For 47 years Elmer Woytiuk has instructed and trained citizens of the Battlefords in the art of karate. His classes are known as “KarateDo” and, according to Woytiuk, what he teaches is the traditional form of Japanese style karate.
“We use Japanese commands and vocabulary and counting,” Woytiuk says with a smile. “The format has Japanese culture involved, we do the kneeling bow in the beginning and at the end of class.”
If you are interested in learning karate, among other things, Woytiuk has no problem walking you through classes, from beginners to advanced.
“I’d have one of my advanced students lead a warm up. Then we always start off with punching.”
Japanese styles are always characterized by strong punching activities and hand activities.
“We will then go to kicks for five to 10 minutes. Basic sidekick, frontkick, roundkick individually. We will then pair up and do line drills with partners, and we will practise blocking maneuvers as well.”
Woytiuk also talks about the grading difficulty for his trainees. Each student will have to learn a different and more difficult form if they want to move up a rank. The ranking system is defined by the colour of their belt. A black stripe is for beginners, and then there is a yellow belt, orange, green, purple, blue and three levels of brown before reaching the black belt. Woytiuk has earned his black belt, which is the highest form of respect in the sport.
Forty-seven years of anything is a long time, but for Woytiuk, he is doing the one thing he has loved since he was a kid.
“In the third grade, 1953, I bought a comic book. It was entitled JudoJoe. I read the thing to tatters,” Woytiuk says through a laugh. “I was so entranced by the whole thing. After that I was just hooked on martial arts.”
His students unbelievably found the comic books and bought them for him for his 25th anniversary with the organization he teaches with.
“I was completely impressed with that. At the time it was just magic.”
When asked if he ended up reading it through once again, Woytiuk is quick to answer. “Oh yes. Some of the techniques they teach are really unbelievably simple and almost impossible to do. At that time, you know, when you’re young, you’re impressionable and imaginative, but I was really blown away by that.”
Woytiuk says he loves the attentiveness of the sport and the resilience of his students. He also loves the relationships that are constructed through his leadership.
“It’s highly disciplined,” Woytiuk says clearly. “It’s so clean and everybody’s orderly. There’s no talking, everybody is just working away. Some of the students have been with me for over 20 years. So you develop close friendships and it gets you involved with people.”
Woytiuk believes his students come back for the instruction, but there are other things involved with his teaching.
“The physical aspect, the self defence aspect, and it’s just a feeling of general well-being."
“After the physical activity is over, there is just a rush of endorphins. I also have ladies that have been with me for nine to 10 years.”
Woytiuk also enjoys instructing children and seeing their development.
“When they start off in the fall, everybody is so enthusiastic. They watch every movement you make and everything you say. So, it’s really a rush for an instructor to see that happening.”
It hasn’t always been karate for Woytiuk, but he has always been involved with instructing.
“I was a teacher for 30 years, a special education teacher.”
He said, “Actually in the same school where I rent the gym [to teach karate], at St. Mary school. We’ve been there for around 22 years.”
In his spare time, Woytiuk has a variety of things that he likes to do. From blacksmithing to playing the guitar, Woytiuk is more than just a one-trick pony. He is also interested in muzzleloader shooting competitions.
KarateDo instruction is given Monday and Wednesday from 6 to 9 p.m. Beginners are taught from 6 to 7 p.m., intermediate 7 to 8 p.m. and advanced 8 to 9 p.m.
All students are welcome to attend all three hours as do some of Woytiuk’s black belt students.
If there is one thing Woytiuk will take away from all of his years of teaching, he says it will have to be the connection he makes with his students.
“Usually it’s the kids. I once asked a question and said, what is the meaning of the word ‘Do?’”
Some of the kids who did remember and said it means “way.” But, there was another one that came up to me after class and said, “It’s what Homer Simpson says.”
“Also, kids will come up after class and say, ‘Sensei that was an amazing class I really liked this.’”
Woytiuk explains how rewarding it is to watch these people develop themselves and focus on something that he himself is interested in. He works with people of all ages and from all walks of life.
Whether it’s a butcher, an insurance agent or a bank teller, Woytiuk has worked with everyone.
“Without these people I just wouldn’t be able to continue. It’s your students that make it worthwhile and make you want to go back.”