Vankleek Hill veterinarian Glen Collard and Hawkesbury town councillor Antonios Tsourounakis traveled to Kobe, Japan to earn their fifth and fourth degree black belts

For Vankleek Hill Karate Master Glen Collard, more than a decade of study and five years of intensive training has finally come to fruition.

The Vankleek Hill veterinarian earned his fifth-degree black belt in Kyokushin Karate in December of 2022, traveling to Kobe, Japan for the test. Collard was joined on his trip to Japan by Hawkesbury Town Councillor Antonios (Tony) Tsourounakis, who earned his fourth-degree belt on the trip.

It was a long road for the 58-year-old Collard, who has been working towards the belt since earning his fourth degree belt in 2009. He began training in 2017 for the intense physical demands of his fifth degree test that was supposed to take place in 2018. However Collard’s grading test was delayed for administrative reasons and then postponed further by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not knowing when his test would be scheduled, Collard had to remain ready for his grading. Tsourounakis, whose test was scheduled at the same time, also had to stay ready, albeit for a shorter period than his training partner.

“It’s like training for the Olympics – you want to peak at the right time so you’ll be at your best level,” says Tsourounakis, 53, of Collard having to stay in top shape for four years. “He kept trying to maintain, because he didn’t know when he would be going. “That’s hard on the body.”

Kyokushin Karate belt levels

Hawkesbury Town Councillor Antonios (Tony) Tsourounakis (left) trains at Kyokushin Hawkesbury. Kyokushin is a stand-up fighting style of karate originating in Japan, that is rooted in a philosophy of self-improvement, discipline, and hard training. Submitted Photo

Kyokushin is a stand-up fighting style of karate originating in Japan, that is rooted in a philosophy of self-improvement, discipline, and hard training. Collard and Tsourounakis both study and are Senseis (instructors) at Kyokushin Hawkesbury, under Shihan Lino Gambuto – also a fifth-degree black belt .

In karate, each black belt level is known as a Dan. As a fifth Dan, Collard, who began martial arts in his home province of Prince Edward Island in 1991, has earned the title of Shihan. Shihan indicates the Master level in Kyokushin karate.

Tsourounakis earned the title of Yondan (Senior Sensei) by passing his fourth Dan test in Japan. Third Dan in Kyokushin is Sandan, while second Dan is Nidan and first is Shodan.

Students in Kyokushin Karate can do their grading up to third Dan in their home country. Forth and fifth Dan students must travel to Japan for their tests, which Collard did in 2009 for his fourth-degree belt grading.

The difference between testing for belts in Canada and in Japan is like night and day.

“First, second and third degrees are usually done in front of a panel of five instructors, while everyone else works out in the gymnasium doing forms,” Collard explains. “In Japan, there’s a panel of eight Japanese Shihans and a lot of times there are world masters that sit at this table to adjudicate those of us who are going our fourth or fifth Dan.”

“It’s a little bit stressful. All they have are pens and they’re writing down furiously while watching you us do our thing.”

One of the tests included having to jump up and kick a ball hanging eight feet in the air.

“I surprised myself,” says Collard, who also performed a full leg split, with his chest on the ground for his test. “It gives you a confidence boost to know you can do it.”

Years of experience an asset

Glen Collard

While the tests were physically challenging and neither are in their 20s anymore, both martial artists say their years of experience helped them enormously in the grading.

“Obviously our technique after 30 years is a lot smoother than someone who has just started,” Collard notes.

“I look back at videos of me doing my first-degree black belt and think, ‘who is this this guy?’,” laughs Tsourounakis. “I’m jumping around like a grasshopper.”

Collard and Tsourounakis say their families were extremely supportive during their longer-than-expected training.

“It’s a lot of time away from family,” says Collard, on the time spent training. “It’s one thing to do classes twice a week, but once you start working out five nights a week, it’s hard on family life.”

The pair are also very proud of their association with Kyokushin Hawkesbury, pointing out the high number of skilled martial arts instructors at the school.

“Most times, once you hit third degree, people tend to open their own schools,” says Collard. “For us to have two Fifths, a Fourth and five Third Dans, is very impressive.”

More information on Kyokushin Hawkesbury can be found on the school’s webpage at https://karatehawkesbury.com/?lang=en , or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/149485731770111/.

Shihan Glen Collard works with students at Kyokushin Hawkesbury. Photo: Reid Masson
Antonios Tsourounakis (centre) with some of the many martial artists he had to fight against in Kobe, Japan to earn his fourth-degree black belt in Kyokushin Karate. Submitted Photo