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‘Respect for mind, body and soul’ as NWT judoka return to Inuvik

Medallists at judo's Arctic Open in Inuvik
Medallists at judo's Arctic Open in Inuvik. Karli Zschogner for Cabin Radio

Malakai Keegan-Drennan took home gold as judo made a comeback in Inuvik with Saturday’s Arctic Open tournament.

Held at the Midnight Sun Complex, the town’s first judo tournament since the pandemic also marked the first time welcoming athletes from Yellowknife, Fort Providence and Fort Liard, NWT Judo organizers said.

“Inuvik doesn’t get to host many tournaments, so it’s nice … especially for judo, so you don’t have to travel and raise all the money,” said 14-year-old Keegan-Drennan, who lives in the town.

The tournament began with the opportunity for parents and children to spar together, practise sparring with coaches, then take part in age-level tournaments.



“It was fun,” said Keegan-Drennan. “I wish there were more people who did it, because I only get to fight three times.

“I was really into karate before but that shut down. I was wanting to compete … so judo offered me a place to do that.

“I’ve learned to have fun while still fighting other people, and meet new people through other ways instead of just interacting in person.”

Sommer Bonnetrouge, from Fort Providence, now has a silver medal from her first judo tournament.



She was introduced to judo at school and says she gets to practise about once a month.

“I like to spar with people. I mean, I don’t enjoy hurting them, but it’s fun,” said Bonnetrouge, who is 15.  “It’s good stress relief, depending on if you’re tense or anything.”

She said the tournament was a good way to be challenged and tested by others. For example, she spoke just after being thrown by another competitor for the first time – something her friends back in Fort Providence hadn’t been able to do.

It’s also a chance to explore the NWT.

“I found it pretty outside the Northern, the art,” Bonnetrouge said, referring to an Inuvialuit Regional Corporation mural project launched last winter that appears outside the grocery store. “We should do that in our community, because it’s just metal everywhere.”

Corbin Wilson, left, and Jaana Lyssa-Sutherland compete at judo's Arctic Open
Corbin Wilson, left, and Jaana Lyssa-Sutherland compete at judo’s Arctic Open. Karli Zschogner for Cabin Radio

For 15-year old Corbin Wilson, the tournament is an opportunity to come back and visit his home region. Wilson, originally from Aklavik, flew in from Fort Liard to compete.

After two years in judo, this is his third tournament. He expects to receive his second-level yellow belt next week. 

Wilson says judo has helped him to become more mindful.



“It’s a big challenge,” he said. “There’s a lot of physical movement involved and it really tests your body strength and your ability to do things.”

With more experience, he hopes to compete in Edmonton and beyond at national and international championships.

In the meantime, the sport offers some fun family bonding.

 “I get to throw around my dad, and my two brothers, and all my uncles,” he said.

“They are always trying to fight me one way or another, just play-fighting, wrestling and stuff.”

Respect for yourself and others

Initially hosted in Yellowknife, this weekend’s event formed the second annual Arctic Open, said organizer and Inuvik Sensei Ed Hartley.

“We moved it up here to Inuvik so that we actually have the Arctic Open in the Arctic, where it belongs,” he said, adding that Yellowknife also hosts a North of 60 tournament each fall.

“Yes, you’re going to have bumps, scrapes, and some sore feet and some sore arms,” he said. “The biggest thing is having everybody have fun.”



He said the event is also good practise for coaches as athletes return to tournaments.

Hartley said he kept Inuvik’s Kuzuri Judo Club going during the pandemic, managing the art of Covid-19 non-contact in a contact sport. During 2020, athletes practised breaking falls and rolls. By winter 2021, they were able to practise in groups of of four, sectioned off on mats.

Referring to Wilson Elliot, the NWT judoka who won Canada Winter Games bronze in 2019, he said: “Hopefully we see some potentials in here today for the next winter games.”

“Our biggest hurdle is money,” he said. “I took five kids down to Yellowknife and it cost $12,000.”

Hartley, formerly a teacher in Aklavik, believes that even for athletes who don’t reach the highest level, judo builds life skills like respect.

“Everybody’s the same when they come on the mat,” he said.

“You have to be prepared to hold on to people, so we have to instil all those things like respect for other people and respect for yourself, your mind, body and soul … how you live your life, too.”