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Mahlin MacNeil Barnes escaping the grip of Dimitri Blyth. Inuvik’s Kuzuri Judo Club wasted no time getting back to the mats in 2020, in anticipation of hosting the Arctic Open Jan. 31 to Feb. 1. (Eric Bowling / NNSL Photo)

Inuvik will be host to the Arctic Open Judo tournament Jan. 31 to Feb. 1, bringing upwards of 50 judokai from Yellowknife and Whitehorse to the community for the first time in the tournament’s five-year history.

“For the last four years it was held in Yellowknife, but because our club is growing, they said, ‘Hey, why don’t we do it in Inuvik this year?'” said Kuzuri Dojo’s Ed Hartley, who has run the club in town since the fall of 2017 when he moved from Aklavik. Kuzuri, which literally translates to ‘Little monster’ but serves as the Japanese word for Wolverine, has since growth to over 40 students. “I thought that was fitting to where we are located.

“In the movie The Wolverine, when Hugh Jackman goes to Japan, they call him that. I didn’t even know that until after I named the dojo.”

Since the Arctic Open is intended as a tournament for judokai to get used to more structural competitions further south, it’s tiered off into a few levels of competition. The pre-judo portion will consist of students aged five to seven taking on their parents, essentially demonstrating what they’ve learned to the crowd.

Up next are age groups, starting with the eight-year-olds, who split off in competition based on their belt level. White belts only compete in ground work, or ne waza, as a safety precaution. Students who have advanced to yellow or higher are able to compete standing up as they have practiced enough breakfalls to safely be thrown.

“Before we send our kids off to the higher level competitions, we want to have something where they can practice and get the feel of what a tournament looks like,” he said. “A lot of the bigger tournaments near us are actually international and national level. The level of it is much higher, so we created the Arctic Open as sort of a stepping stone.”

Following the competition, a fun game of “Judodge” ball will be played, which is like normal dodge ball except students use medicine balls.

For Hartley, training and competing is fun, but what really keeps him teaching is seeing young judokai grow both in and from the art.

“I’m at the point where I’m starting to have more interest than I can actually coach,” he said. “And the commitment from the students has been extraordinary. They love the physical activity and learning the skills, but they also like just something a little bit different than what they’re used to, because its an individual sport.

“Judo is not just a sport, its a way of life in how treat each other and how we talk to each other. So it fits well into traditional cultural values and beliefs. Respect is the essence of a lot of martial arts.”

Kuzuri dojo is also fundraising for a Whitehorse tournament later in the year, so Hartley said people should keep an eye for young judokai working lunches, bakes sales and raffles throughout Inuvik in the coming months.

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Eric Bowling

A lover of knowledge and adventure, Eric Bowling jumped at the opportunity to write for the Inuvik Drum and to see the world from a totally different vantage point. He has covered just about everything...

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