'My parents wanted me to get involved to keep me off the streets.'
Teen troubles lead to martial arts mastery
When 14-year-old Lucassie Proctor started getting in trouble at school, alarm bells went off long and loud for his mother, Sipporah Enuaraq.
It wasn't many years since the family had moved from Iqaluit to Ottawa, where Enuaraq works for Pauktuutit, the Inuit Women's Association, and Lucassie's struggles with low self-esteem meant he was beginning to follow other kids down some questionable paths.
"It was very dismaying to get calls from the school," Enuaraq said. "It was happening quite a bit."
In her life, she'd already lost two people she loved to suicide, and now she felt a clutching fear in the pit of her stomach. She was determined to head things off before they got worse.
"As parents, you'll try anything to help your children," she says
Enuaraq talked it over with her husband, Thomas Proctor, and they agreed to suggest Lucassie try martial arts. They offered to take him to a nearby jiu-jitsu studio.
"My parents wanted me to get involved in something to keep me off the streets," Lucassie recalls three years later. "I'm pretty glad they did."
Because now, at age 17 and in Grade 11, Lucassie has turned his life around. He has become the first Inuk ever to earn a first-degree black belt in jiu-jitsu.
More important, by his own proud reckoning – as well as his mother's - he has learned self-discipline, self-confidence, focus, the value of setting goals and going after them, and the importance of taking responsibility for his actions.
"And he respects other people; he doesn't throw his weight around," Enuaraq adds.
In fact, Lucassie's jiu-jitsu practice has helped him so much, he is even sharing what he learned. Last spring he spoke at a suicide prevention workshop that Embrace Life held in Iqaluit.
Jiu-jitsu, he said in his speech, "gave me a confidence that I had never experienced before. It also taught me the power of dedication. I saw first hand, that if I worked hard at something, I could achieve anything."
His schoolwork has also improved significantly, he added, so that he now regularly gets compliments from teachers.
"It made me believe that one positive thing leads to another and another, which really helps to motivate you."
Martial arts programs are organized in small incremental steps, so that participants can enjoy the progress they're making. Now that Lucassie has his first-degree black belt he can still pursue a number of increasingly challenging degrees.
Five years is considered the normal minimum time to progress through the many colours of jiu-jitsu belts from beginner's white to expert's black.
But Lucassie "did it in record speed," his mother says, "because of his dedication to pull things through."
"I went every day," Lucassie says. "I went to every class there was."
That meant a lot of driving for his parents, as they ferried Lucassie back and forth. But his father Thomas Proctor says it also gave them some important opportunities just to talk things through.
"Never give up," Lucassie said in his Embrace Life speech. "There are too many people, even if you don't realize it, that love us so much.
"My father always tells me that we all have to look for that positive side of things. Even if it seems so small compared to the negative. The more that we do this, the bigger the positive gets and before we know it, the positive is now bigger than the negative."
This month, Lucassie will be taking a course to become a sensei, or teacher, and he already has the offer of a part-time teaching position with Therien Jiu-Jitsu and Kickboxing, the studio where he has been studying the last three years.
Jiu-jitsu, he explains, is one of the oldest forms of Japanese martial arts, from which both judo and aikido developed. It includes kicking and boxing techniques, plus grappling, throws and ground fighting, as well as instruction in the use of weapons.
Jiu-jitsu was a life-saver for him, Lucassie recognizes, but of course not everyone will take to a martial art like he did. Everyone needs to find the activity that works for them.
"I now firmly believe that kids especially need to get involved in some kind of organized activity," Lucassie said in his Embrace Life speech.
"You make new friends that are very supportive of each other. You also realize that there are a lot of people that you can then turn to if you need to talk about something that is bothering you.
Lucassie adds: "It has made me realize that there is always hope, no matter how bad something may seem to you at the time."