jiu jitsu

Photos by Sean Sullivan

What exactly is jiu jitsu?

The easy answer is to define it as another martial art; a self-defence system that’s handy to know ‘just-in-case’. But a more ambitious interpretation acknowledges that jiu jitsu means different things to different people.

The art can be studied by anyone, and the possibilities are endless. You can take ideas learned from jiu jitsu and find ways to apply them in other parts of your life, using it in the lifelong process of continuously bettering yourself regardless of how you choose to do it.

In 1993, Andy Dobie Sensei opened the first Jitsu Canada club at Trent University. “The first year it was just me and a bunch of complete beginners.” says Dobie Sensei, explaining how it took a few years for the club to become the established institution it is today.

It has experienced plenty of fluctuations in enrolment over the years, as most clubs do. “All clubs do go up and down, but Trent’s always been a pretty dynamic club,” says Dobie Sensei.

After a few years had passed however, there became enough experienced members to help mentor people along. Currently the club sees about 25-30 people on the mats each week, with a large number of experienced grades in addition to a significant number of novices. This seems a pretty noteworthy accomplishment considering most members are busy university students.

It looks as though there are a number of motivations inspiring this level of commitment, with everyone having their own particular reasons to train.

“I think they get out of jiu jitsu whatever they’re asking for.” says Evan Senkiw Sensei, regarding the draw of the art. Senkiw Sensei has been head instructor at the Trent Club since 2011. “The jiu jitsu club can serve people in many different ways, in many different directions.”

Certainly, a big part of jiu jitsu is the community. Social events have always been a part of jiu jitsu, with members meeting together regularly both after training and for other occasions. Constructing these relationships is a critical aspect of training, if only to build the level of trust needed to feel comfortable placing confidence in your peers.

You don’t have to spend much time at the Trent Jiu Jitsu Club to see how strong the bonds are between its members.

“I don’t think you can develop the intimate relationships and chemistry together to do the sorts of training we do […] if we were a club that treated our students like clients,” says Senkiw Sensei.

“It’s the fact that the Trent Jiu Jitsu Club has a long history of building something a little more than what you might call clientele.”

throw down

This is Leah Kirkland’s third year of studying jiu jitsu. “Jitsu has brought me close to people in such a deep way. I think I’ve learned so much about myself, and everything I can do.” she says.

She agrees that finding a community is an important part of studying the art. “We’re all afraid at one point, and you’re just trying to figure out your body, figure out your body working with someone else’s body, to do all these techniques that you never thought you’d be doing,” she says. “I guess we sort of build a relationship with each other that extends beyond that.”

The Trent University Jiu Jitsu Club is part of the larger institution of Jitsu Canada, which was established by Dobie Sensei, the president of the organization. Dobie Sensei came to Canada looking for a university to start a jiu jitsu club, and following a conversation with some airport workers, decided upon Trent. “They said, ‘Trent, Peterborough, go there,’” he explains. “So I found Peterborough on a map, drove here, and that was it.”

In addition to the Trent club, Dobie Sensei also established a club at the Peterborough YMCA, as well as senior grade classes for higher belts at the Kawartha Martial Arts Academy.

From Peterborough, the Jitsu Canada project has since extended to clubs in Ottawa, Kingston, Toronto and Guelph, as well as farther reaching establishments in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Burnaby. There’s also a Jitsu USA club at Trinity College in Connecticut.

Relationship building isn’t constricted to your own club, either. These bonds extend between cities, provinces, and countries as well.

This was evident at the Ontario Provincial Course, which took place in Kingston the weekend of November 1 and 2. Here, members of Jitsu Canada clubs met for a weekend of learning, providing a chance for everyone to train together.

“There’s so much knowledge that comes together when we get together with different clubs to learn,” says James Somerville, a member of the Trent Club. “It’s a whole different experience than just coming out to one club week after week.”

Laura Wensink also appreciates the benefits of training with different people and being exposed to unfamiliar styles. “In provincials, you’re taught by a bunch of different senseis with different approaches. You’re also using different body types, so you get your jiu jitsu put into perspective.

“It’s really eye-opening, mind opening […], just meeting all the different people from different clubs, seeing what everyone’s coming up with,” explains Somerville. “It’s pretty special.”

Since its conception, Jitsu Canada has spun a network of invaluable relationships across the country, revealing themselves in strong ties between people who might only see each other a few times a year. They’re all joined by the common goal of exploring new layers of jiu jitsu and learning about themselves in the process.

“Some people show up wanting to expand a knowledge of self defence. That’s great, and that’s definitely something you can do with this art,” says Senkiw Sensei. “But I think the people that stay much longer are the people who find things like community; a diverse network of critically thinking people.”

The Trent University Jiu Jitsu Club trains Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 8:30-10:30pm in the Trent Athletic Centre. New members are always welcome, and no previous experience is necessary.

Be sure to check out peterboroughjiujitsu.com or jitsucanada.com for more information.