Michelle Critch is no stranger to international karate competition, but she has never experienced such competition in her home province.
This month she will, when hundreds of competitors from around the world come to St. John’s for the World Traditional Karate-Do Championships.
Critch is more than just a competitor.
She is chairperson of the organizing committee, and the Team Canada manager.
Born in Grand Falls-Windsor, Critch’s family moved to Badger when she was 15 and she lived there for many years.
She moved back to Grand Falls-Windsor seven years ago with her mom when her dad passed away.
Growing up, she was always physically active, participating in sports like figure skating and gymnastics.
After high school, however, she says the sports choices for adults was limited.
Then she learned that karate classes were starting in Badger.
“I had no idea or interest in karate before, so I thought that may give me the physical activity that I need,” Critch told The Central Voice. “That was back in 1983. Once I walked in the door my life changed from there.”
After a few months of karate in Badger the organizers decided to have everyone train in Grand Falls-Windsor, so she travelled back and forth.
Critch opened her own club when the teacher left, and has had her own club ever since; currently it operates from High Street.
Critch began competing nationally in 1991, and won her first national event in Italy in 1994 to earn a spot on the Canadian team.
“Every year after that I attended an international event because every two years is a worlds and every two years is a Pan Americans.”
She became the first Canadian ever to win a World Karate Championship in Switzerland in 2004.
She also trained a world champion.
Marina Evans from Grand Falls-Windsor started training with Critch when she was a young girl.
“I used to always tell her, ‘You have the ability to be a world champion, you are going to be the next world champion for Canada’,” Critch recalls.
After moving to Saskatchewan, Evans continued training.
“And sure enough, in 2010 she was the next Canadian to win the world championships and she beat the same girl in the same event that I did six years prior,” Critch said.
Critch retired from competition in 2008, deciding to focus on coaching and the administrative side of the sport.
This year, however, however a 10-year hiatus, she returned to competition, winning two golds and a silver at a competition in Saskatoon.
“I wanted to do it just to show the young people that it’s not just a young person’s discipline,” Critch said. “Karate is something you can do your entire life, it becomes a way of life.”
She adds karate is a sport that is not just about competition.
“It teaches kids to be more respectful for themselves, for others.
“Poland has done a study that children that train in the martial arts tend to do better in school, (and have) less incidence of bullying because it’s teaching them respect.”
Bringing the world to N.L.
Last year Canada was asked to host the World Traditional Karate-Do Championships and Newfoundland and Labrador was the chosen destination.
From Oct. 22-28, with the actual competition on Oct. 26 and 27, 800-1,000 athletes of all ages and coaches from around the world will converge on Mile One Stadium in St. John’s.
There are 61 countries registered under the World Traditional Karate Federation, however, Newfoundland is an expensive place to visit, Critch said, so she is hopeful at least half of these countries will be represented at the event.
There are competitors expected from Poland, Uzbekistan, Russia, Ukraine, Great Britain, Czech Republic, Peru, Brazil, Uruguay, United States and of course Canada, among others.
Critch said about 35 athletes from Grand Falls-Windsor, and a group from Lewisporte, as well as some from Gander who train with her, will be competing.
The competition is not just for adults.
The Children’s World Cup will take place on Oct. 26 with categories for seven-and-under and coloured belts right up to 17 years old.
There will also be a junior black belt division in the world black belt championships on Saturday.
“There was a time when I started that the world championships were only for black belts, only adults for the best in the world,” Critch said. “The last couple of years Poland has been really paving the way to introduce children, so they are calling it the Children’s Peace Cup and the World Traditional Children’s Championships.
“We are trying to use the world black belt championship as a platform for the kids to be exposed to international competition, meeting friends from all over the world.”
Two years ago Critch took a group of children to Poland to the World Championships. There, she says, they made friends with children from all over the world.
“I tell all the children when we are preparing that it’s not about winning gold, silver or bronze, it’s the entire experience of being part of such an amazing event that only happens every two years, and only happens in one of 60 countries every two years,” Critch said. “Being able to experience it now in our province — in our country — they will probably never experience it again.”
“What I want to get out of this is for everyone who’s coming from around the world to have an amazing experience of Newfoundland, something that they’ve never experienced in any other country in their life, and I want them to have a good experience with the competition – that it was well run, everything went on time, and they were well taken care of,” Critch said. “That’s my goal is everyone coming and having an amazing time.”