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Master returns to his roots to accept a great ju-jutsu honour

October, 2010

The first time I heard Charles Bédard speak about his life, it brought me to tears. He spoke of his childhood, of his earliest motivations to study martial arts, and of the pieces of his heart he has given to his students over five decades teaching ju-jutsu.

Bédard, 70, has returned to the dojo, or martial-arts school, to preside over the examination of two candidates, young men ready to join a long line of black belts who owe their art to him. A diminutive man, Bédard has snowy white hair and his eyes twinkle when he smiles.

He is popular with everyone, even the littlest children who come to the dojo. Patriarch of this lineage of martial artists, he has a way of fading into the background and observing quietly. He moves slowly and with purpose.

The overflow crowd of guests and students at the Verdun dojo—just blocks from his birthplace—has come to see Bédard as much as they have to witness the skill of the two young men waiting anxiously before him. Several have come from out of town for the event. Bédard himself has travelled from outside Montreal despite a recent illness. His roots are here, and he always returns to these students. He is known for a no-nonsense approach that leaves little room for sentiment, but it is obvious his heart belongs to the men and women who follow in his footsteps.

Soke Charles Bédard Sr. sits with Sensei Jérôme Beaulieu and Bédard’s wife, Kyoshi Claudine Aubertin. Photo: Christine Nelson

Belt exams are cumulative: Each one tests not just for the most recently learned techniques but for everything learned since the jutsuka, the practitioner of ju-jutsu, first set foot in the dojo. A black belt exam is long and arduous. It can take several hours to complete. By the end, the candidate and his partner, or uke, are exhausted.

The young men on the mat have become part of Bédard’s extended family over the years. Despite that fact - or perhaps because of it—he is tough on them. He critiques freely, and solicits the opinions of the other examiners. He commands the young men to repeat a technique—once, twice, several times until he is satisfied each one is done well. On a couple of occasions, he expresses outright disappointment. Or is this a ploy to throw the candidates off balance, to push them to their limits and then a step beyond?

Years ago, in a downtown gym, Bédard learned karate and judo to defend himself from local bullies who liked to pick on the little guy.

But it wouldn’t be long before the young man was a formidable opponent. He would surpass his teacher and be sent off in search of greater challenges.

He studied with masters in North America and Asia - Masayuki Hisataka, Shiogo Kuniba, Thomas Burdine, Rod Sacharnoski and “Man of Steel” Frank DiFelice among them.

The men and women who surround him now in the dojo are in agreement: Their master has earned on his own more black belts than all of them put together.

Ju-jutsu, the “gentle art” of the Japanese Samurai, relies on flexibil- ity and yielding to an attacker. The force of the attack is turned back on the jutsuka’s foe. It is a combination of strikes and kicks, blocks, throws and other grappling techniques that allow the student to mount a defence standing, seated or lying on the ground. Practitioners of ju-jutsu are known for their success in mixed martial arts events.

He underlines the importance of showing respect for the roots of ju- jutsu. His Jukaido-Kan ju-jutsu is taught family style. Little children learn alongside youths and their parents. He teaches what he and his students call a complete system of self- defence, an art and discipline more than a sport. He developed the system from the very best of the arts he has studied.

It continues to evolve under his watchful eye.

He has earned honours in competition and for his contributions to the martial arts community. He has taught worldwide and given numer- ous demonstrations of Jukaido-Kan. He is known for his ability to defend himself without his prosthesis—an artificial leg he has worn since an amputation during the prime of his martial arts career. His wife tells of the his grieving period after the loss of his leg, when he faced the decision to walk away or learn his art again with a different body. Bédard found the courage to start again. Now is the time to test the mettle of another generation.

Once the exam is completed, it is revealed that Bédard’s black belts have come together to bestow upon him the title of Soke, the highest honorific a martial artist can be awarded. It has been offered to him before by masters with whom he has studied, but he is a humble man. He has always refused until now. Coming from the men and women he has trained, who have studied and practised and in their own turns taught the art he shaped, it seems most fitting. They know him best of all. They know his heart and his strength.

And so after more than 50 years of service to martial arts, he is Soke Charles Bédard Sr. He is proof that anyone can be a martial artist regardless of their size, their age or even their physical limitations. He stands as an inspiration to all who come after him.

A man accomplished and well loved.



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