Vincent Lumacad competes at the 2023 Canada Winter Games. Ollie Williams/Team NT
The coach whipped out a hundred-dollar bill, grabbed a clipboard and marched up to the judges. This wasn’t how Matthew Bui’s Canada Games debut was going to go.
Bui, from Yellowknife, had just finished competing for the first time in karate at this level. The NWT is rarely seen at events like this but Bui and team-mate Vincent Lumacad have reached this year’s games on Prince Edward Island.
Monday was day one, a chance for some history after PEI organizers added karate to this year’s schedule. The day would feature kata, a form of karate where Canada Games competitors appear solo, demonstrating moves that are evaluated for technique, speed, athleticism – and even the spirit with which they are performed.
Kata normally passes off without much drama, other than screams from athletes trying to demonstrate that spirit.
Yet here were the judges saying Bui had called out a different form of kata routine to the one he actually performed. They disqualified him after an agonizing two-minute silence, in which the 17-year-old had to wait – not knowing what was happening – in front of the officials and crowd.
Coach Heather Fidyk said there was no way Bui could have made that mistake. She watched back video from nearby parents to hear how Bui had pronounced the phrase in question, filled out a protest form, handed over the $100 fee (refunded if you win) and waited.
Three minutes later, Bui was back in the arena, reinstated to an ovation.
“I’m still bummed,” Bui said afterward. He noticeably redoubled his efforts in a later, second performance, earning a higher score.
“It’s a very mentally challenging type of sport,” he said. “You have to block everybody out, focus on the game, and not get distracted very easily.”
Having fought the judges and won, Fidyk subsequently fought not to let Bui’s ordeal affect what was otherwise a banner day for Northwest Territories karate.
“Oh my gosh, I couldn’t have been more proud of these two athletes or more proud of the Territories, seeing them out there,” she said.
“Karate NT has not had a team at Karate Canada for a number of years – since I’ve been involved with Karate Canada. To see the Territories come to an event like this is absolutely incredible, and they were up there with the rest of them.”
Vincent Lumacad, also 17, approached a post-event interview with the same intensity that brought guttural roars to his kata.
“This is our first big national tournament, waking up, knowing that you have to put your best out there for a few minutes at a time, every single time, facing the best that Canada can offer,” Lumacad said, eyes wide at the accomplishment.
“You see the people, you see the athletes, you see your competitors. But once you’re on that stage, it’s go time. It’s just you, your opponent, and the stuff that you have to do.
“I think I did really, really well. First major tournament, I think I did exactly what I wanted to do. And that is amazing.”
Alberta’s president becomes NWT coach
To appear at the Canada Games, the NWT’s karate association had to jump through some hoops.
Coaches must have the right certification to appear, so Fidyk – who is the president of Karate Alberta and Canada’s para karate head coach – was drafted in. She said NWT Karate Association president Calvin Pittet had been instrumental in connecting the dots so that the territory could have the right coach.
“They asked me if I would be their coach and of course I was humbled to be able to do that. For me, this is super, super exciting,” she said.
Sensei Masaya Koyanagi, the Japan-born chief instructor at Yellowknife Karate Club, looked on inside a giant inflatable sports dome in the PEI town of Summerside as Bui and Lumacad competed.
Lumacad’s mom had texted him, Koyanagi said, the moment she discovered that karate had been added to the Canada Games schedule. That set in motion a train of events that led the small team to Prince Edward Island and the national stage.
“Finally, we made it here,” he said.
For Koyanagi, karate is more than a sport. It’s Karate-dō, karate and its outlook as a way of life.
“Once you start, you keep learning until you die,” he said. “And the boys are learning from the beginning.”
Koyanagi hopes they eventually learn to teach and become homegrown coaches for whichever athletes next get the opportunity to represent the NWT at this level.
“We hope that us two coming out here, kind-of setting forth our own two feet, will get a lot of people to come over,” said Lumacad.
“We want to grow as a community up in the North, and not only in Yellowknife, but all the communities too.”