Lethbridge’s History with Combat Sports

Written by Andres Salazar

Every city has its own symbol of its sporting heritage. Places like Montreal and Calgary have world-famous examples of their hockey teams, like the Montreal Canadians and the Calgary Flames, and the city of Toronto is known for its strength in basketball, baseball, and hockey all at once. Lethbridge is no different; the Hurricanes are one of the main images of our small, windy community.  

While Lethbridge is mostly known for its WHL team, the city is also the home of several other important athletic figures and places. Interestingly, Lethbridge has a surprisingly strong connection to combat sports. Our quiet little town has been the base for a handful of athletes who became pioneers in different fight sports and coaches who helped Lethbridge gain recognition on an international scale. While it isn’t particularly well known, here are a couple of examples that show how Lethbridge has a shockingly deep history with combat sports: 

Lethbridge has always had a strong link with Japanese culture. Whether it’s through the relaxing Nikka Yuko Japanese garden or the exotic ingredients and flavours courtesy of Nakagama’s Japanese Foods, our community has a rich Japanese heritage. For martial arts, the Kyodokan Judo Club is the shining example. The Judo Club by the college is famous for its involvement with the local community and the global judo competitive scene. Since its opening in 1952 (HoF, 2020), not only has it become a hub for those looking to improve their health and learn more about discipline, but it has also cemented itself as one of Canada’s top national training centers. The Lethbridge judo club is celebrated for several achievements, including having one of the country’s only ninth-degree black belts (Judo Alberta, 2013), with the club’s founder, Yoshio Senda, and also many athletes who have made it into the Canadian national team.  

The city’s link with traditional martial arts doesn’t end there. One of the most commonly practiced martial arts is karate. It seems that most people have had some experience akin to getting a yellow belt when they were kids and never going back to their club. For those in Lethbridge, the experience was likely in the Taka karate school. Following his immigration to Canada, Taka Kinjo opened his karate dojo in 1973, making it one of the most important parts of Lethbridge’s sports history. Kinjo received his 10th Dan black belt in 2013 (Taka Karate, 2009), one of karate’s highest ranks, precisely showing how the city is home to important figures in Canadian martial arts history. Kinjo is also an important figure for the Alberta Okinawan community, proudly representing his southern Japanese heritage through its traditional combat style.

While it may not be obvious at first glance, Lethbridge also has a deep connection with the modern combat sports scene. MMA is a relatively young sport compared to boxing and kickboxing, and our windy city has been involved with it since the beginning. Lethbridge has had a presence in modern combat sports through athletes such as Brad Wall, Lee Mein, and, later, Jordan Mein, who have been competing in kickboxing and MMA since the late 90s. These pioneers have had competitions with the likes of people such as Dan Severn, who was an early champion of the UFC, and Belal Muhammad, who is currently ranked among the top 10 UFC fighters (Tapology, 2023). Even now, having taken a larger role in coaching, the three are helping newcomers step into the cage or ring for the first time, with the PFA (Progressive Fighting Academy) and the CMC (Canadian Martial Arts Centre) hosting several currently active professional and amateur fighters.

While Lethbridge is mostly known for the Hurricanes hockey team, it doesn’t mean that the city doesn’t have a rich history relating to other sports. Although sports like karate, judo, and MMA don’t have the same level of popularity as hockey or soccer, those combat sports represent how Lethbridge is home to numerous hidden gems. The sports and the people behind them help this southern Alberta town become a place with great athletic significance. Many people, including many university students, call Lethbridge boring and generally uninteresting. However, these clubs and fighters prove otherwise, showing that Lethbridge really does have a surprisingly deep and fascinating relationship with different combat sports.

References

Canadian Martial Arts Centre. (2023). Tapology. https://www.tapology.com/gyms/380-canadian-martial-arts-centre

Judo Alberta. (2013). Biographies. Judo Alberta Official Website. https://judoalberta.com/index.php/biographies/

 A Brief History of Judo in Lethbridge. (2020). Lethbridge Sports Hall of Fame. https://www.lethbridgesportshalloffame.ca/sport-history-items/a-brief-history-of-judo-in-lethbridge/

About the Dojo. (2009). Taka Karate. https://takakarate.com/index/about/

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