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Trio of locals get first crack at karate at Ontario Winter Games

John Everingham, Teodora Maluckov and Brayden Noxell head to Orillia for the Ontario Winter Games, with karate taking place February 28-29
driftwood karate
Instructor Ryan Potter, competitors John Everingham, Teodora Maluckov, Brayden Noxell, and Driftwood Martial Arts owner and operator Adette Rice. Mark Pare/KitchenerToday

It's one of the oldest sports known to man, that's finally getting the respect it deserves.

Karate --- the origins of which predate the modern Olympic games --- will debut at the 2020 games in Tokyo later this summer.

But Olympic athletes of the future will take centre stage at the Ontario Winter Games in Orillia on February 28 and 29, as a trio of students from Waterloo Region will get to be pioneers in being part of the Winter Games' first-ever offering of karate.

"It is quite exciting cause it feels like all of the tournaments, and all the training has actually come toward something," says Teodora Maluckov, a 17-year old junior black belt.

She, along with John Everingham and Brayden Noxell, train out of the Driftwood Martial Arts in Kitchener.

Maluckov has been a mainstay in karate since coming over to Canada with her family from Serbia at the age of five.

"Right off the bat, my mom was like 'you're going to go into karate' cause she noticed that I was very over-the-top kind of kid," she said, "(My mom) thought that I was going to be a pushover, so she pushed me to karate, to not be a pushover anymore, and I think it kind of worked."

Now, she says she doesn't know what life would be like without it.

"I don't really have any memories outside of that," she said, "So I can thank my parents for letting me join karate, keeping me practicing all the time."

For Everingham, a 16-year old brown belt, it started by joining with a couple friends as a hobby.

"It started as just something to do outside of school, to keep me busy, out of trouble," he said, "It's good exercise as well, but it's definitely changed a lot, now that we're in the tournament scene, it's a lot more serious and it's really cool to be working towards a goal, to get out there and get medals and go to these cool tournaments and things like that."

Noxell, the 14-year old blue belt, is in the same boat.

"When I was younger, I was looking for something to do cause I had a lot of free time on my hands, only being in primary school at the time," he said, "So I just needed something to do."

From there, he was hooked, getting into tournaments and honing his skills along the way.

The three athletes will compete in two different offerings, as well as take part in a seminar camp.

Maluckov is competing in the girl's kata competition.

The style is more about choreographed movements than hand-to-hand combat, as she will have to perform stances, transitions in up to three forms, with her fate in the hands of the judges.

"One of the things that really matters in a competition setting is not just how well you can perform the techniques, but how you also perform and be present in the ring," her coach, or sensai, Ryan Potter said, "So there's also a bit of this acting that goes on with it too."

The other two, meantime, will compete in kumite in separate divisions.

Now what is kumite?  Potter describes it as "an advanced version of tag."

"With proper technique, focus and power, without subjecting yourself to also receiving that same type of blow, so you have to strike the opponent and get out without getting hit yourself," he said.

Competitors get a point for a punch, two points for a kick to the body and three points for a head kick or a takedown.

And training has been huge for the two of them.

"We've had a private trainer come in twice a week for three weeks," Everingham said, "It's been a lot more intense, a lot more sparring intensive for Brayden and I."

Potter says they've been having to do drills that focus on footwork and explosiveness.

"We focus on very simple, basic techniques cause we don't need to get too advanced with them," the coach said, "You're going to win mostly with punches and a few kicks, no point in trying to go outside the box there, so we spend a lot of time punching and more punching and more punching."

Adette Rice, who owns and operates Driftwood, chimed in with a laugh "And then when we run out of things to do, we do more punching."

But Rice is just happy to see her students succeed.

"All three of them have been here since they were very little, so to watch them grow through the martial arts is amazing," she said, "And then to see them have the success and become champions, it's very exciting."

Success not only for her students, but the sport in general.

Rice says the goal 30 years ago was to have karate accepted into the Olympics, and the reason she wanted to open up a school 21 years ago.

"(I wanted to (change that stigma), to change it from being this back alley sport to something that could be in a shopping centre, that could be something that everybody was excited to bring their kids to do," she said.

"And just watching the sport progress to this point where it's now in the Winter Games, it's in the Olympics.  This is really the goal.  This is where we've been working."

And while Everingham, Maluckov and Noxell are focused in on the competition at hand, the steps they are taking are a testament to how far the sport has come.

"That stigma is now gone," Rice said, "It's ancient history."

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