If you've ever set foot in a dojo, felt your body slam on the tatami mats and then bounced right back up to do it all over again, chances are, at some point in the last 50 years, Mamoru Oye has touched your life.
Addressed by most people as Moe, or by his students with the more respectful title Sensei (teacher), the eighth-dan black belt, who began the University of Manitoba Judo Club 50 years ago, isn't one to revel in his own glory.
"What I am happiest with most," he said in his Fort Richmond living room, "was after they (his students) quit fighting, they started their own clubs. Also, they always come back to my dojo to practice, and they still call me Sensei."
"He is the pillar of judo here," said Henry Fast, who is the first student Oye coached to a black belt back in 1961. Fast, who is on the cusp of turning 69, now has a seventh dan and still turns up at Oye's dojo at the U of M to work out two or three times a week. "When I started, he was one of the young guys. I think he had his second dan and was in his early 20s. At that time there were a number of senior belts around that he was junior to, but they all looked to him. By the 70s they were all gone, but he has carried on the true spirit of judo."
This weekend the U of M Judo Club alumni will gather to celebrate the club's 50th anniversary, and once again take a deep bow in honour of Sensei Oye.
On Saturday, former club members will join current club members for a practice session at 12:30 p.m., in the Combatives Room of the Frank Kennedy Centre, University of Manitoba.
Among those expected to attend are: Fast, Mark Berger (6th dan, Olympic bronze medalist and, current provincial head coach), Garry Yamashita (6th dan, Judo Canada prairies regional director, Judo Alberta coach), Ewan Beaton (5th dan, Olympian, Judo Canada regional technical support officer, Judo Saskatchewan high performance coach). The reunion winds up Saturday evening with a banquet at the University Centre.
Oye got his first taste of judo when he was living with his family, in a Japanese internment camp from 1941-45 during World War II. "They had judo in the camp, and my brother used to go, but I was too young. You had to be 13 or 14, but I would go and watch. So I wasn't officially taking judo, but I learned a few things, just from watching them."
His formal training began in the 1950s, at the RCMP barracks and YMCA, under Sensei Tamotsu (Tom) Mitani, who Oye says, is "the founder of judo in Manitoba. He took me to my first black belt. Later, I taught his son Brian, to his black belt. "
The Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, of which Oye is a member, said he is, "regarded as a teaching coach with an uncanny ability to motivate, helping athletes develop an action plan. His success extended from the grass-roots level, through the developmental sphere and onto the national and international stage."
Three Olympians have risen up through Oye's tutelage. Mark Berger, bronze medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles Games; Ewan Beaton, '92 Barcelona and '96 Atlanta; and Niki Jenkins, '96 Atlanta.
His son Steve, a three-time Canadian junior champion, and Kevin McIver, both made it onto the Canadian national team.
Oye says his greatest gratification comes from seeing his former students now running clubs, including Berger (West Kildonan), Gary Sova (Inner City), and Fast (St. John's, Kelvin and Daniel McIntyre high schools).
Fast spoke of Oye's humbleness and his dedication to his students. "He got graded to the eighth dan four years ago, so we held a dinner in his honour. So what does he do? He gets up and honours Berger, Sova, Yamashita, and myself, who had recently received our sixth dans."
Oye thinks that perhaps the organizers may have gone a little overboard in their planning of Saturday's gala affair.
"I was thinking that maybe we'd all just get together and have a big Chinese dinner."