By Jordan Ercit
Kitchener Post staff
The easy route is usually the path of most resistance for the Strickland family.
Even family vacations are not immune.
So when the Stricklands — dad Jon, mom Dana and their kids Evie, 12, Sebastian, 10, Anastasia, 7, and Gabriel, 4 — decided to make their first big trip abroad three years ago to Costa Rica, it was part fun and part work.
Along with the sunscreen and swimsuits, the Stricklands, from Kitchener, also made sure to pack their blue, green and white belts as members of Team Canada during the International Congress of Martial Arts meet organized annually by local black belts Tom and Lorenza Shamuon.
It was an experience Jon Strickland will likely not forget.
“It was a bold introduction to a family vacation — taking four kids on an airplane the first time,” said Jon, a blue belt and member of Waterloo’s Shamuon Generations of Martial Arts. “This is our third time, so we’re expecting it to be a bit easier this time around.
“Between the iPods and Nintendo DSs, the in-flight movies, we should be OK.”
To keep coming back three years in a row with all those kids in tow, means something must be going right for the Stricklands, who leave with 120 Canadian team members and family from Waterloo, Kitchener, Brantford, Mississauga, Oakville, Oshawa and North Bay for the 13th annual ICoMA competition from Jan. 2 to 9.
Success has something to do with it. For the first time ever, Jon and Dana Strickland, blue and green belts respectively, will be returning to the ICoMA competition as prestigious Triple Crown winners — a title presented to competitors who attain three gold medals in three different events at one competition.
Last year in the Dominican Republic, Jon was a gold medal winner in three of his four events — advanced sparring, traditional weapons and chambara. He was also a silver medallist in forms, while wife Dana won all three of her events as well.
“It’s very difficult to get,” Jon said. “In some divisions, there could be 24 people. So to get first place in three different events is not a sure thing.”
The biggest draw, however, is the atmosphere surrounding the competition.
Aside from the sun, surf and splendid scenery, Team Canada members tend to rave about the family atmosphere and the amount of work and detail the Shamuons put into the trip every year.
As soon as the trip is over, Tom Shamuon and his daughter, Lorenza, start planning again for the following year. Prices and potential locations are usually filtered down by February at which point Lorenza usually starts to focus on the travel and tournament plans, while Tom tries to attract martial artists from other countries.
With all the time and energy involved, along with teaching and organizing the club’s Generations Martial Arts Championship in May, it means Lorenza has been unable to compete since 2009. But the tournament is something she looks forward to every year nonetheless.
“We have kids as young as four coming and competing and representing Canada, which is really exciting,” Lorenza said. “And these kids I’ve known since they were babies and now they are the ones coming in and competing. Meanwhile, some kids who were starting at four are now 10 and coming and competing again.
“It’s fun to see that cycle, to see who’s competing and how they’re growing up in (martial arts).”
The trip and martial arts in general also gives the Stricklands a common bond, something to look forward to every week and something to chat about together at the dinner table.
Originally an after-school activity, the Stricklands now plan their life around classes and competitions. And if everything goes as planned, Jon and his two oldest children, who are junior instructors at the club, could test for their black belt at the same time. It gives Jon a unique chance to find common ground with a pair of budding teenagers.
The trip to the Caribbean every year is an extension of that, not to mention a good chance to get away from the Canadian winter.
“It has become a way of life more than anything else,” Jon Strickland said. “We all help each other grow as martial artists.”