The Sensei

It’s 3:30 on a warm Tuesday afternoon, and as he always does, Brian Maximchuk stops and performs a quick ritual bow before entering the teaching area of his martial arts dojo in Lantzville. Straightening up, his lean face is all grin. Inside the room there’s a blur of excited young children, each dressed in t-shirts and traditional baggy white cotton gi pants with a tied white or yellow belt. Kicking and spinning and sneaking long looks at themselves in the enormous wall-to-wall mirror, these karate kids are like freed ping pong balls bouncing along on the spongy blue floor mats. But as soon as Brian steps inside wearing his black belt, (one of three black he’s earned over 25 years, as well as other belts and credentials in separate disciplines) he becomes the "Sensei” or Teacher. And almost instantly, a row of quiet and eagerly attentive students forms up along the back wall; each child ready and more than willing to participate and learn all the Japanese names for the intricate moves and positions that Brian is offering them.

"I’ve always wanted to do something that people would benefit from, and where they were happy to see me,” he says with a laugh. Slim and very fit, at 37 Brian has an aura of both peace and strong confidence about him. They’re attributes he feels come from being on the right life path for himself; a path where exploring a personal love for and acquiring an extensive knowledge about the philosophy, history and practice of martial arts lead to the certainty of wanting to teach others about their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits. And for Brian, "Nothing else really interested me as far as a career.”

It all started at the age of ten. The only child of a single mother, without brothers or sisters to fight with he says he didn’t know anything about sticking up for himself and was "a very passive child.” His mother thought football and other active team sports might be good for him, but seeing the Bruce Lee movie, ‘Enter the Dragon’ suddenly ignited a passion.

"I fell in love with that. Bruce Lee was a tough guy. He could handle himself against multitudes of people, but it was artistic at the same time. He was beautiful to watch, but like an action hero to me. I figured that’s what I wanted to be.”

Brian asked his mother to sign him up for Karate lessons but the classes were too far away from home, so he ended up starting in Tae Kwon Do. And there, not only did he find his niche, but he took it up fanatically he says.

"Everything I did and everything I read had to do with martial arts. My relatives must have thought I was a bit strange. Instead of sports or cars or girls, my room was full of cut-up pictures of sweating Orientals! I just threw myself into it. And my Tae Kwon Do teacher, that’s what he did for a living, and I thought, that’s exactly what I wanted to do.”

He earned his first black belt at the age of 15, and began teaching part-time at 16. But he soon learned that important aspects of self-defence were missing from his training through an eye-opening experience with a street gang. Although he wasn’t hurt, his confidence in his own abilities was shaken.

"I tried a bit of boxing. It was a great experience. It gave me some of the confidence I was looking for, but didn’t give me the same satisfaction. It wasn’t an art – just a very brutal sport. I enjoyed the training, but felt something was missing. And I turned out not to be a great boxer either, so I left that.”

He also left martial arts for a time, and after graduating from high school worked in the construction industry and started a landscaping business with a friend. But at the age of 20, a move by himself to Vancouver Island and Parksville changed everything.

"I felt very alone, but adventurous, and I needed to fill this void inside. So I looked in the phone book and there was one karate school there. It was a beautiful building and dojo – one of the nicest I’ve seen. I walked in on a Friday night and there was a grading going on. I was watching through a screen and saw a girl who was about 12 or 13, grading for her brown belt, whipping these weapons around. She was really good, and I was impressed.”

Brian signed up for introductory lessons. He also joined Tai Chi at the same time, and kept himself busy with martial arts again four days of the week. Although he liked the Tai Chi, he ended up sticking with the Karate, and the experience he says, "really filled a huge void.”

"I’d found one of the best teachers, a man way ahead of his time and a phenomenal teacher. It was like having a surrogate father around with a Sensei like him; his experience, his age – he was more than just a Karate teacher. It was a wonderful, great experience, and helped fulfill me and complete me in a lot of ways.”

And his Sensei also encouraged him to teach. Working in both the construction industry and landscaping, and feeling like a fish out of water, Brian began to teach martial arts part-time in October 1994. By 2001, he was able to teach full-time and opened his own Shima Martial Arts school in Lantzville.

"Teaching for a living never escaped me,” he says with a smile. He continues to learn and teach what he knows by cross-training in other martial arts and rounding out the physical side of his training.

"You’ve got to look at different cultures. Starting as I did with Tae Kwon Do which is Korean, I found when I was reading, and I read a lot, (that) more of the history and philosophy came from Chinese and Japanese arts. I think that’s why I enjoy teaching a traditional martial art – it tends to be more holistic.”

Karate, he says, is multi-faceted and you get out of it whatever you put into it. It has aspects of sport and self-defence in it with the kicks and punches of sparring and rules about targets that can and cannot be hit, as well as the development of personal timing, reflexes and confidence. The art of Karate is found in its forms, the katas, which are taught from generation to generation and depend on the style of Karate being practiced. There is no other opponent in this, and as the essence of the kata is self-reflection, how good someone becomes is completely dependant upon themselves.

For Brian, Karate has supplied the missing pieces he was looking for in his life. And being able to teach all levels of martial arts to people of all ages is the fulfillment of his childhood dream.

"I enjoy teaching all levels. Most of the school is kindergartners and teenagers. I love the kindergartners because they’re still wide-eyed and full of wonder. They dote on every word, there’s no hang-ups and they’re willing to do anything you say. They come in so happy all the time, and I find them the most fun. I like the teenagers too. They start to become really adept, the majority of them, but they all have their own issues and it’s a challenge to keep them on the path. There’s so much change, if they stick around with the martial arts things usually turn out pretty good for them. But even if they don’t, I’ve had some influence. The easiest is the adults. Some students are in their 50’s and I’ve had some in their early 60’s. Everyone is there for different reasons, hoping it will satisfy physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs.”

And, as if finding all that inside a Lantzville dojo weren’t enough, there’s always an opportunity to listen in on any warm Tuesday afternoon. What you’ll hear is a lot of energetic squeals and bubbly giggles bouncing their way outside from a group of enthusiastic karate kids. It’s usual – it’s fun there. It’s just the outer manifestation of the teacher’s inner happiness.