Karate is sensei Denys Bedard’s passion and he loves being able to share it.
Bedard started teaching free karate classes at the Salvation Army’s House of Hope in February and is proud of how far his students have come.
They started as a rag-tag group, ranging in age from six to 63, wearing multi-coloured gis (karate outfits) or loose fitting clothing.
After six months of training and a donation of all white gis from Bedard’s old school in Calgary, the group is ready for their first grading.
“I was your typical kid in the ‘60s watching kung-fu on TV and thinking I want to do that but I could never afford it, with six kids in my family my dad said if one kid does it they all have to do it,” said Bedard.
After saving up money from his paper route he was able to sign-up for judo, his first martial arts class.
At the age of 21 he moved to California for nine months where he trained in karate six days a week, three hours a day, living and breathing his love for the martial art.
Once he returned to Canada, life and its responsibilities separated him from karate for 25 years.
Eventually he found his way back to the sport, achieving his black belt and starting his own Shotokan Karate school in Calgary.
He moved to Vernon to retire but his passion for teaching remained so he taught karate again as a ministry outreach for the Salvation Army.
He teaches his class of seven adults and seven children twice a week. Their physical abilities range between active and limited mobility, but all Bedard asks is for them to try their best.
“We are incredibly fortunate to have this quality of teacher for the ministry, with no pay,” said Tara Bradley, a mother with two daughters in the class.
When asked what brings them back to the class each week Val Cameron, 62, says that she likes that Bedard pushes them.
Torin Bradley, six, says he looks forward to the push-ups Bedard gets the children to do.
“He is very kind and funny too,” said Ever Bradley, 10.
“My husband takes our kids every Monday and Wednesday and he learns it just by sitting and watching,” said Tara.
“Our dad said if me or Ever get a coloured belt he will join karate,” said Torin with a grin.
With the help of some of his former students from Calgary, Bedard held a grading for his class recently.
Grading is a system that signifies a student’s growth, development and grasp of technical requirements and gives them the ability to achieve a coloured belt.
After the grading, all the students received a coloured belt, four of them achieving the eighth kyu yellow belt and the others getting their ninth kyu red belt.
Beckie Hubley has osteoarthritis and was coaxed into the class by her daughter.
“I can’t walk very far without a cane but karate seems easier than walking,” said Hubley who uses a cane or a mobility scooter to get around.
“I have found that the karate really helps,” said Hubley. “I probably use half the pain medication I did before.”
Bedard encouraged her to try the class by holding her cane in one hand and punching with the other.
“One day I noticed the cane was leaning against the wall,” said Bedard. “Later it fell over and that sound of the cane hitting the ground was the best sound I’ve ever heard.”
His acceptance of all different levels of ability and his encouragement and belief that all his students can achieve their goals shows when Bedard talks about his students.