A young ninja breaks into a sprint, leaps over a box and lands with a roll.
Another young boy leaps over the first ninja — who’s now in a crouched position — and does a flying kick, splitting a wooden board being held by two instructors.
A teenage girl veers her head straight to the ground, seemingly on the verge of doing a faceplant, but no, she’s actually managed to pull off a cartwheel — with no hands.
Two teenage girls face off against each other. One of the them spins around and slams her foot into her opponent while letting out a loud kiai, or shout, which is intended to focus energy. The fighter on the receiving end buckles over for a moment. It seems like the impact was felt, despite the protective padding on her torso.
These are sights that one might associate with medieval Japan, but you can rest assured that you are not stuck in the past. Nor are you in an anime film.
You’re actually in present day Squamish, a town that many people may be surprised to learn has its own clan of ninjas.
Nestled in Valleycliffe, the Flow Training Centre has been training athletes in a combination of taekwondo, kickboxing, parkour and acrobatics.
The end result is a style of martial arts widely known as “tricking.”
It’s a discipline that’s known for impressive flips, flying, kicks and spins, which, when done right, have an almost cinematic quality to them.
Helming the program is Carl Fortin who started it about four years ago. Over time, it grew to the point where it was necessary to relocate it to Valleycliffe.
“My overall vision when I started Flow Training Centre was to provide a space and programs tailored to the developmental needs of children,” said Fortin in an email, as he was out of town at the time. “Our goal is to help people develop the skills and build the confidence needed to express themselves freely.”
It was a spirit that was observable when The Chief paid a visit to the centre in January.
There, senior instructor Serena Ly gave a tour of the facility and some of its students and instructors.
Ly is a seasoned martial artist, who, when not sharing her skills with her students, works as a stunt person on movie sets.
Aside from showing off her fighting moves on-screen, she’s wound up throwing herself off a car for a simulated hit.
“[Fortin] wanted to spread martial arts in a fun and creative way to inspire other kids to show them martial arts isn’t just a combative sport, but also a creative movement program that can be used in other forms of art as well,” she said.
The curriculum also emphasizes self-discipline and focus.
These are all things that created noticeable differences in the students who’ve put in the time training.
“The change has been dramatic in a sense his co-ordination has improved,” said Ly, referring to a student. “And also just hearing his parents say his behaviour at home is better.”
That student in question is Maddix McReynolds, who recently earned a gold medal at the BC provincial Taekwondo Championships last month.
The seven-year-old was eager to display his skills. McReynolds was capable of leaping over obstacles, and landing in a roll.
“I thought it was cool,” said McReynolds, recalling why he started training.
William Levis, 9, also reflected on why he wanted to become a ninja.
“I heard a couple of my friends talking about it, and I just wondered what it was,” he said.
“I was kind of nervous, because I’d never done anything like it before,” Levis added.
The nerves seem to have disappeared — shortly after speaking, Levis demonstrated a flying kick that punched a hole in a wooden board.
“I’d like to build more discipline,” he said. “And also one of the moves I’d like to learn that I’m already starting is back-flip.”
Twelve-year-old Emma Wilson also had a lot to share on the subject matter.
She was one of the gold medal recipients at the BC provincial Taekwondo Championships in January.
“Friends of mine were doing it, and I was interested in parkour,” she said, speaking on why she started.
“My favourite thing to do is acrobatics,” Wilson added. “My favourite move is aerial — is like a no-handed cartwheel.”
When she’s not doing hands-free cartwheels, she’s also displaying taekwondo kicks.
Fifteen-year-old Rebeca Camargo has been practising for only two years, but don’t let that fool you.
Her kicks pack a serious punch — enough to split wooden boards.
For her, the martial arts are her favourite part of the program.
“I like flips and I like kicking,” she said.
“My friends came and they asked me if I wanted to come because I didn’t have anything else to do,” she said of how she got her start. “I just got here from Brazil.”
It’s clear to see that each of the students has made significant progress in their journeys as athletes.
For Kay Protheroe, an assistant instructor, watching it all happen is greatly rewarding.
“Just watch[ing] them open up in ninja is amazing,” said Protheroe. “They start to learn the progressions of different moves and see the challenge in it, and see how their body can move.”
“It’s pretty amazing,” she added.
It was a sentiment echoed by another assistant instructor.
“There’s a level for everybody,” said Annmarie Shrimpton. “There’s the kids who are more reluctant and shier and sort of to watch them build confidence and come out fo their shell and take a risk and try things is really great.”
Shrimpton said she’s seen those results firsthand with her son, who also trains at the centre.
“It’s nice to see him kind of pull it all together,” she said.
“He can do standing front flips now, where he couldn’t even cartwheel when he first came here.”