Quebec City welcomes Sudbury martial arts trio
by Randy Pascal
The myriad of martial arts and wide variety of different styles contained within each of these groupings can make it quite difficult to navigate your
way, as a reporter, through the sports of judo, tae kwon do, karate, jiu-jitsu and such.
Thankfully, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognizes only the World Karate Federation (WKF), making it a much simpler route to
follow for those athletes who might strive to reach that particular pinnacle of their sporting discipline.
Closer to home, this would mean that national championships offered under the umbrella of Karate Canada, those events which would see the
provincial team in this area operate under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Karate Federation, would fall in line with the above-noted worldwide
All of this is precisely why the Sudbury trio of Connor Di Salle, Marissa Meandro and Duncan Smith took such great pride in earning the
right to compete at the recent 2017 National Championships in Quebec City.
Qualifying requirements, in and of themselves, are no easy chore. “There are Karate Ontario (now OKF) tournaments, and the top three people would get
points, and at the end of the year, the top three people with points would get through to nationals,” noted Di Salle, making his first appearance on the
big stage at the age of just twelve.
“Or if you win your division at the Ontario Summer Games, you qualify.” In fact, Di Salle would do both, cementing the legitimacy of his presence
at the event in which teams representing both British Columbia and Quebec tend to boast the bulk of the top-end talent.
Like both of his local teammates, as well as the remainder of the Team Ontario crew, Di Salle has spent the past few months fine-tuning the
technique needed to shine in these head to head showdowns.
“Last year, I was working a lot more on my power and speed,” he said. “That really helped me get to nationals. It takes a lot of practice using your
hips. Your hips generate a lot of power. You practice turning your hips into your movements.”
“When you’re moving, it should be really fast and crisp movements, but when you stop, it should just finish,” Di Salle added. “If you can’t stop, you’re
not controlling your power.” Few at the Benoit Martial Arts Studio, home to all of the Sudbury qualifiers, can appreciate this concept more than 15
year old Marissa Meandro.
Cracking the roster that would represent her province at nationals for the third time in her career, Meandro also competed last summer at the Junior
Pan-American championships in Ecuador. “Every year it gets tougher, as you move up in the age divisions,” she said. “I think I improve all of the time,
regardless of the competition. I gain new experience, new knowledge, from every tournament I go in.”
From a results standpoint alone, Meandro would show the way for the local troika, capturing silver in the “kata individual female cadets”, while
also taking part in the junior bracket as well. “I’ve definitely gotten a lot stronger,” she stated. “I’ve been training down south a lot, with a bit of a
new style, getting feedback from all of my instructors.”
“I need more speed with some of my moves,” Meandro continued. “I have very good technique. I am working at RHP a lot on plyometrics, a lot of jumping
and fast movements. A little more speed would bring up my whole kata game.”
Much like Meandro, Duncan Smith brings with him an interestingly diversified martial arts resumé, albeit for drastically different reasons. Born in
Texas but having moved to South Carolina while still quite young with his family, Smith has had to adapt to the changing environment of his sport, as the
clan made their way to his mother’s native country, and Sudbury more specifically.
“I used to live in South Carolina and I did Tae Kwon Do there,” he explained. “It’s a completely different style, with tae kwon do more fighting than
forms. I like forms (katas) better, it’s more controlled than sparring. At nationals, if you didn’t know what you were doing in sparring, you would get
Like Di Salle, the 12 year old relative newcomer to Northern Ontario was also making his first appearance at the All-Canada competition. He would take
his first match by a margin of 3-2, in the eyes of the judges, falling in round two.
Even at a young age, the strategy in deciding which of the katas competitors have at their disposal is not an easy decision to make. “I went over my
strengths, and the person I was against, because I knew their style,” said Smith.
“I didn’t want to do their style, and not my style, and have them be better than me.” As Meandro can readily attest, the experience alone of competing
at this level is a valuable one, a lesson than was not lost on her two more youthful counterparts.
“It was kind of nerve-wracking, but it was fun,” acknowledged Smith. “I knew a bunch of people from tournaments, and you make friends at training
sessions and at nationals.” In fact, even a change in format was not enough to deter the enthusiasm of the local contingent.
“At Karate Ontario’s, you go up and do a kata on your own and they mark you,” explained Di Salle. “At nationals, you go head to head, and then the
judges put up a flag for whoever they thought won. That was pretty cool.”