Hundreds of martial artists from across Canada are in Thunder Bay, Ont., this weekend for a major showcase event.
The 2022 Canadian Martial Arts Championships and Festival began Friday evening with an opening gala. The event continues Saturday and Sunday at Lakehead University's C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse.
"It's a very special and unique event," said managing coordinator Alan Tang of WushuOntario. "It's the first time being held in northern Ontario and of course, in Thunder Bay."
Tang said the event has more than one purpose. Not only is it part of the selection process for Canada's national wushu — defined by WushuCanada as "an officially recognized sport by the International Olympic Committee representing the essence of the Chinese Martial Arts" — but it will also hopefully spread awareness about the sport in the northern Ontario region.
"Many people have seen it, they just haven't realized it or recognized it for what it is," he said of wushu. "They see it in movies and film all the time, through Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, all Chinese kung fu action-based movies."
"This is the sport and the activity that people learn behind it."
Tang himself works in the film industry. He's amassed a number of credits, working as stunt coordinator, trainer, or performer in several well-known films, including: Marvel's Shang-Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings, Jupiter's Legacy, Birth of the Dragon, In the Tall Grass, Skyscraper, and Netflix's upcoming live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
"We're educating them on the different elements of the sport, the different styles," Tang said. "Much like when you're looking at gymnastics, you have parallel bars, you have floor routines, you have rings.
"In wushu, you have the straight sword, or the broadsword, the staff, the spear," he said. "These are terminologies that we really want to educate the public on.
"We want to educate them on the history and as well the athletes and how athletic the sport is," he said. "So many [people] know it as kung fu, as the traditional North American term. But wushu is the Olympic sport-recognized term for it."
Tang said the Thunder Bay event will help qualify athletes for the world and world junior championships, which are taking place in Indonesia in December.
And while the competitors appearing at this weekend's championships are very skilled, martial arts is beneficial to everyone, Tang added.
"What differentiates wushu from, say, other sports, is it is a recreational activity that can be practiced by both young and old," Tang said. "You can start at age three, and it's a lifelong sport that you can practice."
"And the reason why is that there are so many different elements of it," he said. "There are health elements, such as a very popular one, which is tai chi. Tai chi is a part of the wushu curriculum, and you'll see both senior athletes participating in competition, as well as young athletic teenagers participating in competition.
"So it provides such a wide variety and such a diversity of action that it keeps a lot of athletes engaged and involved."
Thunder Bay's Brian Nieminen, a volunteer with the weekend's event, has been studying tai chi for about 15 years.
"All martial arts ultimately are very, very similar in the sense that they train the body," he said. "And if you want to fight, you have to harden your body, strengthen your body, whether it's tai chi or any other martial art.
"But most people aren't doing it for fighting," he said. "Most people are doing it for their health."
Nieminen said he hopes the championships will provide some benefits to Thunder Bay.
"It's very good for the city because we're drawing in people from all across Canada," he said. "Many of them, probably most of them, are coming here for the first time.
"It gives us a chance to showcase … our city and our hospitality," Nieminen said. "From the martial arts standpoint, hopefully it'll generate more interest than ever."
For ticket information, visit the event's website.