When youngsters think about spending time with grandparents, they might envision a morning of fishing or an afternoon playing cards.
In St. Jones Within, Ryan Hillyard spends quality time with his grandfather, George, practising karate.
Along with Ryan’s father, Shawn, the three generations of Hillyards work out together twice a week at the St. Jones Within Community Centre. What’s more, all three recently earned their black belts.
Sensei Bruce Lee, a seventh-degree black belt who travelled from St. John’s to hold the grading session, said it is rare to see three generations in a family earn their black belts, especially at the same time.
“Shotokan style [karate], in particular, is a very difficult and prestigious art form. St. Jones Within can be very proud of the three generations . . . grandfather George, son Shawn, and grandson Ryan to have accomplished such a rare and outstanding achievement,” said Lee.
Sensei Kevin Price instructs the small karate class in St. Jones Within, located between Clarenville and Goobles. That the class has become part of the community’s fabric was plain to see at the most recent grading. As the Hillyards and several others demonstrated various katas (movements), about a dozen spectators gathered to watch.
Price maintains karate can be practised by people of any age, “whether you’re 6 or 106,”and George Hillyard is proof of that.
The 72-year-old has experienced a series of ailments over the past several years, including a heart attack. More recently, a blood clot behind his right eye has impaired his vision so much that he is not permitted to drive.
In spite of all that, he appeared sure-footed demonstrating the various kata and kumite (sparring) movements during the grading.
A modest and soft-spoken man, he acknowledged there is a lot one must remember for a black belt grading.
“At my age, it’s not too easy to remember things (like) the younger crowd, who catch on easier,” he said. And, in a rare moment of boldness, he joked, “But I figure I can put any of these guys in their place, even [Sensei] Kevin.”
More often, George is the picture of humility.
“Even in high school, if a teacher asked me to read out an answer to a question, I’d rather pretend I didn’t know it than get up. I never did get away from that,” he said.
Price recalled how George first came to the dojo to watch his grandson practise when the club first started.
“He sat down on the stage, to watch. I said, ‘Well, take off your socks and join us.’ He said, ‘I can’t do that.’ I said, ‘Why not? Give it a try, it’s not going to kill you.’
“So, I coaxed him and he got up and joined the class. And he stayed with it.
“A few months later, his son, Shawn, showed up… [and] the three Hillyards stuck with it ever since,” said Price.
While Ryan has the loudest shouts in the dojo, he is more reserved in conversation. But when he speaks about practising karate with his father and his grandfather, it is clear he is proud.
“It’s not everybody who gets the opportunity to do that,” he boasted. “It’s kind of unique.”
Practising karate over the past seven years meant overcoming a variety of obstacles for the Hillyards, from health concerns to hectic work and school schedules.
“There was a lot of times where we thought we were going to quit, but we kept at it; perseverance kept us going,” says Shawn. “I guess what kept me in there was because Father and Ryan were there.
“If they weren’t there, I probably would have quit long ago because I had so much going on, between courses and work.”
George chimes in, “Each one of us is keeping the other one there, in a way.”
Sensei Price credits the high number of black belts in such a small community to what he calls a “bayman attitude… they’re more persistent, less apt to give up.”