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'Pioneer' in promoting Nova Scotia karate still going strong

Windsor resident David Griffin can't imagine life without karate.
Windsor resident David Griffin can't imagine life without karate.

THREE MILE PLAINS, N.S. — Karate is more than just a sport for David Griffin. It's a way of life.

The 60-year-old Windsor man is considered a pioneer, helping karate take a foothold in Nova Scotia, and has dedicated three-quarters of his life to promoting the sport.

The 60-year-old Windsor man is considered a pioneer, helping karate take a foothold in Nova Scotia, and has dedicated three-quarters of his life to promoting the sport.

When he was a competitor, David Griffin was known for his kicks and aggressive fighting style.
David Griffin first made Nova Scotia's karate team in 1975 and attended nationals. In the years that followed, he won numerous medals. Now, he's teaching his students how to achieve success.

“It feels like quite an accomplishment but I can't see my life unfolding any differently because I've been doing it so long that this is just part of what I do now. It's just another day and another year,” said Griffin at his dojo, the Windsor Karate Club, in Three Mile Plains.

When Griffin saw the movie, Billy Jack, he became enthralled with the sport.

“I was just so fascinated with this character and his ability and skills on the big screen. It was about two years before any martial arts/karate club came to our area,” said Griffin.

And when karate came to Halifax in 1972, he took it up.

“It was about a year after that that the Bruce Lee craze hit the market with Enter the Dragon and all those movies.”

Griffin was a natural. He worked hard to perfect his skills.

Kal Helppi, who runs the Shikomu Karate Club in Burlington, Ontario, trained with Griffin in the early years.

“If you called him a pioneer of organized karate activity in Nova Scotia, you wouldn't be wrong in saying that,” said Helppi in a phone interview.

“We were just young boys. We were 17 or 18 or something. We were wide-eyed and learning this new mysterious thing that nobody knows anything about.”

David Griffin runs the Windsor Karate Club in Three Mile Plains and teaches all ages and skill levels.
David Griffin was just a teenager when he started karate. He's pictured here in 1973 with the founder of Chito-Ryu, Dr. Tsuyoshi Chitose.

They trained at the Atlantic Karate Club, and, Helppi said, spent a lot of time studying the art form.

“We didn't have the Internet. We didn't have masters all around to teach us,” said Helppi. “We went around to the library and we found books and we got magazines from the United States. I think we pretty much invented it back then, to be honest with you.”

Helppi said Griffin was a leader right from the beginning.

“Dave was about one of most athletic and talented ones of us all. He was the guy that everybody sort of looked up to – who said here's how you do things correctly. He was only a 17-year-old kid at the time,” Helppi recalled.

“He took a leadership role pretty early I think and became a role model for many of us for how to do things correctly. He was known back then for his great kicks and very aggressive fighting style.”

 

The competitive years

Griffin's hard work and perseverance paid off, as he has received countless medals and accolades over the years.

“He's had an illustrious karate career,” said Helppi.

Griffin was first selected to compete on the Nova Scotia karate team in 1975. He quickly made a name for himself as he was a fierce competitor.

When he was a competitor, David Griffin was known for his kicks and aggressive fighting style.

The 1980s saw much success. In 1986, he represented Canada at the Third World Chito-Ryu Championships in Japan. In '87, he was selected to the Canadian Karate Team and was the co-recipient of the National Karate Association's sportsman award. It was that same year that Nova Scotia's karate team won the men's team fighting division – the only year that the provincial team has won it.

“That's a biggie for me. We've had a lot of talent come through after us but it was just the way the team came together. We were greater than the sum of our parts, so to speak,” said Griffin of the team award.

He began teaching karate in 1981 and in 1982, met his future wife, Theresa, who was a white belt at the time.

Griffin retired from active competition in 1988, but that didn't stop him from continuing to learn about the sport and receive accreditation for various levels. It also didn't stop the awards from coming.

“The reasons that I joined karate became totally different from the reasons why I stayed in it,” said Griffin, noting that is often the case for long-time members.

“I enjoyed the enthusiasm of competition, I enjoyed the intensity. I liked the goodwill and spirit of the competitors. You fought hard with each other and at the end of it, you were good friends. It was a nice atmosphere.”

David Griffin has countless medals to his name, including these gold medals from the National Blackbelt Championships in 2000.

In 1989, he became the head coach of Karate Nova Scotia – a post he held until 2001.

In 1992, he was named the head coach for Team Canada at the Fifth World Chito-Ryu Championships, in Australia.

When the National Karate Association of Canada held a masters division competition, he medalled in 1999, 2000 and 2001, holding several first and second place finishes in the kata and kumite classes.

In 2009, he was appointed chief referee for Karate Nova Scotia, taking over from Milton Bourque.

“He's passionate about his karate. He's a perfectionist. He probably knows more kata than anybody that I know,” said Bourque.

Bourque said Griffin “always strives to be the best” and to bring out the best in others.

The pair have officiated matches across the country and Bourque says Griffin is talented.

“He has a keen eye. He has a good control of the matches. He's one of the top referees probably in the country. He's well respected by all the different coaches and officials alike across Canada,” said Bourque.

In 2013, Griffin was named Karate Canada's 2013 Official of the Year. Also in 2013, he was the first person in Atlantic Canada to receive judging certification by the World Karate Federation (WKF).

While David Griffin doesn't remember every award he's won, he is particularly proud of being on Team Nova Scotia when they won the men's team fighting division at nationals in 1987. It was the only year that the provincial team has won a gold medal in that category.

On the horizon

Later this month, Griffin will be attending his 36th national karate championship. This time, he'll be officiating.

But he won't be alone at the 2017 Karate Canada National Championships in Quebec. He will be joined by students Jesse Niet, Angel Niet, Alex Lyghtle, Maddison Hollett, and Aiden Postma, plus club member Karen Armour, who will be coaching Team Nova Scotia.

Griffin said the club has seen great success over the years, and has produced students able to compete at a national level consistently.

Griffin's latest endeavour with officiating has seen him travel around the world. He recently returned from the Paris Open, where 79 countries sent several competitors.

“I've been to Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua, El Salvador, United States several times, Germany, Austria, Turkey, Japan, Indonesia, France... that's probably about it. Most of that has been recently and it's been for officiating,” said Griffin.

Now that karate has been approved as an Olympic sport, karate will likely return to the media spotlight.

“There is a possibility that people from this club could go to the Olympics in 2020,” said Griffin.

As for whether he will be heading there to coach or officiate, Griffin didn't rule out the possibility, but said it's a long road to be certified.

“It's all a possibility,” said Griffin. “It's not necessarily one of my goals right now because of my age and whatnot but I know that somebody coming behind me can certainly have that in the future.”

Teaching classes five days a week with upwards of 65 students, Griffin is optimistic about the future of the sport that has given him so much joy over the years.

David Griffin stands in the front lobby of the Windsor Karate Club, where visitors to the dojo are greeted by just a few of the many awards won over the years since the club opened in 1981.

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