Saskatchewan isn’t known for its world class beaches, but the sand has become a familiar training ground for athletes from Okami Martial Arts in Saskatoon.
Athletes like Kelly Greenwood, who has jumped in with both feet.
“It takes a little bit of the pressure off when you’re on the sand,” said Greenwood. “It’s kind of a fun atmosphere.”
Every week, athletes like Greenwood and Tal Haugrud step onto the beach volleyball courts at the Saskatoon Soccer Centre to train in the discipline of beach sambo.
A sport that Haugrud was introduced to five years ago after enrolling his daughter in karate at Okami.
“In Saskatchewan there’s not that much summer,” said Haugrud. “So, the most time you can spend on the beach, the better.”
“I found Okami Martial Arts through my daughter actually, she started in karate there. I found sambo as a program, as well as their jiu-jitsu, and I just fell in love with it.”
An outdoor variation to the Russian martial art of sambo, the beach version takes the basics derived from wrestling and judo, and brings in the element of moving in sand for takedowns.
After years of development, the duo of Greenwood and Haugrud have been chosen to compete for Canada at the upcoming Pan American Sambo Championships in the Dominican Republic.
“Our program has been built from the ground up grassroots,” said Haugrud. “We’re the only certified training centre for sambo in the Prairies and there are very few in Canada as a whole. So we’re hoping to just go there and show what we can do.”
Haugrud will be making his international debut for Canada in September, while Greenwood previously represented his country in karate and kickboxing.
Getting ready to board a plane for the Dominican, Greenwood said this tournament will be historic not only for the local club but the Saskatchewan martial arts community as well.
“This will be probably my fourth or fifth time representing Canada in martial arts,” said Greenwood. “It’s the first time representing sambo at this level. I’m really excited because this is the first time anyone from Saskatchewan is going to get that opportunity.”
Sambo received temporary recognition from the International Olympic Committee in 2018 and Greenwood is hopeful that by 2032 it will become a permanent Olympic sport in one of its three disciplines.
If that day were to come, he hopes Saskatchewan athletes will be at the forefront of pushing sambo forward.
“You see there’s a lot more popularity,” said Greenwood. “The support is now coming in, the finances are coming in, the resources are coming in to try and improve upon this. So I’m really hoping that Saskatchewan athletes can get a taste for it, then we can start growing it.”
For Haugrud, being part of the first Saskatchewan contingent to be competing for medals on the world stage is something he doesn’t take lightly and is an opportunity he looks to push forward in the years to come.
“I truly am honoured that this opportunity has presented itself and that we can go and put Saskatchewan on the map,” said Haugrud.
The 2023 Pan American Sambo Championships will run from Sept. 6 to 7, with the beach tournament being held in the days following.