The English lad gave the Orillia boy his Great Britain training jacket as a gift. “This is an experience that these kids — and us — will never forget,” said Givens.
Rob Sloane agreed, noting that the sojourn south was a great getaway that taught all of them much about the world around them. He said they learned about a team from Venezuela that was supposed to be competing there; the whole team was killed in a mudslide. The event was dedicated to their memory. “It’s a good experience for the kids because they get to meet people from other parts of the world and learn about different cultures, so it’s great,” he said.
But it’s not cheap. It cost about $5,000 per family for everything from flight costs to new gis (uniforms). With that in mind, the youngsters and their families had various fundraisers — from garage sales to homemade bracelet sales to bottle drives to selling chocolate bars to hosting a dunk tank during sidewalk sales downtown. “When we had the dunk tank, (former councillor) Ralph Cipolla suggested we apply for a grant from the city and we got $750,” said Rob Sloane. “The support we’ve had from the community has been fantastic.”
The backbone of that support is Gill Gauthier and his club, Slone said. “He has been a real father figure for Morgan and has just really influenced her and helped shape who she is today,” said Sloane. “I am really grateful to him; he’s awesome.” Givens agrees. “Kieran is a pretty high-spirited kid and Gill has just made a huge difference in Kieran; it’s like night and day since he started coming here.” Gauthier deflects the credit. “I am so proud of these kids; they have worked so hard and to see them succeed is what makes it all worthwhile.”