By Michael Levenston
The Great Hall in Champlain College has a place in the story of a modern martial art that today boasts thousands of members around the world.
Back in 1970, young men and women dressed in white karate gis would enter the Great Hall after supper and lift the heavy wooden tables to one end of the hall to make a makeshift gymnasium. They then did their best to sweep up left over food and other refuse that students had spilled from their plates onto the cold, hard tiles. The class was always conducted barefoot, so the fewer squishes underfoot, the more pleasant the experience.
Our instructor was a muscular, long-haired enthusiast of seventeen named Yuwa Hedrick-Wong who had arrived via San Francisco from Hawaii with his black belt in Goju-ryu karate. He had attended Punahou School in Honolulu, the same school that Barack Obama attended a few years later.
Yuwa became friends with his fellow students, laughed to encourage them as he taught, and lead a grueling workout long before the days of 'boot camps'. He was also a brilliant scholar and helped students after class with their studies.
In the dark winter evenings you could see Trent students in their whites running along the unlit road next to the Otonabee River, snow piled up around them, their breath crystallizing as they struggled back to the College. After the energetic class, some participants would socialize naked in the co-ed saunas in Lady Eaton and Champlain until late into the night. A great bond of friendship developed amongst them.
Sparring was mandatory and students got their first experience of blows to the gut or head. Yuwa was a huge supporter of women in karate, encouraging them to participate and cautioning men to be respectful and helpful in training. This was the era when Bruce Lee was making his classic films, Chuck Norris was a fighting star, and stories about Japanese master Mas Oyama fighting bulls bare-handed circulated. We were caught up in the mythology of supermen with secret powers.
By 1974 we'd finished our studies and had gone our separate ways. Trent's first martial arts school was no more. Yuwa moved to Vancouver in 1976 and began training in his basement. I moved out West as well and resumed my training there. Soon he opened a formal school in the West End Community Centre, a hub of activity in the heart of one of Canada's densest populations. New students flocked to the energetic karate classes to learn Yuwa's 'Nisei Karate-do'. On occasion, fellow Trent karateka Cindy Connor and James MacKinnon would fly out from Ontario to train with their classmates in Vancouver. Trevor Davies, another old Trent student, became the senior black belt in the West Coast class, which trained many exceptional black belts, men and women. There I met Joan who became my wife.
In the early 1980's, Yuwa, myself and another senior student, a police officer named Al Arsenault, began to study with Master Shou-yu Liang, a world famous Chinese martial arts instructor who had just moved to Vancouver to take up the unique position of 'Chairman of Wushu, Taiji, Qigong Instruction' at the University of BC Physical Education and Recreation Department. As we began to train with him, a close friendship grew as did our respect for his skills and encyclopedic knowledge of the whole breadth of Chinese 'wushu' (popularly called 'kungfu' in the West). When we sparred, we used both our karate skills and his Chinese traditional techniques.
Out of this practice emerged the concept of a new martial art, which we formed in 1987 and named 'Sanshou Dao'. It would "transcend the boundaries between styles to allow for the integration of a highly practical and versatile system of martial skills," wrote Yuwa in the Member Handbook. "It functions as a bridge for martial artists all over the world to learn and share their knowledge, and to develop greater camaraderie between martial artists."
Today, International Wushu Sanshou Dao (IWSD), has become a global association of martial artists encompassing thousands of students in over 150 different branch schools, in China, Russia, Singapore, Poland, Italy, Germany, France, England, Canada and the USA. Over 100 teachers in the association hold 6th degree black belts and above. Many illustrious Chinese masters are on the advisory board having joined out of respect for Master Liang's accomplishments. The IWSD has published three large-format pictorial books titled Extraordinary Martial Artists of the World. It also holds numerous competitions and an International Wushu Cultural Tour and Festival each year in cities across China.
Yuwa and Michael, two of the 'Founders' of this international martial art, are proud of their Trent heritage and remember with great happiness their days practicing in the Great Hall at Champlain College. They continue to practice martial arts into their sixth decade.
Yuwa Hedrick-Wong is a global economist and business strategist. He is the HSBC Distinguished Visiting Professor of International Business at the University of British Columbia in Canada, as well as being the global economic advisor to MasterCard, ICICI and Southern Capital Group. Michael Levenston is the Executive Director of City Farmer Society, an urban agriculture group and education centre he helped start in 1978.
Three sitting in 2012. l-r: Michael Levenston, Yuwa Hedrick-Wong, Shou-yu Liang.
Great Hall, Champlain College, Trent University, Peterborough Ontario.
Sanshou Dao Founders