Austin Agabob and Adam Ebelher staff fighting at the Tiger Balm Internationals

Austin Agabob and Adam Ebelher staff fighting at the Tiger Balm Internationals

Red Jade students from Creston earn 15 medals at Tiger Balm competition

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I should have realized, even before opening the heavy glass door and walking down the concrete steps towards the gymnasium foyer, that it wouldn’t be a scene of relative calm. I should have realized, even though the campus of Capilano University was serene with the warm wind ruffling the leaves on the oaks and cedars, that there would be such a jarring juxtaposition. But there was. Nervous parents were dragging their nervous children to weigh in, register in the right divisions, buy the T-shirt and, naturally, they had to vocalize their worries and opinions every step of the way in rapid clatter.

All we could do was enter the milieu of semi-organized chaos at the Tiger Balm Internationals, which ran March 16 and 17, and make our way through the motions that every other parent was going through — weighing in, and then frantically filling out entry forms on any flat surface we could find (before buying the T-shirt). Then we entered the cavernous gymnasium, where the smell of fear and testosterone permeated the stale air. Competitors and coaches headed to the floor and parents — weighed down with water bottles, bags and bins — headed to the stands to set up temporary encampments.

Initially, I had followed my wife into the stands but it was soon evident the students of Red Jade Martial Arts could use an extra pair of hands on the floor. As the announcements over the public address system blared in a muffled language vaguely resembling English, I decided that I should cover my yellow wristband with my coat jacket and “illegally” cross over the ropes. As I wove around the various sparring rings, where four-year-old girls were bowing in front of judges before performing their forms and 13-year-old boys were strapping on padding before point and continuous sparring matches, I tried to keep my ears tuned as to when and where things were happening.

With the cuffs of my coat pulled down, I had to act as the pivotal point for all the action, reminding students to eat and drink to keep up their energy, to strap on their protective cups even though they were uncomfortable, and then I had to pick through the pile of coloured padding and remember where mouth guards had been tucked in when the different divisions were called. I also quickly became the dropping point for all the medals as they were awarded, tucking them in my inside coat pocket. My coat soon got really heavy.

It could have easily been a pandemonium of emotions for the students of Red Jade. They could have easily been nervously pacing or bouncing up and down like kangaroo boxers, but they weren’t. They calmly watched and observed and then, when their names were called, they fought with unusual calm under pressure. Under the tutelage of sifu Neil Ripski, the students have been taught how to overcome fear, conserve energy and be ready at all times to do what needs to be done (without the use of hyperventilating). And so, quietly and calmly, one after the other, they all entered their respective rings and emerged victorious. Of course, the downfall to winning is that they had to continue to fight. Many of the teens had to switch between continuous sparring and weapons sparring, stripping one set of pads for another, while a fresh opponent patiently waited.

By the end of the day, the seven competitors — Austin Agabob, Nicholas Brauer, Adam Ebelher, Lorna Foot, David Huscroft and Clyde Robson — sported 15 medals to add to the Red Jade collection. But the students don’t travel to Vancouver every year for the medals or accolades. While the annual trip does centre on the competition, the students also journey to the coast for the cultural experience. Since their training also focuses on the philosophy surrounding Kung Fu, they all look forward to the aspects of Chinese culture available.

The students were able to attend a class in wushu, drink 80-year-old tea from a 200-year-old teapot with Daniel Lui at his Chinese Tea Shop, and privately tour the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Not to mention the food. We consumed a lot of Chinese food over the weekend. In fact, by the end of the trip, it was suggested the motto for Red Jade be, “Powered by pork buns.” As the group of nearly 20 of us gathered (invaded) various shops, schools and gardens, we jostled and joked as a family unit. We were not just students, parents and sifu, but a close-knit family unit, and it is this sense of family that is so important at Red Jade. It is one of the reasons so many full-time students fly from around the globe to train in Creston.

As the students of Red Jade settle into their regular routines back home, preparations are now being made for the first annual Deep Water Convention in June. Hosted by Red Jade, it will focus not just on competition but also on learning and discussion. Workshops, vendors, and a panel discussion will offer residents and visitors to Creston a weekend full of opportunities. And hopefully, I can be allowed on the floor without having to wear my coat.

—BY CHRIS BRAUER