By Chrystiane Mallaley
Douvris Martial Arts, a long-time mainstay of the Glebe and Old Ottawa South, recently celebrated its 35th anniversary. I was invited to stop by on a busy Saturday for cake and conversation about the secret to success for this karate family.
John Douvris started training in martial arts in 1972 at the age of 12 and was soon dreaming of his own dojo. That dream became a reality in 1984 when John and his brother Peter – both karate champions – opened their first Douvris Martial Arts location at Bank and James Street. They hopped down Bank in the years that followed, to Bank and Fifth, and then on to their current location at 1270 Bank Street in 1994.
I asked Douvris, who is known as “Master John” around the studio, what he is most proud of as he celebrates this latest milestone.
“I learned a long time ago that lots of people can teach martial arts, but the philosophy of the school is what makes the difference,” said Douvris. “Our credo is to become the best person you can be, and that’s what we strive for with every student. We really care about our students and our community. I invite everyone to pop in and observe what happens here. It’s pretty special.”
Many I spoke with praised the Douvris Leadership Program that provides students the opportunity to share their knowledge with younger students as they progress through their training and belts.
Kim Hopkins is 12 years old and is on Douvris’ competitive team. She has her black belt and has already competed at three world championships. She has also been teaching younger students for the past four years.
“I grew up here, it’s like my second home,” Hopkins said. “It’s a great place to learn, meet new friends and have fun.”
For the Douvris’s, family isn’t about the name on the door, it’s the philosophy underlying their offering and the welcoming space they create for all.
“We have students who started here at four years old, stayed with us through university, and now we’re teaching their kids,” said Douvris.
There have been couples, marriages and babies that all started in the Douvris dojo.
From “Karate Tykes” to “55+ Karate” to “Total Body Training” (a high-energy, cardio kickboxing class), Douvris aims to offer something for everyone.
Gabrielle Weiler, a self-described karate mom and pediatrician at CHEO, emphasized this. “Master John and Miss Cathy make this place all about family,” she said.
Weiler first gave Douvris a try when her daughter expressed an interest in martial arts after watching Mulan. That daughter is now a second-degree blackbelt, and Weiler and her other daughter are students as well.
It seemed to be a very common story among parents I spoke with – their kids brought them to Douvris and they got hooked themselves. One couple joked that a sparring class makes for a great date night and is much more productive than therapy.
Weiler also made the point that Douvris offers much more than physical fitness; it also promotes emotional and psychological wellness. “People come in for the karate but there’s so much more,” she said. “At CHEO, I’ve seen the negative impact competitive sports can have on kids, but I don’t see that here. These kids are resilient, happy to be here and excited to be part of a team.”
Another parent, Jennifer Goosen, agreed. “The support and resources provided here help kids gain confidence and understand and deal with real life situations that they wouldn’t necessarily want to talk to their parents about.”
So what does the future look like for Douvris Martial Arts?
“For this kind of business, there aren’t many that last this long, so we’re very proud of it,” said Peter Douvris. “It’s a family business – my son and my brother’s son are involved, and I’m hoping they’ll carry on with it.”
Douvris is also excited by the recent international expansion of the brand. In addition to nine locations in Ottawa-Gatineau, Douvris karate is also offered in three locations in Guatemala and Panama in collaboration with local partners who share the Douvris philosophy.
“I’m very thankful to Old Ottawa South and the Glebe community for their support,” said Douvris. “We’ve made so many great connections in this neighbourhood over the years.”
Fitness, kinship and leadership for all ages. Ready to give it a shot? Try two karate classes and receive a complementary uniform for $19.95. Visit www.douvris.com to learn more.
Chrystiane Mallaley is a public relations pro and Maritimer, now calling the Glebe home, keen to get to know all the nation’s capital has to offer. Follow @cmallaley on Twitter.