You only get one shot at winning the rookie of the year award.
Long-time Sudbury resident Charles Fink made the most of his freshman season, in a sense, and was recognized by the Ontario Karate Federation (OKF) in the process.
Earlier this year, the Charles Fink Karate Dojo was awarded the “New Club of the Year” honours at the provincial banquet of the OKF, a nice little feather in the cap of a late-blooming martial artist who owes much of his development in the sport to his time spent honing his craft with the Laurentian Karate Club and sensei Craig Vokey.
“I really didn't have the time or resources to become involved until I got to university,” said Fink. “But my schedule was such that I was able to do this, then, and I fell in love with it right away. I began my training, after walking in with no experience at all.”
That changed quickly.
Starting his workouts in 1994, Fink ascended to a black belt by the time that 1999 rolled around. On a parallel path, he was in the process of obtaining his B.A. (Psychology) and his Bachelor of Education degrees, a melding of interest that would very much shape the direction that he would take, within the sport, for the next few decades.
“I progressed up through the ranks (in karate) at the same time I was progressing through my post-secondary education, so the idea of education, of academic growth and martial arts growth, was completely interwoven,” suggested Fink.
“I have a very educational and analytical approach to my practice of martial arts. When I teach, I bring three aspects to each lesson: the academic approach, the athletic approach, and the authentic approach. We teach it in a way that would be in harmony with the way it is taught in Japan.”
What they teach at his facility, located on Falconbridge Highway in Garson, is likely the most common form of karate that is taught in Greater Sudbury, namely the “Goju” style, one that is also practiced extensively at both the Laurentian Karate Club and Benoit's Martial Arts.
All three clubs are also among the group of dojos that are affiliated with the OKF, which enjoys a link, via Karate Canada, to the World Karate Federation, the one body within the various streams of karate that is recognized by the International Olympic Committee.
Still, broken down to its basic elements, Fink acknowledges that martial arts, in general, likely enjoy at least as many similarities as differences. “From a martial arts perspective, a punch is a punch and a kick is a kick,” he said. “The human body can only move in so many ways, and from a self-defense perspective, that's what you have to leverage.”
“It's about finding a way to use my advantages against your disadvantages, and that doesn't matter what culture or part of the world where your martial art has come from, which is usually the big divide.”
Opening the doors on his new business in the fall of 2017, Fink would start from very modest beginnings. “My first student walked in the door in November, and he's been training with me since. In 2018, we experienced a great deal of growth, more and more members coming through, upgraded facilities, upgraded equipment, just growth that comes from exposure and other things.”
As he looks forward to what might lie ahead, Fink beams with pride as he first acknowledges the Sudbury based athletes who have excelled at provincial and national competitions (Justin Lanteigne, Sean Grech, etc...), as well as the current success of Benoit's Marissa Meandro.
The bar before him has been set high.
“It takes time to develop a martial artist,” he said. “Very few are those who can walk in the first day and be exceptionally good. It will take me some time to develop national caliber athletes, coaches and officials. It will take some time to grow my club to the point of competing with the 300+ member clubs down south.”
Yet there is plenty of reason for optimism.
“Karate has very high numbers, world-wide,” Fink added. “A lot of people practice karate. To rise above the masses and become even a provincial champion, in Ontario, is a big deal. To rise beyond Ontario to a national championship is a significant achievement.”
In the meantime, baby steps ahead. “I would love for my students to get involved with some of the local tournaments – they're a hoot,” stated Fink. But it is more with an eye on a long-term objective that the award-winning northern native begins to assemble the path he years to travel.
“It's really important to understand that as a chief instructor of a club, I do not operate in a vacuum. I spend a considerable amount of time with my own instructor, and his instructor, and some of the masters that we have throughout the world.”
“We get together often, for professional development, training, sharing of knowledge and so on,” Fink added. “It's mission critical to my growth, and my students' growth. Professional development just never ends.”
Thankfully, it's also sometimes rewarded.