Students at CASK Karate school celebrate as they get new belt levels. (File contributed/ David DaSilva)

Students at CASK Karate school celebrate as they get new belt levels. (File contributed/ David DaSilva)

Victoria non-profit karate school struggles to stay afloat

James Bay non-profit karate school tries to keep up with big businesses

A small, non-profit karate club switches hands as its sensei of over 30 years retires.

Canadian Associated Schools of Karate-do (CASK) runs out of the James Bay Community School gym twice a week to teach kids age six to 14 the martial art, which teacher and incoming sensei, David DaSilva said is not about fighting.

“Sometimes people perceive karate as a way to fight and be a big tough person, but it’s not at all,” DaSilva said. “It’s 100 per cent about never having to get into a fight… But if it ever does come down to it, they know what to do.”

The school was opened in Victoria in 1982 by Sensei Greg Reid, and has since developed into a larger network with schools being opened by students and teachers in North America, the Cayman Islands and Europe.

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The school’s methodology, a karate style known as Wado, was founded in 1918 by Hinori Otsuka in Japan. Otsuka’s teachings found their way to Canada through his student Masaru Shintani, who trained CASK founder Greg Reid to get his black belt. Reid has since opened a school in the Cayman Islands, but fellow student Charles LaVertu has been a sensei at the James Bay location for decades.

“The lineage is short, and very traditional. The way Otsuka taught in in 1918 is the way we teach it today,” DaSilva said. “We incorporate a lot of Japanese in the school.”

But the traditional teachings in the small school gym are struggling to keep up with larger, national corporations who DaSilva believes are running more like businesses than schools.

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DaSilva said he’s looked at what other schools are charging, which is nearly triple what CASK charges.

“They charge $130 per month, where we charge $50,” DaSilva said, adding no student has ever been turned away if they can’t afford it. “Another thing is we have six belts, and they will have 12. They’ll not just have orange, but orange stripe, so over time when you grade up it costs you money.”

DaSilva added that his teachings are not about branding.

“It’s really about karate and the kids; it’s not about anyone making money or getting their logo on a gi,” he said. “Nobody has ever said you need a gi, sometimes kids just train in their sweat pants. It’s about getting kids up and moving and confident.”

Still, as DaSilva moves into a leadership role at the school, he struggles to see how it can stay afloat in the future. Previously, the school would host at least 30 students, while now they are down to eight.

“We will be okay for the next year,” DaSilva said. “But how can I keep this school in Victoria for a lot of years? What can we do to make sure that it is there for kids in the community?”

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