The local martial artists of Sylvan Lake Arashi Do have welcomed a new black belt into their midst. Janna Wowk was awarded her black belt in karate, after acing a test that evaluated her abilities in the martial art in Red Deer, on May 23.
The mother of four boys has been training at Arashi Do for the last five years, and juggled the extensive training she undertook with farm work, and the needs of her family.
“It’s definitely quite an achievement – it feels pretty good to earn your black belt. But aside from those good feelings of accomplishment, there’s a great responsibility – with the new skill you acquire, there’s always a reminder that in every facet of your life. You have to carry the black belt responsibility with you.”
In an email to the Sylvan Lake News, Wowk wrote that having a black belt “is much different than being a black belt; the former refers to a material goal, whereas the latter implies the development of excellence in character.”
Wowk described juggling her training and numerous other duties in life as “a juggling act,” with multiple schedules and responsibilities made planning and carrying out those plans a complicated matter.
“A supportive family was hugely important and vital for me reaching this milestone. The last year in particular, with all the extra training time I needed to put in to attain this goal meant that everyone else had to put in the extra time when I wasn’t at home,” said Wowk, describing how two of her children would also participate in her extended training sessions in preparation for her black belt testing.
“Everyone had to make sacrifices to help me achieve this – it wasn’t something I did by myself,” she added.
Wowk also acknowledged the help of her fellow dojo members at Sylvan Lake Arashi Do as a large contribution to her success.
Renshi Ken Sumner had high praise of Wowk, stating she passed the physically and mentally demanding five-hour testing process “with flying colours,” showcasing her skills in everything from techniques and katas (forms) to bouts of sparring.
“They were impressed with her level of technical expertise,” said Sumner. “She was moving really well, and the technique was good. The amount of grit and tenacity she had also really impressed the testing committee.”
Wowk’s talent with the technical movements of karate are the natural extension of her having been a dance teacher and competitive dancer for many years. Wowk is a Licentiate Member of the Canadian Dance Teachers Association, and has taught dance in Alberta and British Columbia – she also has National Coaching Certification Program and High Five certifications.
Wowk said the skills she cultivated through her experience in dance are definitely transferable to karate.
“Everything she does is very minute, with her saying things like “is my hand at seven degrees or eight degrees?” said Sumner. “She is extremely technical and detailed, which is awesome when it comes to practitioners. She definitely made some comments after the black belt test about how she danced for years and never found a community as supportive as the martial arts school she was in for that test.”
Although Wowk acknowledged the flexibility, balance and coordination skills she picked up in dancing were helpful in reaching her goals in karate, there were other times when “dance training somewhat hindered me, simply because it was a muscle memory game.”
She elaborated: “Your body starts to get used to doing certain things a certain way, and when you challenge yourself by entering into a new activity, you have to overcome some of those muscle memories that you have, and establish new neural pathways for those new activities.”
Wowk’s black belt test took place in conjunction with the 18 other Arashi Do schools in Alberta – she was alongside eight other people being tested for their black belts from those other schools. About 20 black belts from across Alberta went to Red Deer to administer the test.
Sumner and Wowk both acknowledged that in Arashi Do, black belt tests are not “one size fits all.” They are adjusted and set up within parameters that specifically will provide the optimal level of challenge to an individual and their unique abilities as an individual.
“I’ve been in high pressure situations before, but [the black belt test] was different in that I have a great deal of respect for the other black belts in our organization,” said Wowk. “Having a high level of respect for someone makes you want to do well, out of respect for their skills, knowledge and support of you while you progress on your journey.”