Rooted is all about the people and the places that make us proud to call our community home.
Martial Arts has been a lifelong passion for Chris Marceau.
“I started training in 1969 and back then in northern Ontario there was only Judo and so my first judo tournament was in 1970 in Capreol and I was only six years old,” says Marceau, the owner and operator of Marceau’s Martial Arts on O’Brien Street in North Bay.
Marceau’s uncle was a junior instructor and he would go to his classes with him.
“I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I’ve never looked back since then.”
Marceau says his dad eventually took up the sport as well and right from day one it was something he trained hard at.
“I did a lot of travelling and trained under different instructors, I saw lots of stuff that I thought would be good for me, and eventually what was good for my own dojo." (a room in which judo and other martial arts are practiced)
"When I was in high school, I actually had three clubs going. I had a club at Algonquin, West Ferris and Chippewa, as well as training with the two dojos that were operating in town,” he says.
Marceau opened his first dojo in 1986 on Main Street, above the arcade across from Moose's Cookhouse called Nipissing District Dojo. He moved to Wyld Street in 1991 and the club became Marceau’s Martial Arts in 1994.
“Nobody knew where Nipissing was. Everybody knew where North Bay was but there was already a club affiliated with that name and so I figured to differentiate we went with my last name and that’s been a staple in martial arts across the north ever since.”
A staple that has seen thousands of students come through the doors.
“Having taught since 1980, I’ve probably taught 8,000-9,000 different people. I’m now teaching grandchildren and great-grandchildren of people I taught. I started teaching when I was 16 and first got my black belt. I was already at that point teaching people in their late 20s or early 30s so to see them come back and tell their children or grandchildren ‘this is the guy who taught me and he’ll teach you now that’s pretty cool.”
Marceau says there was never any issue with being so young and teaching people who were older than him.
“When we were younger, we didn’t look at anybody by age. We were taught to respect everybody according to their belt level and get them to do what they could, not necessarily what we could do, but get them to be the best so that they would get better on their own. As long as they were seeing progress, that was the most important thing,” he says.
“And really age is just a number. If everything goes right, I’ll be competing again soon.”
Competing is something that has taken Marceau to a lot of places.
“We’ve competed all over Ontario, Quebec, and some of the northern states. In 2008 myself and two of my younger black belts at the time went over to compete in France which was an unbelievable week over there of training, touring, and competing. Then my son and I went to Greece in 2018 to compete as well. Tournaments have really started ramping up again this year after COVID-19 put a stop to them for a while.”
Marceau says the pandemic hurt the numbers for their classes.
“We didn’t get any support from the government but we managed to get through. People were donating pop cans, batteries and other things we could turn into cash. We did some fundraising because we were supposed to go away and compete before the pandemic hit and I told everyone that we were going to use their funds to help the dojo in whatever manner I could,” says Marceau.
“Everybody was all for it. They understand what we do for children and how it’s a good thing to have in the community and we managed to scrape by and the club survived. We’re lucky to have that community support because I know some gyms down south that didn’t.”
Marceau also operates his own security company around town. Marceau says he started as a bouncer in the 1980s at The Voyager when he was looking for a summer job. “I got the job and I’ve been bouncing around town ever since. I just keep getting asked out to go play and have a good time. I still do it now, mostly to mentor the younger guys. I teach them how to read body language, how to speak with people, how to check ID’s,” he says.
“I also teach the use of force class for the Corrections Program at Canadore College. I have them come in and work with some of my senior students. We really focus on wording in those classes.”
Marceau says when it comes down to the legalities of their job, they have to be aware of everything they say and do.
“If they ever have to use what we have taught them, they need the right wording in their reports. For instance, you can’t just write in your report that you put someone in a guillotine choke hold until they passed out. You have to use proper terminology and be professional about every incident you are involved in.”
Marceau says the basis of what they teach at the dojo is karate.
“It’s a lot of striking, but with my background, we have a lot of influence in traditional judo and Japanese jiu-jitsu. If we stick true to our guns and we continue to do well at what we teach and people are happy with that, you know you’re doing the job right,” he says.
“If your kids are interested and you’re not sure which club to go to, talk to the instructors, and see what they offer for complimentary classes. Go in and watch how the kids are being taught and ask questions for people that are coming off the floor. If it's not good, don’t be there and if it’s not what you want, go check out another club until you find one that fits you and your goals or your child's goals.”
There have also been children who have trained under Marceau, even if they haven’t had the financial means to do so.
“If your kid is keen, get them in here. We’ve got different things we can do, to help cover someone's expenses. We do whatever we can to help the kids out, that’s where all my time and effort go into, and right now there are so many financial barriers not allowing kids to get involved. Some of my better students are sponsor students and it's because they want to be here and I’m here for that.”
Marceau says the dojo does help boost the local economy in certain ways. For one, while he doesn’t host a tournament, he does do a seminar with instructors and trainers from around the world coming in. He adds that when he was on the circuit and competing regularly, he was doing upwards of 35 tournaments a year.
“I can’t express enough thanks to the people in town who sponsored me over the years for those tournaments. And there were a lot of them. For instance, we would leave on a Friday night and get to Pickering and compete there on Saturday, pack up and drive to Niagara Falls and do a tournament there on Sunday and then pack up and get back to North Bay for Monday morning to go to work,” says Marceau.
“Those were years where you really didn’t see much of your home on the weekends. But doing those tournaments, you can’t put a value on that. When you see other people and you get to study their technique, or you get to do a little sports psychology and you get to talk to them and learn how they compete and why. You bring that home and you have a whole new way of looking at how to offer that to our own students.”
Marceau says competitions come at different times for different students. He says everyone has a different learning curve and he bases it on the student's eagerness and willingness to learn.
“If we know there is a tournament coming up and you want to compete, I will do what I can to prepare you for that tournament and go. If you get there and you choke up and you realize you’re not ready, that’s fine, but sit there and take it in and cheer on the rest of the club. Sometimes you can get as much out of watching as you can competing, but once you’re out there, it’s a rush.”
Marceau says on top of competing to get better at the sport, he preaches hard work will be what puts you at the top.
“Some parents aren’t fond of that sometimes. You don’t win second place, you win first, you lose second, you win third, and you lose fourth. A lot of parents want their children to all be winners. That’s not what I want, I want them to be try-ers. Just try your best. If you win congratulations, and if you don’t win, we’ll come back and figure out what we can do differently and work harder at that.”
Marceau says he’s always been in it because of his love of the sport.
“I only know a few people who have ever actually made money operating a dojo. If it wasn’t for the other jobs I have, it wouldn’t be possible to keep doing this. I do this because it's what I know and it's what I have been trained to do.”
If you have a story idea for the “Rooted” series, send Matt an email at [email protected]