Grandmaster Harold Vilcu has been a Martial Arts Instructor in both Weyburn and Estevan for 40 years, and he recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jing Ying Chinese Kungfu Association of Edmonton Alberta.
His daughter-in-law, Robyn Vilcu, said the original plan was for this recognition to be presented to Harold two years ago, during the 38th Annual Open International Martial Arts Tournament, which has been held by the Vilcu Academy of Martial Arts at the Weyburn Comprehensive School each year until 2020.
"But then COVID hit, so he didn't actually get his retirement party until the 2nd of July," she explained.
"[Harold] has promoted around 130 students or more to their black belts, and it takes on average about seven years to achieve this, so he well deserves this lifetime achievement award," she commented. "We are very, very proud of him, and I don't think I will know in one lifetime everything that Harold knows, which is kind of sad. But I'm trying my best."
Harold, a 9th-level black belt, began his training in 1967 at the age of 18 in the art of Judo under Sensei Moss Naka out of Estevan, and then six months later, he began training in Karate under Sensei Ed Bateson in Weyburn. He received his black belt in the fall of 1979, and he started his teaching in 1980 at the age of 30, when he opened his own club in Midale, and he moved his club to Estevan, shortly followed by opening the Weyburn club.
"He also became the Saskatchewan Director for the World Karate and Kickboxing Boxing Commission, which our club competes at national levels for those who qualify. They're held in Ottawa yearly, and from there the students have a chance to compete in the Worlds, which we have had students compete in worlds actually many times," said Robyn.
About 20 to 25 years ago, Harold began teaching Tai Chi and he trained under Grandmaster Stan Lee, received his Master's degree 20 years ago, and he was inducted into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame in 2013 from the Jing Ying Chinese Kungfu Association. He was nominated by Grand Master Edwin Viloria and inducted by Jim Thomas, head of the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame.
"All the Grandmasters of the Ging Wu had passed away, so the title Grandmaster has been passed on to him."
With so far a lifetime of teaching behind him, Harold is still doing so in Weyburn and Estevan, having passed the torch on the business side of things over to his son, Isaac, Robyn's husband.
While Isaac, who is Head Instructor for the club, focuses more on the Karate side, Harold has continued to teach Tai Chi, with about six students and an apprentice.
"Tai Chi is a softer art, a very complex art," commented Isaac Vilcu. "There's a lot of learning, too, as simple as it looks, slow-moving and everything, but it is very hard to learn."
Isaac is one of Harold's six children, all of whom earned their black belts in Karate. While growing up in the Vilcu family, Isaac noted, "everything was Karate".
"We only had one sport to choose from, and since he taught it, that's what we got," he shared. "Back in the 80s, we used to compete a lot. Every other weekend, we were traveling somewhere to tournaments, and we traveled all across western Canada and the northern States. In those days, we'd train Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays, and we'd travel to a tournament Friday and compete Saturday and drive back home Sunday, and it started all over again every other week pretty much. We had a life of martial arts, that's for sure."
Robyn told that, to their knowledge, the Vilcus are the largest family with all of their black belts in western Canada. Isaac's sister Jeannette also started a club in Swift Current but has stepped back from teaching. Isaac is now the only one of Harold's children who is still teaching.
"We teach self-defense, but [Karate] is also a great builder of self-confidence and self-esteem, and then discipline as well," he noted. "And it's a whole family-orientated environment. You learn at your own pace, too, because as much as you have a team there with you, everything you learn is at your own pace. You excel at your own rate."
Isaac said prior to COVID they had about 60 members, but they had 40 over the past couple of years. However, in anticipation of that number growing once again, and to ensure enough wide-open space for proper katas, the club is moving back to where they first began in Weyburn, Knox Hall.
"That's where Harold started teaching karate, and then from there moved to the McKenna Hall, and just recently, it was decided to move back to the Knox Hall in September," Robyn said.
Classes resume on September 6th, in Weyburn at Knox Hall on Tuesday nights from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. In Estevan, classes are held Wednesday nights from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m at the Nicholson Centre.
Robyn said students can learn Karate and Tai chi beginning at any age. "I didn't start until I was 33. You can start, like Isaac did when he was four, or some people who have joined the club started when they were in their 50s. It's very beneficial for anybody of any age."
Isaac said, depending on the attention span of the child, the most ideal age is in the range of four to six years old.
Registration is as easy as taking the first class for free, to get a feel, and then you can decide if you want to register for more classes.
"Eric Satre has basically become Harold's apprentice, so he is teaching what he has learned from Harold in each class," Robyn noted. "Harold, basically, is there just to direct him. Eric has also implemented some Qigong, and he's also started his own classes in Qigong."
Satre, who didn't start taking martial arts classes until he was 35, and is now on his way to earning his black sash and rank of Sifu in Tai Chi, will be Harold's first student in the club to gain the rank in the healing arts under his teaching and guidance. He is in his 7th year practicing Yang style Tai chi, Qigong, and Shotokan karate.
"So that's a pretty exciting goal I'm looking forward to, and working towards right now," he commented. "One of the best things he told me in continuing in my study, is to start teaching, as the student becomes the teacher."
For Satre, who attended that first class for free, having Harold explain to him the healing arts, and seeing him do the Tai Chi forms, was enough to pull him in to learning more from Harold. He was able to, under Harold's guidance, help ease his struggle with depression and chronic pain from an injury.
"Tai Chi was something I'd always been wanting to learn, and I felt this would be the right path moving forward," said Satre. "Learning Tai Chi, Qigong, and Karate have both been very major contributors to my ongoing recovery in regaining control of physical mobility, flexibility, and mental health, so much that I was able to eliminate various medications associated, about three years in."
Satre said his personal changes have inspired him to learn more so that he could help others.
"Harold has a lifetime of knowledge to share, and to be able to be his apprentice is an honour, and I want to carry that knowledge to future students."
Satre is currently running a Qigong class Thursday nights throughout summer, which will continue upstairs at Higher Conscious Connections this fall, and he will be resuming instruction in Tai Chi and Qigong on Tuesdays when the club reopens in the fall at Knox Hall.
Find the Vilcu Academy of Martial Arts on Facebook HERE.