The owner and students of a popular karate program in Mission feared they were on the city’s chopping block, highlighting the struggle for programming space as the community keeps growing.
Mission’s former seniors centre is going to be repurposed into a dedicated youth centre, council unanimously voted on April 6, but the change will displace the Mission Isshin Ryu Karate Club, along with several other programs.
The club’s owner and master for the last 13 years, Peter Motut, said he understands the need for a youth centre, but when it comes to matted, flat, activity space, the city needs to be expanding, not taking away.
“(The program) has benefited so many … It’s low barrier, it’s low cost, you don’t need a ton of gear,” Motut said, adding no one questions the need for public pools or ice rinks.
“There’s other sports that could use (space); from ballet, to dance classes, to fencing to mixed-martial arts, jiu jitsu, Aikido, and boxing.”
The new youth centre will only have one multi-purpose room, with two former multi-purpose rooms to be converted for more permanent uses. As a result, two karate classes running simultaneously for 70 plus members will have to move.
Motut and other supporters met with the mayor and city planners to go over their options on July 12.
Maureen Sinclair, Mission’s director of Parks, Recreation and Culture said the gym at the Mission Leisure Centre and a smaller gym at the Heritage Park Centre have been floated so far.
She said the challenge is finding space as the community grows, and adding a new youth centre has been a “pressure point” for 15 years.
“We’re trying to find a way to accommodate a lot of programming with limited spaces,” Sinclair said. “There was the need to look at how much space (there is), who gets space, how the space is allocated.”
She said that reallocation of programming space is fairly common, and while new activity space will eventually be built, it is years away.
“No one wants to displace karate. If we could just build a new building to accommodate a purpose-build, just-for-youth building, that would be amazing. The challenge is that it’s expensive,” she said.
“There is a bit of compromise, and it feels a little bit like pushing and shoving as people are looking for space, but this is not the only activity that’s been impacted, and surely will not be the last.”
Sinclair said the municipality will continue to support the program.
The July 12 meeting has cooled concerns that the dojo would not be helped with the transition, according to Motut.
Initially, he thought the dojo would only be able to teach one-third of the members, as he runs a business full time, and couldn’t host classes in multiple locations unless he retired early.
“At first it felt more like an ‘Our way or the highway,’ approach,” he said. “It’s really tough for me to spend more than 15 hours a week doing this kind of labour of love.”
Concessions will still have to be made. A future dojo space will need storage space, audio-visual space for classroom instruction, mirrors, and the ability to divide the classes by experience group, Motut said. The latter of which is a “non-starter,” as he can’t hire more staff.
Motut started in the program 30 years ago, met and proposed to his wife, Tracy, on the dojo floor, and eventually became its master. He said it’s important to him to keep the program low-barrier, and provide the same quality of instruction.
“When I started it was $25 a month, you know, we didn’t have a lot of money, and a lot of people in Mission don’t,” he said.
“Some of the best martial artists in our style … are coming out of Mission. That’s a testament to the fact that this program is successful.”