Sensei Jeff Hopping
It was in the later years of high school that I truly found an interest in the Martial Arts. In the fall of 1979 through a program offered at a Canadian Forces Military Base in Winnipeg, Manitoba, I began studying Unarmed Combat. Shortly later through a friend I began studying Kung Fu. But that was all short lived since my family moved to Summerside, Prince Edward Island. There was no martial arts taught there in PEI, and it wasn't until after joining the Canadian Armed Forces and being posted to Calgary, Alberta (1983), that I found a martial arts club to continue my training. This time however my interests continued with the grappling arts, as I found a small Dojo in the basement of a gym instructing Kodokan Judo. The instructor, Sensei R.A. Brignell, MMM, CD, and an accomplished member of the Canadian Forces Judo Team. He was a true warrior always demanding the very best from his students. Unfortunately Sensei developed a serious medical condition and the club regretfully had to close. I'll never forget those classes. Our school was small which enabled Sensei to keep a watchful eye, as well as ensuring we did as we were told, or else you could be assured that you would be busy doing something else to occupy your distractions.
In 1985 I was once again posted. This time I was off to Lahr, West Germany. Eager to continue my martial arts training I found a Jiu-Jitsu club. A newly promoted Shodan, Sensei Dave Robitaille, ran the small school. Immediately I felt at ease and knew that eventually I wanted to become accomplished in this art. It was just over a year and once again my training would take a new turn. Sensei told the class that he had been told that he would be posted back to Canada. At that time unfortunately there was no Black Belt to take the classes. It was left up to the students to keep the club running. The remaining students did just that. We trained regularly hoping that a Black Belt would be sent to Lahr. Well the following year our prayers were answered and Sensei Dave Stewart came into our lives. The club was back into full swing. But that year without a Sensei I needed more. I knew of a Goju Karate Club also teaching on opposite nights as Jiu-Jitsu and I decided to go and take a look. I was greatly intrigued and after the class I approached the Sensei and asked if I could train with him. The Sensei's name was the late Stephen Picotte. He replied no problem and actually knew of me, and my Jiu-Jitsu background. I was floored. Our relationship hit off fantastically but once again the military would do its thing again. Sensei Steve would be posted back to Canada, but this time it was different. Two Black Belts were left in his wake, Senseis Greg Collins and Kyle Taylor, newly promoted Shodans.
So there I was. It would have been 1987 now, and I was training in two different systems of Martial Arts. Many people would say that I had too much on my plate and I should stick to only one discipline, as I wouldn't be able to learn and keep the two styles separate. But I couldn't do that. I was training 5 days a week 3 hours a class, with some days taking in two classes. I loved what I was learning and couldn't get enough. I also loved the camaraderie I felt with the two different styles. I had the best of both worlds.
My next trial in the arts would be in December 1989. My Karate training had taken a twist. Sensei's Kyle and Greg were posted back to Canada and just prior to Sensei's Greg's departure in the summer of 1989, I was promoted to Brown Belt and given the responsibility of running the Karate Club. In December the Canada Goju Association holds Black Belt testing in Toronto, and it was decided that I would grade. Not to get into a whole lot of detail, unfortunately I did not meet the expectations of the board and I failed. I was extremely disappointed. So back to Germany I went and trained even harder.
My Jiu-Jitsu training was also heading towards a Black Belt grading. On March 31 st 1990 I graded, and was promoted to Shodan. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. Sensei Dave Stewart did his job and I was grateful for it. As this was all going on I was also preparing a Karate Seminar. I was bringing to Germany from Canada my original Canada Goju Sensei, Stephen Picotte, as well as his Sensei, Ken Harris. Unbeknown to me it was also their plan to conduct another Black Belt Exam. Only 28 days after my Jiu-Jitsu grading I was graded again, only this time I was successful and too was promoted to Shodan in Goju Ryu Karate.
I would continue running the Goju Karate Club in Lahr, and not to forget, continue my training in Jiu-Jitsu till the summer of 1991 when it was my turn to return to Canada. It wasn't easy. I met many friends within the Martial Art community in Europe. Within the Canadian community, the United States Military Community, as well as the German. To this day I still keep in touch. Many fond memories and friendships were made in those 6 years in Germany. I went there with only a desire, and left with increased knowledge and an incredible burn to continue to learn the arts. My life had changed.
Once back in Canada I was posted to London Ontario. Not knowing the Martial Arts Community, I asked Kyoshi Bill Hind (Head Instructor of Canada Goju) of whom in London he would recommend that I continue my studies in Goju Ryu with? He put me onto Sensei Brian Robb, a Meibu-Kan Goju Ryu practitioner in the west end of the city. I would train with Sensei Brian for a little over a year. The training was more than what I had expected. Sensei Brian's knowledge of the arts was phenomenal and I enjoyed every class. Unfortunately our schedules would not work out and I would have to leave his Dojo. But I stayed within the Goju family and it was on the recommendation of Sensei Dave McGrath that I head down to a church in the East end of the city. Here was a group of Goju Black Belts from various systems who got together and trained. It was wonderful. Here I met and trained with some of Canada's best-kept secrets in Goju Ryu. Sensei Jeff Barrett ran the show with Sensei Mike Bushbi. Sensei's Scott Holden, Denise Brackenbury, Mike Dodds, Richard Fall, Doyle Overland, Leona Sutherland, Iain Sutton, Daniel Bugg, and Gary Burke were a few of the crew that shared in the sweat and pain of our training. Memories again I will cherish for a lifetime. Thank you my friends.
I would stay in London for 7 years before again moving to the nations capital of Canada, Ottawa in 1997. But all the time I was training in Goju Karate, I as well, started, a Jiu-Jitsu club within the military community. The club produced 4 of my first successful Black Belts; May Machoun, Marc Lacoursiere, Todd Geroux, and Beau Bentley. The club still exists here to this day, and is being run by Sensei Mark Lacoursiere. I always look forward to visiting; it's like having a family away from my own. Keep up the good work!!
In Ottawa I couldn't sit still. The Board of Directors for the NJJBBF is here. The Rockcliffe Jiu-Jitsu club was without an Instructor and I soon filled that position. Here, I teach both Arts to those who wish to learn. Also many of my Goju friends are also in the city; the likes of Sensei Poon Chan, Steven Radoulovitch, and my old Sensei Greg Collins. So my training continues and I expect it to do so for many years to come. I believe in three simple philosophies:
Firstly, There is always someone better than you, so you best keep training and learning;
Second, Your Karate is only as good as your last Kata, and...
Finally, There is no one perfect Martial Art, all Martial Arts are equal, and this ties into my second point, "Your Art is Only as Good as the Individual Practicing It".
Safe training everyone, and as we say in Jiu-Jitsu, See you on the mats!!