Q&A with Tony Van Rootselaar, Chief Instructor/Sensei, Rycroft-Spirit River Kitakaze Martial Arts Club

FROM LEFT: Tony Van Rootselaar, Anastasia Potratz and Koleton Chubey

Is the Kitakaze Martial Arts Club starting up its classes again?
Yes, the Kitakaze Martial Arts Club has decided to resume classes beginning on November 1. Classes are held on Mondays and Thursdays at 6:30-7:30pm for beginners and at 7:30-9pm for advanced with the last half hour being optional. Participants range in ages from 8 and up. Our Facebook page is Rycroft-Spirit River Kitakaze Martial Arts Club, which is where we post our updates.

Who will the instructors be, and what is their martial arts background?
The main instructors will be myself, Koleton Chubey and Anastasia Potratz. All of us are black belts in the Shorin Ryu style of karate. I earned my first-degree black belt (Shodan) in 2004, my second-degree black belt (Nidan) in 2007, and third-degree black belt (Sandan) in 2014. Koleton Chubey earned his Shodan in 2008 and his Nidan in 2010. Anastasia Potratz earned her Shodan in 2011 and her Nidan in 2013.

What are the age categories in the club?
We have found over the years that instead of having a kids class and an adult class, we have a beginners and an advanced class. When doing any sort of partner drill, we do most of the pairing based on body size rather than age. We find this works better because the odd time there won’t be enough of your same body size you may have to pair up with someone bigger or smaller. We feel like this teaches a more adaptive method of learning these skills in the sense that when you are paired up with someone smaller, you must show more control in your movements. Conversely, if you are paired up with someone bigger, you learn how to deal with a size disadvantage, which could very well be a situation that people run into in everyday life.

Can you tell us a bit about the origins of karate?
The evolution of modern karate largely dates back to the 17th century when Samurai rulers placed a ban on weapons on the island of Okinawa. Karate-do translates into the way of the empty hand. Most weapons utilized in karate find their origins with common farm tools of the day. While it has evolved, karate, in its purest form, includes close- and long-range fighting, grappling, throws, and joint manipulation.

What styles of martial arts do you focus on in the club?
Kitakaze (which translates to North Wind in Japanese) Martial Arts Club has evolved from training solely as a traditional Okinawan karate club (Shorin Ryu Style) to also incorporating Systema, a Russian martial arts combat system utilized within their special operations units. We have held annual seminars with T. Watanabe, a 7th dan in Shorin-Ryu Karate from Montreal, as well as Systema instructor Emmanuel Manolakakis from Fight Club in Toronto.

What is it that students learn when participating in martial arts?
Students learn a number of things through the club such as respect for yourself and others, teamwork when training with classmates in the club and confidence. Unlike many sports, martial arts also require you to utilize and train both sides of your body, which is unique from a physical-activity standpoint. Superior balance, speed, hand-eye coordination, body movement, agility, power and composure are all skill sets we focus on that translate well into other sports that our students are encouraged to participate in. While these skills are not learned overnight, it is often quite amazing how quickly over the course of the first year that noticeable change occurs. In that sense, we have often said raw talent does not impress us; hard work does. Raw talent often quits. If you work hard enough for long enough, confidence and talent will find you. And we believe that those hard-working attributes create better members of society.

Is the main purpose of martial arts to be able to defend yourself?
Karate today has different meanings for different people. For some, it is a desire to learn the skills required for self defense; for others, it is about regaining lost flexibility, strength, and balance. As an excellent complementary style, Systema takes you into a realm of situational awareness, threat assessment, breathing, and a myriad of things that the average person wouldn’t associate martial arts with. That said, both find their origins as combat arts.

How long does it take to develop the skills and reflexes used in karate and Systema?
Most, if not all, skills involved in martial arts are not learned overnight; it takes time and dedication for most. There will be plenty of long classes, sweat, tears, and probably a little blood on the journey to becoming successful martial artists. It is very easy to get frustrated when doing something like this, but we tell all our students that we did not get to this point overnight. If you asked any martial artist if the end goal was worth the journey, they would answer with one word: “Absolutely”.

What made you become a martial arts instructor?
Tony: The local instructor back in 2003-2004 left the area, so instead of seeing our community lose the club, Ken Macfarlane and I took on the role. In retrospect, a lot of credit for us becoming instructors for local youth/adults goes to a former teacher and coach at our local high school (many will know of whom I speak). The dedication and personal time that was given to us as athletes was beyond what you could ask for. As a basketball/badminton coach, he had a profound impact on many of us; hopefully, we, as instructors, have a similar positive effect.

Koleton: Karate has given me so much over the years. It has taught me respect for myself and others, and given me confidence. I felt like it was one place I really fit in. I guess becoming an instructor is my way of giving back to the sport that has offered me so many opportunities for personal growth. Seeing students finally understand a technique that they may have struggled with is the best feeling; it reminds me of the hard work and dedication I put in when I was coming up in the sport. The fact that people show up for classes day after day even when struggling makes it incredibly easy to show up and teach.


  • Location: Operates out of Rycroft School
  • E-mail: avanr@hotmail.com
  • Facebook: Rycroft-Spirit River Kitakaze Martial Arts Club