Rooted in Tradition, Shaping the Future – Northern Karate Schools
For more than four decades, instructors at Northern Karate Schools have been imparting the life skills of self-defence and self-improvement to thousands of martial arts students throughout Toronto and the GTA. Founded in 1972 by Hanshi Cezar Borkowski, Northern Karate Schools has remained a pillar in improving the confidence and self-discipline of its students.
The general public tends to inaccurately assume that karate simply involves fighting. However, as Cos Vona — director of Northern Karate’s Rutherford and Maple locations — puts it, “Karate is a defensive art. There is no first strike in karate; all of our technique is centred around blocking first.” According to Vona, self-control and discipline are the pillars of karate. Additionally, seldom discussed in contemporary media are the great physical, psychological and emotional benefits karate can have on students.
As Vona acknowledges, the physical aspect of karate training is key, and the practice of karate allows for the targeting of important smaller muscles that can be difficult to engage through other forms of exercise. “When practising martial arts, you are not only increasing your fine motor skills, but also working the smaller stabilizing muscles, as well as increasing balance through activities like kicks and stances,” says Vona.
However, the amount of mental activity involved is where karate truly distinguishes itself from other forms of physical exercise. “The difference between other physical activities and the martial arts is that in martial arts you are also gaining a confidence and a focus to perform better,” Vona says. “The forms and kata that we do engage the students’ brains throughout the class, and having to remember these forms and kata increases memory. The students also learn that repetition is key and that to achieve success you must do things repeatedly, but also understand the application of the techniques you are using.”
“There is no first strike in karate. That’s why everything starts with a block first.”
The various striking patterns and exercises students perform can, according to Vona, relieve psychological and emotional stress. “When students are training and hitting the pads, they are releasing built-up tension and stress,” the eighth-degree black belt instructor says. “Your brain releases endorphins, giving the body a naturally euphoric feeling. You are also able to detach from your problems, and this allows both your body and mind to relax.”
A large portion of Northern Karate School’s clientele is quite young; this has yielded many positive developments over the course of 45-plus years. “The changes we have witnessed in our students have been quite dramatic,” says Vona. “We have seen kids demonstrate a greater amount of self-confidence, and this has led to great improvements in not just their school life, but in all areas. It is because of their years of training and dedication that they were able to overcome challenges in their own lives with ease.”
Unfortunately, when examining the academic experience, one cannot overlook bullying, a pervasive issue that Northern Karate Schools has addressed in its programs such as Bully Proof, a free workshop that helps children learn ways of dealing with and overcoming bullying. “It’s a huge problem,” Vona says. “We get a lot of parents coming in because their kids are having bullying issues. I tell our students that it is crucial to emanate a sense of confidence and self-respect, as this helps to avoid being a target to bullies.”
Vona makes it clear that Northern Karate in no way condones violence. In fact, Northern Karate teaches its students — in scenarios such as a physical bullying confrontation — techniques to get away and break free. “We don’t teach our students to attack or to be aggressive,” he says. “We instead teach them the skills they need to escape harmful scenarios, but with the knowledge that if they can’t get away, they have the ability to defend themselves. We are not breeding people to be violent. In fact, the more martial arts training you have, the less violent you are.”
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