Monday, 9 January 2017

Thunder Bay Ontario Canada: Leading Edge Martial Arts and a Memorial to a Fellow Jiu-Jitsuero

Greetings from Thunder Bay Ontario Canada!

A random picture I took while walking around Thunder Bay.  

The trip to Thunder Bay was uneventful, which is good. I actually got some decent sleep and showed up to town ready to hit class as soon as I got there. And that's when things took a downward turn, ended up going to the wrong address and my phone dying causing me to miss class, but there was a glimmer of light...

The Fine People of Thunder Bay

During my stay in Thunder Bay I was able to see the friendliness, helpfulness and good hospitality of the people that live there. That being said I also ran into a few problems for these examples to take place. The first occurrence was when I got to town and started to make my way to class, the plan was that I would hit up class straight from the bus station before making to my host's place to settle in. The problem came up when I got to where the Google maps had the last saved address of the club, which was way off from where I was supposed to be, and then my phone died, leaving me in the middle of nowhere with all my gear and no way to contact anyone or find my way to either the proper gym address or my host's place. Luckily there was a corner store across the street, I walked in hoping to find a warm drink and a plug to recharge both my frozen self and frozen phone. As soon as I stepped inside the guy at the front counter looked at my gear and said "Nice backpack! Are you traveling? Or out hiking?" That was the perfect set up to tell him of my journey, and my predicament I was currently in. As it happens he was a former military reservist himself and loved my story of traveling through Canada, and the next thing I know I have a free hot chocolate and hamburger to warm myself up and my phone is plugged in behind the counter charging up. It was some much needed help to set me back on my way for which I was very grateful.

The second occurrence was on my way to the host's house, I had left the corner store, taken a bus across town and set out to walk a few blocks from the stop to find where I would be staying for the next few days. An older lady drove up to me and said "It looks terrible watching you carry those bags in this weather, let give you a drive!" I was really fine but how can I resist a free ride! We drove up the short few blocks to where I thought the host's place was only to find out I had the wrong address. As I was calling to confirm the address the lady told I'd be more than welcome to stay at her place if I couldn't meet up with my intended hosts, which would've have been amazing if I were to be stranded in town with no contacts! Luckily that was not the case, I thanked her for her generosity, contacted my host and found the proper house, which was only a few houses down from I thought it was. Imagine that, showing up to town and finding a place to stay just by walking down the street, I hope I get that lucky in Europe! Not that I plan on being stranded anywhere to begin with but you never know.

At this point I'd like to get a big shout out to my hosts for the time I spent in Thunder Bay. I was originally supposed to stay with a friend I made online through the BJJ Globetrotters network, Jesse, and was really looking forward to meeting and training with him. As it happens he was accepted into a special training week at Tristar in Montreal to train under Georges St Pierre, Rory MacDonald and other top Canadian MMA stars as well as hit up the Geo Martinez seminar, coming off another stellar performance win at EBI, that was happening just before the camp. I would pass up on me for that too, that's a chance of a lifetime! Before Jesse left he set me up with his parents to stay at their place, which was awesome because I didn't know anyone else and don't think I would have been able to find a new place to stay in time without getting a, most likely overpriced, hotel room at short notice. Staying with Jesse's parents was great, they were very relaxed people who gave me a room to stay in and have a quiet space to do all my work online in peace. It was very cool to take me in on short notice, especially since they had not met me before and knew little other than I was backpacking through Canada and training on the way. I was very grateful of all the help, Ellen and Burt thank you for everything!

Of course when you're staying at a place that has a completely different schedule than you there can be a few hiccups. One of the days I was training, the very day out to meet the club in fact, I ended up having an afternoon to waste since the hosts were out on their own errands and there was no spare key. As it happens, one of the club members and now good friend, T-Son, offered to show me around and take me out with his family for wings to pass the time, sounds like a great way to spend the afternoon! We headed to T-Son's place after class and I met his family and we chatted for a bit, telling our stories of how we got into Jiu-Jitsu, before heading for food. It was great talking to T-Son and hearing his interest on the art of Jiu-Jitsu itself and focus on the philosophy and the way of life it brings and it was great getting to learn about the history of the Leading Edge MMA club and Thunder Bay. T-Son likes to write and post videos about his Jiu-Jitsu journey, and even has a site for it, BJJ Four Life. I was totally blown away when T-Son's wife paid for the food! Thanks so much for looking out for me T-Son and family, I owe you guys big time! Just another example of the good people of Thunder Bay and another act of good will I'll be paying forward.    
A light rolling session with T-Son.

Meeting Up with a BC Friend

A few friends I have out in British Columbia are from Thunder Bay, being from the reservist unit there, and one of them came home for the holidays just before I was finished visiting the town. My friend Dino, who I met at work and have been good friends since, had flown home to surprise his mom and family for the holidays on my last day visiting Thunder Bay. That night Dino decided to meet up with me and show me around town, telling me of all the interesting stories of growing up in this town and where all the fun happened. Apparently Thunder Bay has a few local delicacies and Dino was set on showing me at least one of them: The Persian. The Persian is a cinnamon roll like bun with a whipped topping and is quite famous as a local delicacy. We drove all over the town, it was late so most places, including the store that makes them, The Persian Man, were closed but we finally found a place that was still open and picked up a box of these pastries for me to try out. I will say although I don't get what all the hype is about these treats if you like pastries you will love these things.

Dino and I as I'm about to try out this pastry for the first time, not bad.

The next morning I was set to catch the bus out to Sudbury, but because of the weather the bus was delayed. Dino was hoping to bring me out a breakfast place called Hoito's, or The Hoito, for another famous local delicacy: The Finnish Pancake. Once I found out that I had a lot of time tom wait before the bus would get back on the road (white out closing the highway) I called up Dino to pick me up and set out to The Hoito. I had heard of these Finnish Pancakes and always just thought of them as crepes, and always I was corrected by my Thunder Bay friends (Thunder Bayians? Thunder Baymans? Thunder Bayites?) and was looking forward to both a good breakfast before a long bus ride and to finally try these pancakes out. Finnish Pancakes are really thin like crepes but have crispy edges, like they've been fried in butter, or at least the ones at this place were like that, and they were delicious. I had the breakfast plate and kind of wish I asked for more pancakes, I don't know if I would have been able to eat more but I would have loved to try!
Just as we finished eating and got the check I got a call from the Greyhound bus station, they were beginning to load the bus and I had half an hour to make it back and board if I wanted to leave that day. It was perfect timing, giving me enough time to hang out with my friend and try out a delicacy I've been hearing about for a while. I called it a Christmas miracle, laughing I said that Santa had closed to road long enough for this to happen.
On the drive back to the bus station Dino, always the one to push limits, decided to use up the full 30 minutes I had to get on the bus and stop off to pick me up one last local delicacy: A Italian sandwich from Maltese Grocery. Maltese's is a small grocery store that prides itself in high quality meats and cheeses and other products. They have a deli in the back that makes sandwiches, you first pick out a fresh bun from the selection at the bakery up front then head to the back and hand it over to the butcher. You have a wide variety or choices for meats, including the daily special, this day it the Italian sausage and it was all Dino's choice on what went into the sandwich. Provolone, lettuce, eggplant, Italian sausage and salami, as well as some mayo, mustard black pepper and maybe some other things I forget, and I had a very fresh 2 lb sandwich to take with me on the bus. When I finally ate it I took a few pics, it was a fair size and a bit greasy but it was totally worth it, such a good sandwich. After this I don't think I will ever Dino's picks on where to get good food. Thanks Dino for showing me the best places to eat in Thunder Bay, it was blast hanging out with you one last time!

Now this is one hell of a sandwich! Thanks Dino for lunch!

Leading Edge Martial Arts

I came to Thunder Bay knowing nothing about Leading Edge Martial Arts other than my online friend Jesse trained there and according to him the guys there were all good people. Once Jesse's plans changed, he connected me with a few of the guys at the club and although I had a few conversations with them it was mostly just about the schedule. I was walking in blind and more or less just the new guy dropping in that no one knew but the club welcomed me with open arms. The first class I showed up to there were about 8 of us, a purple belt Nathan put us through a good warm up, nothing crazy but thorough, enough to really warm us up from the cold weather outside. Class was really relaxed, it was taught by T-Son and we went over chokes from different positions, afterwards we rolled for a while and I got to meet and introduce myself to everyone there. It was a fun time welcoming me to their group. For the rest of my visit the classes I would attend always seemed to be mainly people I had not meet yet, and always they were very receptive of my visiting. There was a wide range of styles on the mats, some were young and athletic, looking to train to be top competitors, some were older or just looking to learn the art of Jiu-Jitsu. There was also a strong wrestling background with a lot of the students, in Thunder Bay the high schools have wrestling teams and that influence was clearly seen in the Jiu-Jitsu community. It was interesting to see the differences in influences and goals amongst the club while training there. There is a strong group of talent here at Leading Edge.

Me captivating the class with one of awesome stories.

The club has gone through some problems with their club lately. They were originally in an athletic dome, which I've only seen a temporary structure for allowing use of a field during the colder months but I guess Thunder Bay was using it as a permanent sports facility. In any case the dome deflated and the colder weather and rain caused everything, including all their club gear, to get stuck underneath and encased in ice. The community, being full of good people, helped the club stay together and be able to continue to train. A Tae Kwon Do club, Thunder Dragons, graciously opened their doors and lets the Jiu-Jitsu club train there for certain days of the week (The address on the map in the FB group is NOT up to date, double check with them or the Leading edge guys before showing up, so you don't end up in the same situation I was in when I first got to town). The other days of the week they train at a high school, Hammarskjold High school, in their wrestling gym. I'm glad to see they were able to keep the club together and find a place, or places, to train, it's a sign of a truly determined, of Jiu-Jitsu obsessed group of people. Thank you for having me guys!

A class shot of T-Son showing us a set up for the bow and arrow choke.

Memorial To a Fellow Jiu-Jitsuero

I write this piece with a heavy heart, and in truth I still don't know how to fully process this information. As I was waiting to leave Thunder bay I was watching the advisory site for road closures in Ontario and noticed that on top of the road closure outside of town due to the weather there was also another big closure inside of town due to a traffic accident. I found out later on that the accident in Thunder Bay had claimed the life of one of their members, and someone I had met and trained with while visiting. Gary Maki was a big guy, a blue belt who was focused on technique rather than crushing everyone with his size, and a good hearted person who made me feel very welcomed in our short time together. I could see by the expressions of sorrow on Facebook that he was a guy everyone liked and I will wager that he touched the hearts of all those around them more than he ever knew. We had a great conversation about 'Old Man' and 'Big Guy' Jiu-Jitsu one day at class. Gary was a good guy and I am honoured I got to spend the little time I had on the mats with him. Rest In Peace Gary, my condolences to the family...

Gary with his son Jared, I took this picture from Facebook, I hope that's ok.

Cherish every moment on the mats with every teammate, make every new person through the door feel welcome and help them out as much as possible. You never know just how long you have on this Earth, make every class, every roll, every moment count as though it could be your last. Then there won't be any time left for drama and feuds and complaining, only good times training together.

Nathan Hatton, Phd

When I first was looking for someone to interview from this club I noticed the options were pretty great. There was the head instructor Matt Richer who has 6 different black belts, or brown belt student Matt Thornburn who is simply a mat rat who trains at more than one gym and holds an impressive MMA record, or T-Son and his BJJ blog and admitted obsession with the art. All were great candidates, and I tried to set up an interview with the instructor but he was hard to get a hold of and time was tight to set up an interview with anyone else. When I left Thunder bay I decided I would do an interview via e-mail with Nathan Hatton, who holds a PhD in the history of combative sports and is a wrestling beast on top of being a formidable purple belt. I was really intrigued when I heard about the PhD and decided I must get his story on what it take to get that accreditation, what set him on that path, and who that put him on the path of BJJ.

Myself, T-son and Nathan.

Panda's Odyssey: Thanks for doing this interview with me Nathan, let's start with your experience in martial arts. How did you get started and how did you end up in BJJ?

Nathan Hatton: I really started my martial arts journey with wrestling, beginning in the seventh grade. In high school I took up Wado Kai karate. Shortly after the UFC debuted I became completely fascinated with Royce Gracie and actually started training in BJJ during the late summer of 1995. That's 21 years ago!
There were no BJJ clubs around at the time, especially in northern Ontario, so I trained off of tapes (only two instructional sets existed then). My first actual instruction in BJJ came from Royce and Rorion Gracie when I attended a seminar in the fall of 1995. Since then, I have been fortunate to train with several great clubs including Regina BJJ, Rodrigo Munduruca's school in Winnipeg, and Leading Edge Gym in Thunder Bay. Leading Edge is certainly my "home" gym.
Due to living in small communities as well as the demands of schooling, I have had a number of extended dry patches in my BJJ journey. However, grappling has been one of the constants in my life and I feel blessed every time I get to step on the mat!
After high school I also did boxing for a few years and I did a couple seasons of judo.

PO: That's impressive! It seems a lot of people and clubs got started in Canada by those tapes, haha. I understand you have a PhD in the history of combative sports. can you tell us how you decided on this path and what you had to do in order to get a PhD in that field?

NH: My PhD is actually in history, but I focused my research on early wrestling in Canada. My doctoral work built on previous work at the Master's level, which likewise delved into wrestling's early history in the Thunder Bay region of Ontario.
Both my MA and PhD came after I had been studying wrestling and boxing history for about a decade. Beginning in my late high school career and continuing for years afterward, I devoured every book I could get my hands on related to wrestling, bare knuckle boxing and early gloved-boxing. I was interested in combative sports on both a historical and a technical level. Above all else, I became fascinated with early professional wrestling and the art of catch-as-catch-can.
Western wrestling had a rich, but by then nearly forgotten, legacy of submissions. What's old is new and I became enthused with adding some of this stuff back into my own grappling game. Along the way I began to appreciate the art of catch-as-catch-can wrestling in its own right and I am pleased to see that it is being revived today thanks to the hard work of many people both in North America and overseas.
Before I ever entered into graduate-level work, I had already laid out very clear objectives for myself in terms of what I wished to study and what I hoped to accomplish. Wrestling history in Canada had been grossly understudied, so I sought to unearth what the sport meant to early generations of Canadians. Moreover, I wanted to re-discover the legacies of the incredible, but sadly forgotten, athletes and communities who helped shape the sport in Canada.

PO: The history of grappling fascinates me as well. I've noticed there are different styles of wrestling all over, like Nordic Glima, African Laamb, Turkish wrestling, etc. That all seem to have the same concepts but own flavour to it. I look forward to my journey taking me to areas to see these styles in person. Have you ever looked into the connection of other grappling styles outside of North America?

NH: Most of my focus has been on wrestling in the western world, but I maintain an interest in all wrestling styles. The wrestling world, in certain respects, is a small place and the amount of international cross-pollination over time has proven remarkable. Examples are numerous. Beginning in the 1890s, many Turkish wrestlers began to make an impact on wrestling in Continental Europe, and by 1898 we see the same thing happening in North America. That legacy is still seen in wrestling's technical canon, with for example, the "leg turk" in folkstyle wrestling. More famously, after 1900, and especially by 1904, many Japanese jiu-jitsu practitioners came to North America as well as Britain to compete and share their knowledge. One of these guys, of course, was Maeda. After travelling around the Western world and competing in matches and wrestling tournaments, he began teaching in Brazil. His personal style was certainly not just the product of his Japanese studies but also the live-fire knowledge he gained by competing against competent catch wrestlers. Other moves, such as the "Americana," are said to have been interjected into BJJ art by western wrestlers. Western and Eastern styles came into contact with one another and inevitably impacted one another.
West-East encounters have not been the only forum for cultural interchange through wrestling. We see great examples of that today in Asia. I enjoy watching highlights of Mongolian wrestling (bokh). It is one of the most dynamic stand-up wrestling systems in the world and the athletes are super-skilled. Wrestling is a highly regarded, and highly organized, sport in Mongolia. I also enjoy watching sumo and what is interesting to see is the rise of Mongolian talent in sumo during the last decade or so. They have really come to dominate and re-shape sumo at its highest levels. Men such as Asashoryu have interjected their own flair into the ancient art.

PO: That's so Fascinating! I love the lineage of grappling and where all the different influences have come from. Has this study for your PhD opened your eyes to interests in other sports? What's some interesting facts you've found in the evolution of combative sports?

NH: My primary interest is (as it has always been) the combat sports and martial arts. However, that also led me to take a keen interest in strongman and weight lifting, as well as the historical evolution of weight training. Just is as is the case with wrestling, there is a lot that can be re-discovered from examining old sources written by the likes of George Jowett, Thomas Inch, Maxick and many others. I would strongly advise wrestlers and grapplers to take a look at this stuff with an open mind!
There are so many fascinating things that could be said about the evolution of combat sports. One that really stands out is how "raw" things used to be. Most of us would never even consider training or competing under some of the conditions that were completely normal for athletes a century ago.
Mat technology, for example, was abysmal by today's standards. Coarse canvas was the norm. Sometimes athletes wrestled on nothing more than a carpet with some straw underneath. There are even records from rural Saskatchewan of formal matches taking place on the frozen ground when it was more than twenty degrees below!
Matches were also commonly endurance contests. Whereas bouts are conducted in two, three minute rounds under today's international freestyle rules, at the beginning of the twentieth century it was not uncommon to see contests last for one, two, or even three hours. There were no points and only falls counted.
In boxing, gloves were sparsely padded, usually with something like horse hair. The padding would be displaced pretty quickly, often leaving the knuckles exposed. For years I have been contributing to an ongoing study of boxing fatalities, and the number of deaths that occurred in the prize ring before the Great Depression is staggering and speaks to the lack of safety measures in place at the time.
Skin and eye infections were another issue. We still commonly see ringworm today, but there used to be a greater variety of bacterial afflictions that a combat athlete had to seriously contend with. Moreover, antibiotics were in their infancy during the first three decades of the twentieth century and penicillin was not discovered until 1928.
Better equipment, rule changes and advances in medical science have helped make the combative sports more palatable to a wider participatory base. Although we have to recognize the evolution of knowledge, one has to wonder if all of today's athletes could have also carved out successful careers under the conditions of a century ago!

PO: That's crazy! I've heard of some those things like the mats, or long matches and bare gloves, but wrestling in the cold, or dealing with infections I had no idea of!
The long matches reminds me of a story I heard once that apparently pro-wrestling came around from a big 'East meets West' match. The match ended really fast by an ankle lock that was apparently the one injury the opponent had. Lots of backlash and rumours of spies in camps came from this and in the end people were more into the shorter match and loved all the drama involved. From what I understand leagues started making stories for their matches and having shorter staged matches and then pro wrestling was formed. Did you run into this story in your research? Do you think this type of thing, adding the drama between the fighter, is what is making MMA so huge now a days?

NH: You might be referring to the famed Gotch-Hackenschmidt encounters of 1908 and 1911. The talent has to be there at the top levels, but showmanship or some type of "it factor" is, and always has been, essential for success in professional combat sports. Both Gotch and Hack had these qualities but they competed under a rule set that bred the potential for really long, tedious matches-of-attrition, and that is exactly what characterized their first match. It was boring. However, allegations that Gotch used dirty tactics and greased his skin to be able to escape holds circulated afterward and this fed public interest in a rematch. No rematch would have been palatable based upon the entertainment value of their first match by itself, but due to all of they hype, their rematch became the biggest grossing wrestling event of all time to that point. The results of first match really foretold the second match, though, and Gotch mowed through Hackenschmidt. Gotch represented the next level in the technical evolution of the sport.
Only really dedicated fans, and more likely, actual practitioners of the arts, can truly appreciate a lot of the technical intricacies at play in a combat sport like wrestling, and as spectator bases grew, sports promoters who wanted to pack venues came to realize this. Pro wrestling evolved more in the direction of an emotional drama because that had a broader appeal beyond the hardcore fanatic or gambler. Rules changed to make the sport more fast-paced and spectator friendly. We see the same thing at play in current MMA. Major rule changes are really all about making a more fast paced and spectacular sport because only the highly dedicated fan can appreciate the technical intricacies of spending a minute fending off punches from the butterfly guard and switching between three grips to set up a sweep. The same social dynamics that prompted MMA rule makers to cut ground time short were at play in wrestling in the 1920's and 1930's.
Highly skilled and super-charismatic athletes coupled with spectator-friendly rule sets are the formula for success. The UFC had the perfect storm seven or eight years ago when they had Lesnar, Silva and St. Pierre in the top spots, along with Machida, Couture and a few others who captured the public's imagination but for different reasons. I'm not sure if we will ever see an era like that again. I certainly hope so!

PO: Thanks for the elaboration, that indeed was the feud I was thinking of. As for the UFC, I think with people like Connor McGregor have really shown the fact that both skills in the ring and drama for the matches sell a lot. One can only hope the skills don't take second place to the drama selling tickets.
I understand you have a history training in wrestling as well as BJJ. How does your study affect your training? Does it help understand the techniques or concepts of the arts?

NH: First of all, I am of the belief that wrestling is the fundamental combat art. Any young athlete looking to start a career in the martial arts, combat sports, or even self-defense/combative training would be well advised to begin by diving into freestyle, folkstyle or Greco-Roman wrestling for at least four to five years. I wish I had done far more wrestling!
Wrestling teaches a level of body awareness, aggressiveness, toughness and work ethic that is simply not duplicated by other arts. Sure, learn bjj, boxing, krav maga or whatever appeals to you, but laying down a solid foundation in basic wrestling, from the get-go, is always a good idea.
Above all, my study of wrestling, and more particularly its technical history, gives me an appreciation for the inter-connectivity between different arts. There are certain universal principles that govern all systems and transcend time and place. These include mechanical concepts such as base, posture, center of balance, lever and fulcrum. They also include strategic principles such as conserving energy while forcing energy expenditure, baiting/deception, and using pressure to elicit a response.
Historical study of wrestling has also given me an appreciation for how technical trends come and go. Today, you see a certain move come into vogue because of its success at the elite level. Keenan's worm guard. The Mendes brothers' 50/50. It then filters its way down to clubs, and practitioners at every level start to play with it. This is nothing new. One hundred and ten years ago Frank Gotch popularized the toe hold and in no time everybody was doing it. A decade later it was Joe Stecher and the body scissors. Eventually athletes moved on to something else.
I frequently find it amusing when "new" techniques make their way into bjj or no gi grappling that are really nothing more than variations, or direct reiterations, of moves that guys were doing generations ago. I do feel that there are some new techniques discovered here and there, and certainly new "games" develop around techniques. That said, it is surprising how many purported innovations, if someone cared to look, could be found in an old Gene LeBell interview or between the covers of a dusty old instructional manual.

PO: Nice! It's cool to see a different look into grappling like that, and it's true, I fond a lot of the 'new' techniques are just old ones re-surfacing. I get a kick out seeing a 'new' technique video that is just an old move I've been training in Japanese Jiu-Jitsu for years.
You teach the fundamentals classes at Leading Edge MMA. Given your background, what key concepts do you teach that are different from most clubs?

NH: Really, I think that fundamentals are fundamentals are fundamentals. There might be a slight difference in where a hand is placed here and there, for example, but I expect that the techniques and ideas introduced in the Leading Edge fundamentals class will serve a practitioner wherever they go and for however long they continue along their bjj journey.
I also maintain an interest in self defense, and currently co-teach the fundamentals class with the highly talented Phil Roussin who is one of the most knowledgeable self defense instructors I know. Therefore, ideas such as situational awareness, use of force continuum, and the legal realities of a camera-access culture are also covered in the class. Here, too, I suppose historical context comes into play because the social and legal realities of a violent confrontation in 2016 Canada are not the same as pre-Meiji Japan. We have to keep this in mind when considering the methods that we might teach to a class!

PO: Very true! That reminds me of the Master Ken video where he completely destroys the guy for grabbing him, going way too far on the 'defense' part. I'm a big fan of clubs teaching self-defense and distinguishing between what works on the mats and what works on the street. Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions for me, it was a pleasure training with you!

On top of having over 20 years of experience in combat sports, Nathan also has two books published on his studies, Thrashing Seasons: Sporting Culture in Manitoba and the Genesis of Prairie Wrestling and Rugged Game: Community, Culture and Wrestling At the Lakehead to 1933. If you're like me and love to read about where the modern sports we practice in today came from then you'll definitely want to pick these up.

Probably one of the most badass pictures of a University Professor I've ever seen. 

Another too short visit and suddenly it was time to make my way to Sudbury Ontario, but not before the biggest set back in the trip so far. I thought the white out delaying the bus leaving in the morning was bad enough, little did I know what I was about to run into...

Such a nice view leaving Thunder Bay, would never have guessed the hell that awaited..


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