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Judo: the art of life

For Frank Beier, judo isn't just a sport; it's a way of life.
BATTLE OF THE SENSEIS - Sensei Frank Beier, who recently won gold at the World Masters Judo Championship, throws Sensei Dean Bauche to the mat during practice.

For Frank Beier, judo isn't just a sport; it's a way of life.

Beier has been practicing judo for about 50 years - years of dedication and commitment - and this August, he competed for the first time in the World Masters Judo Championship, taking home the gold medal in his category.

No small feat, considering Beier is 82 years old.

"It was an old man's dream," said the agile octogenarian. "I wanted a last kick at the cat, so to speak."

The championships, held Aug. 18 to 23, also gave Beier the opportunity for another first-time experience: visiting Montreal, where he was joined by his daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter.

"The biggest surprise was going into the underground tube," said Beier, adding they took a trip downtown to sample the city's famous poutine.

Perhaps it was the poutine that gave Beier the strength to come out the victor of three fights to win the gold medal.

Beier also believes his upbringing had much to do with his fighting spirit. Beier came to Canada as a lad in 1939 from Czechoslovakia, although the family was originally form Austria.

"My Dad was in politics, and he was in the wrong politics," Beier explained.

The family of eight, which grew to 10 soon after, moved to a farm up in the Goodsoil area, by Big Island Lake, where there were no schools, and the influence of the government was far removed. The life was harsh, but Beier and his parents, pioneers in every sense, made it through.

"I'm a pioneer - I don't think I'll ever change," he said.

Beier got started with judo in the early 1960s, when RCMP officer Gene Trainer, who was from the east, started up a club. Trainer left after about two years, but the seed he'd planted remained.

The Battleford Judo Club was kept alive, mostly with the help of Beier, who through his career as a teacher was always able to arrange for a gym to practice in.

The club has met in what is now St. Vital School ever since the building was constructed.

Today, the club has three senseis; Dean Bauche, Melvin Kozlowski and Frank Beier.

Bauche said he's learned a great deal from Beier, not only about judo, but about life.

"He's sort of the quintessential sensei," said Bauche.

And although Beier is the senior of the three men by a number of years, it's clear who's the master.

"He can be pretty rough with us," said Bauche, adding jokingly; "sometimes we'll go home and wipe our tears."

Last year, 33 were enrolled in the Battleford Judo Club, which meets every Tuesday and Thursday evening throughout the school year. The fee to join is nominal; $100 per year for adults and $75 for those under the age of 13.

"We are different from other clubs because we have never paid an instructor," said Beier, adding that as judokos (judo practitioners) move up, they also become teachers.

Beier and Kozlowski are also involved in a pilot project called Eclipse, teaching judo to at-risk youth. Trust is a key factor in the project, as learning to throw in judo requires quite a bit of trust on both sides.

"Those kids really looked up to Frank," said Kozlowski, sharing how Frank would patiently coax youth out of even the most foul of moods.

"Youngsters have been my life I taught for 35 years," explains Beier. "They are the people that matter the most."

It's another item on a list of many accomplishments for Beier, who tries something new every year. Last year, it was a creative writing course, this year the championship, and next year?

"I've been searching for this new year, what to do next," said Beier. "Something will come along."

In the meantime, anyone wishing to join the Battleford Judo Club can call Mel at 937-7167 or Dean at 937-7567.