Way back at the end of the greatest decade ever… the 80’s, in case you’re wondering… I met an individual who would change and improve my life. In fact, I would go well beyond saying that he’s saved it, on more than one occasion. I am speaking, of course, of the subject of this week’s inspirational individual: My Sensei, Jean-Guy Levesque.
Sensei began his martial arts journey right around the same time I was born (ironic, isn’t it?). He worked in my home town of Dalhousie, New Brunswick and began studying the art of Judo at a young age. Although he achieved the rank of black belt, he never quite felt as though Judo was the right art for him. This would be where he did his research and discovered an Okinawan style of karate he wanted to pursue. The only problem was that it wasn’t taught in the Maritimes back then.
He found a teacher in Boston, of all places. Sensei packed up his red mustang and left his wife and newborn child behind in order to travel to the U.S. and pursue his martial arts ambitions. He travelled to Boston and found himself under the tutelage of Sensei Robert Blaisdell. At the time, Sensei Blaisdell was taken aback by the Canuck who randomly landed at his doorstep, seeking karate lessons. In fact, Sensei Blaisdell tried to convince my Sensei to seek out a teacher back in Canada as it made no sense for him to travel to Boston several times a year to maintain the skills he would learn.
Sensei wouldn’t be deterred and continued to travel to Boston regularly, eventually reaching the rank of brown belt. At that point, people in my home town of Dalhousie started asking Sensei to teach, which he did, opening his first school of karate in the attic space of an old Catholic School convent. He named the school the New England Academy of Karate & Judo, a name that ne can still see adorning some of my gear to this day.
Sensei grew in skills and rank, and starting climbing the black belt ladder. He’s taught hundreds of students in the North Shore of New Brunswick. He fathered two children, a daughter and a son; both of whom have studied karate under his guidance. Sensei became THE leading source of self-defence and discipline back home, and was known as the karate no one stuck with, mostly due to the severe level of discipline and commitment required to keep up with the curriculum.
I walked into his dojo for the first time in early 1989, months before I would celebrate my 11th birthday. I had been diagnosed with Type-1 Diabetes six years prior. I was dangerously underweight, I suffered from severe insulin resistance and had already been through a number of comatose events in the previous years. My parents didn’t want me joining karate and were unaware that I was attending class, having left the house on the premise that I was simply going for a bike ride.
Due to my poor health, Sensei could have easily turned me away, claiming that I wouldn’t be able to keep up or train with the class. But instead, he chose to take me in, guide me, train me and help me develop. Over the next year, my health and blood sugars improved, my appetite and my mass increased and I began to hold my head up as opposed to being the quiet, withdrawn ghost that most only noticed when they needed someone to pick on.
Throughout the decades, Sensei has been a mentor, teacher, guide and father figure. He’s given me advice on almost every aspect of life and has helped in all areas of my growth. he’s taught his students with only the bare minimum of tuition fee, the strict minimum required to keep the doors open and the lights on. He has never charged any of his students for belt tests, additional training or even the physical belts themselves. His tutelage has always been about the art and never about the profit, the way any traditional teacher SHOULD be.
A few years ago, after more than forty years of teaching, he closed the doors to his dojo due to rising rental costs imposed by the local school board for the facilities he used. He now trains in private in a small dojo built into his home. He still trains with a couple of the students he once had, but it’s mostly on a one-on-one basis.
Sensei continues to be an inspiration to me because he sought out to pursue his dreams of learning karate and did so, regardless of the obstacles he faced. He managed to build a career and raise a family while doing it. We should all be so dedicated and committed to something. Even if we now live more than two thirds of the country apart, we communicate often and he continues to train me. I’m still learning from him. I don’t anticipate that will ever change. An email here, a photo or video clip there; he continues to add to my puzzle of a million pieces… One piece at a time. There are many who would say that I improved my life through my own efforts. Although they would right, I likely wouldn’t have made it with a lesser instructor with less dedication. Domo Arigatoo gozaimashita, Sensei! ☯