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ASHER WRITES ABOUT: Our swashbuckling youth columnist discovers hockey alternatives

There are plenty of challenging pursuits for athletes around Stratford, including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, aerial gymnastics and fencing
Owner Ryan O'Shea teaches Asher a few moves at Stratford Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy.

Stratford is a hockey town. But what if you don’t play hockey? What else is there to do?

Well, there are a lot of really cool activities to try after school throughout the winter. 

At the end of the day, do you ever just want to wrestle one of your friends to the ground? Well, at Stratford Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy that’s exactly what we get to do! But it’s even more than having fun and learning self-defence. According to Coach Ryan O’Shea, it’s also about learning to be respectful, to take care of yourself and to take care of others. 

Practicing BJJ makes you flexible, strong and teaches self-control. It forces you to stay calm and think about the way out.

It’s like “Involuntary Yoga,” said coach Ryan O’Shea. “A lot of the strength and flexibility is forced on you, like you’re lifting weights that are fighting back, and don’t want to be lifted, so you get strong and flexible.”

All the movements are natural, but it’s always a challenge, whether I’m grappling with an experienced student or with someone who’s totally new. A lot of the time I lose, but if I try hard enough, I progress. I’m still always going to have opponents that beat me, and that is humbling, but it’s very fun and exciting to progress.

As coach Ryan tells me, “In order to learn, you need people who can force you to be the nail once in a while, instead of just the hammer.”

I really like that, because when we’re sparring, everyone is different, and so I have to respect everyone. 

Sometimes we have to do the 'Plank of Doom', which means we stay in push-up position for a “minute.”

Just when we are almost finished the “torture,” coach Ryan teases us with his count down by saying, “5, 4, 3, 2…Aaachoo! Oh, where was I? Ah, yes…10, 9, 8…!” And when he finally gets to “4, 3, 2” again, he stops again and says, “Oh wait! I have to get some water!”

Meanwhile, the entire time, we are all screaming and laughing. And then after that…thirty military crunches. By the end, we’re all exhausted, and it’s awesome. This is really healthy and so fun, and I recommend it to everybody. 

It’s not every day that you get to hang upside down, unless you’re a bat.

Asher discovers his acrobatic skills. Photo courtesy of Adam Waxman. 

Nicole Smith tells me that she loves gymnastics, but wanted to try something different, so she took a silks class, fell in love with it and then opened Cirquesmith. It’s like acrobatics in the air. There are two big vines of stretchy fabric hanging from the ceiling, twined like spaghetti. They hold up to 300 pounds. There is one red pair, one purple pair and one light blue pair. They come down and drape on the floor. 

I wrap my foot and push myself up. For me, it’s like that moment on top of a rollercoaster before you’re about to drop. It’s that exciting. I lean back, and then flip upside down. It’s probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. That part is really cool. Once you secure your foot, then you can do all sorts of tricks, dangle in the air, climb up, and even wrap yourself up and start spinning around.

You can do front flips, swing, and all sorts of different positions like: Tip, Swan, Split Back, Peter Pan Roll Up, Merman/Mermaid and Man/Woman of the Moon. It’s a bit hard and pretty scary at first, but once you “get the hang of it,” it’s super fun. I like getting over the fear, and feeling accomplished.

Nicole tells me there are a lot of benefits to doing this and the aerial hoops. It’s really good for muscles, and building upper body strength and flexibility. The value of being upside down sometimes is in the oxygen, blood flow and circulation to our brains. I want to do this class 24/7.

I’m Jack Sparrow. Sometimes I’m Luke Skywalker, and sometimes, D'artagnan. Stratford Fencing Ontario is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and definitely one of the coolest things to do in Stratford.

Coach Darren and Asher practice fencing. Photo courtesy of Adam Waxman.

Fencing is a mental game as much as it is physical. You have to be able to think about your next move, what the possibilities are from that move, and simultaneously think about your opponent’s next move. My favourite part of the class is when I’m in a bout with someone, because it gives me real experience as a fencer. When you’re doing full-on fencing with all the gear, it’s tiring, but you can’t give up when someone is thrusting their foil at you.

We play agility games, and practice footwork and lunges. It has strengthened me, and made me a bit more agile, and, I think, boosted my awareness a bit. I have to be aware of what my opponent is going to do, where their foil is, and where their footing is. It forces me to anticipate and helps me focus. It's a one-handed sport, so we have to do a lot of cross training to make sure we’re balanced. It’s also a very energetic sport, so if you want to get energy out, this is a really good thing to do.

Coach Darren Marks is a fencing master. He grew up in Europe, where fencing is very popular. 

According to the International Academy of Arms, Darren is a Maestro, and that’s what he’s called in Europe, but here in Stratford, we call him “coach.”

Darren tells me that the Italian motto at the club is, “un maestro di scherma è un maestro di vita,” which means, “a master of fencing is a master of life.”

I think that’s true, because fencing requires physical fitness, coordination and resilience. We have to learn to make decisions in control while doing things at speed. For example, in one minute, a high-level fencer will change direction over 300 times. So, in one match that would be 900 times.

I used to play with sticks (still do,) but now I’m a real swashbuckler!