Karate offers road to fitness and confidence

Published on August 1, 2014

Chris Cruickshank and Scott Ross have both been involved in karate for decades and find it’s a good activity for all ages. Rosalie MacEachern photo


The road to the dojo, the proper name for a karate training hall, can be straight from school or it can emerge amidst life’s experiences.

Sensei Chris Cruickshank, a 4th degree black belt, joined Northumberland Karate Club as a 14-year-old and has been learning and teaching for the past 30 years.

“I decided to give it a try because George MacDonald, a member of the club, suggested it to me. I was small, getting bullied at school in West Pictou and anxious to find something to help.”

He started training at a time when Karate Kid movies were big sellers, Bruce Lee was a hero and the Northumberland Club was 10 years old. His self-confidence grew as quickly as his skills.  

“I stopped walking around with my head down, waiting to be picked on, and after a while people stopped picking on me. I really liked it and I was better at it than at other sports I’d enjoyed. Even more, I liked the respect of the dojo, the way people treated each other.”

Sempei Scott Ross, a 2nd degree black belt who has been with the club for 27 years, said he began karate as a means of anger management.

“Like a lot of young guys, I went out to Alberta to find work. I got a job as a bouncer and I had a pretty short fuse so it was steady trouble. I knew I had to find a better, safer way of dealing with people so I started learning karate.”

When he came back to Nova Scotia a few years later he practised with Joe Carpenter in Carpenter’s basement.

“He was busy raising a family and had gotten away from the dojo, so we’d get together in his basement. After 18 months or so he said it was time to go back to the dojo and I’ve been here ever since.”

At 54, Ross acknowledged it doesn’t get any easier with age.

“There are changes in flexibility. I can still kick although the kicks are not so high but I’m still pretty sure I can defend myself if that is ever needed.”

Cruickshank added older guys sometimes take a smarter approach to training.

“Karate is adaptable so it is an activity for all ages.”

Personal fitness and well-being aside, both agree it is the young kids who keep them going.

“You want to pass on what you have learned and see them excel and we do it in a fun-based environment,” said Cruickshank.

Ross appreciates the chance to give young people tools to help them through adversity and said he treats every student as a future leader.

The club, which has programs for three age groups, offers a specific program to help young people who are being bullied. It teaches them how to avoid problems, how to diffuse situations and how to defend themselves when necessary.

Before he became an instructor, Cruickshank competed successfully in local tournaments and was on Team Nova Scotia three times.

“I was really excelling and getting opportunities but I got a rude awakening when I competed nationally. I discovered there were a lot of guys who knew a lot more than I did but by that time I was happy to learn from them. We are always learning and that’s enjoyable. ”

Both said karate occupies a big place in their lives.

“When I come through the door and bow, I leave my troubles behind in the truck. I forget about any problems, whether it is health or money or family. When I’m done I’m in a better frame of mind to tackle whatever the problem is,” said Ross.

Both introduced their children to karate, though Ross’s son eventually moved on to judo and only two of Cruickshank’s three daughters enjoyed the activity.  

“My oldest daughter Dani trained until she got her green belt. My daughter Jillian tried it for about six months but it just wasn’t for her. My youngest daughter takes part with me in a Sunday night program for parents and four- to six-year-olds in Scotsburn,” said Cruickshank.

His wife, Kelli, a fitness instructor who teaches zumba and kick boxing, does not mind the three to four nights a week he is teaching or practising karate or the two training camps per year he attends. The training classes are a way to improve his own teaching and make classes more interesting.  

“There are different roads to fitness and we try to borrow what works because it is really important that kids and adults be fit for life. The routine of karate really seems to work for a lot of people. We’ve got about 70 members and most of them have been with us for years.”

About three years ago, Cruickshank had his first third-generation student.

“I’d taught a young woman who eventually brought her son and many years later that boy brought his own son because he wanted him to have the same experience his mother had wanted for him.”

Ross, who replaced his traditional uniform or gi with a pink tie-dye T-shirt at the end of a recent training session, even credited karate with broadening his taste in clothes.

“I grew up in the North End when you didn’t dare walk around the North End if you weren’t from there. I sure wouldn’t have been strutting around in a pink shirt but times change. I wear the shirt for my sister who was diagnosed with breast cancer and I wear it around the North End because I’m cool with a lot of things I wasn’t cool with before I got into karate.”


Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer who seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you have someone you think should she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at r.maceachern@ns.sympatico.ca