Jiu-jitsu club marks 25 years
The Portage Jiu-Jitsu Club has an anniversary to celebrate this year.
The club is marking 25 years of operation, having been started in 1987 by Chris Bissett.
Shihan Rick Williamson was the club’s first student — literally — as the first-ever class at Yellowquill School was him and Bissett working on techniques. Williamson had heard about the club from a student at his Arthur Meighen High School class, and word of mouth gradually began to spread.
“I went there and no one else showed up,” said Williamson. “I went out there and started training.
“The next class, a couple more guys came, but I was the first student, the only one who went that first night — and I had the bruises to show it.”
WIlliamson said the past quarter-century hasn’t felt as long as it’s been.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years,” said Williamson. “It’s flown by.”
After its infancy at Yellowquill, the club later moved to Arthur Meighen and then to its current training spot at the Southport Recreation Complex.
Bissett left the club after three years, leaving Williamson, then a brown belt, in charge. Though he had experience teaching judo and taekwondo, he said transitioning into the role had its challenges.
“It was difficult, because you’re coming up with other people, your training partners,” said Williamson. “It’s easier now, being an instructor for awhile, than (when) one person becomes an instructor.”
Williamson, who is in his 50th year of martial arts training, said the younger generation is starting to rise and expand its role within the club.
“Last year, I turned the curriculum over to black belts because it was time,” said WIlliamson. “I think with all these young guys coming up, it’s going to go for a long time. I can’t stay forever.
“The future’s good — we’ve got a great place, great mats, one of the best dojos around for jiu-jitsu.”
Among those taking a larger spot is Sensei Gary Dubetz, a fourth-degree black belt. Dubetz was the first club member to make it to black belt under Williamson’s watch.
Dubetz said there are several reasons why he loves training at the club.
“Train hard, work hard — those are the things that you have to do,” said Dubetz. “It’s good stress relief. You help get rid of some of the demons this way. It keeps you in shape and you keep the cholesterol down while having a bit of fun.”
Dubetz said in the time he’s been with the club, he’s seen members stick around long enough for their children to become members. As well, there are those that will boomerang — leaving the club for a bit but ultimately returning.
“It’s tough to dedicate yourself to certain things,” said Dubetz. “You find some people who test the waters a little bit and then they come back after awhile.”
The martial art is one that’s rooted in learning self-defence — evident during tests as those vying for promotion fend off opponents carrying such props as knives and baseball bats.
Dubetz said his goal is to make the class as useful as possible.
“I love the challenge,” said Dubetz. “I like to keep the class fun, exciting, as real as possible.
“It’s part of a lifestyle that we’ve always come to.”
Dubetz also has a black belt in taekwondo and has experience in judo, and is currently taking kung fu in addition to his jiu-jitsu training.
Long-time member Sensei Dave McLennan, who earned his second-degree black belt in the spring, credited those above him for helping to advance his skills.
“All the instructors here are quite helpful,” said McLennan, who has been with the club for 21 years.
Williamson said all those who contribute to the club are extremely dedicated, as they are not compensated beyond what they receive in experience.
“It’s all volunteer, so people are coming because they want to be here, not because they’re getting paid,” said WIlliamson. “It’s a non-profit, so (fees) go into a fund to pay for seminars or activities or to pay the rent.”
Williamson, for one, said while the martial art may seem simple on the surface, there’s always something one can take from it, even after decades of participation.
“There’s only about 50 different moves in jiu-jitsu, but the number of variations is infinite,” said Williamson. “I learn something every time I come here.
“I was somebody and go ‘Okay, I haven’t seen somebody react like that’.
“If you stop learning, then it’s time to take on something else.”