Campbell River’s Kyle Barnes is officially the best in Canada at what he does.
And what he does is kick people in the head.
Okay, that’s oversimplifying it a bit. Let’s start at the start.
Barnes has been training at Northwest Shito-Kai Karate in Willow Point for 10 years under sensei Nigel Nikolaisen. But two years before that training began, when he was just four years old, he ran out of the dojo crying.
“I got pretty scared, I guess,” he says, looking out over the gym floor at the current crop of young athletes, now sitting quietly and writing in their goal journals so Barnes and Nikolaisen can talk to the guy from the newspaper in silence. “But I came back eventually and started with private lessons and then went into classes. When the competitive team started, I got into that.”
That was about seven years ago, now. There was no looking back for Barnes once he got a taste for competitive karate.
“I just went to lots of tournaments and built myself up,” he says, as though getting to the top spot in the country in a sport is just a normal thing. “I wanted to compete for Team BC, and when I made the team, I just kept doing it every year.”
This isn’t his first national championship – that was in 2016 – but this one, Nikolaisen says, is more impressive.
“I’ve never been more proud of a student,” he says. “This is a big deal. At the 16/17 level and then moving into the senior black belt level and we talk about the maturity and becoming a young man … well, we’ve had big wins before, but as far as the culmination of a club coming together, at the national level, at this age division amongst some of the best in the world – I mean he fought the Pan American champion in the first round and he absolutely worked him. It was 7-1. When he shows up, he wins in a very dominant fashion.”
Nikolaisen himself is a four-time national champion, so he knows first hand what it takes to get to that level.
“I always say that once a kid has the karate bug, my job is easy,” Nikolaisen says. “I just have to show them what to do and they do it, then they get better and get rewarded for getting better and it kind of self-perpetuates. Sometimes it’s just hard to get them to catch the bug, but it wasn’t for him.”
Right now Barnes is a junior black belt, but next month he’ll test for his senior black belt, which will involve bringing in a panel of karate masters – including Nikolaisen’s own sensei – to judge him.
“There’s obviously a certain level of maturity that a person has to reach before they can test for a legitimate, certified black belt,” Nikolaisen says. “They don’t just give those things away.”
While Barnes has other interests than karate, it’s a very central part of his life. Whatever happens once he graduates high school, he knows that karate – or at least the lessons he’s learned through the sport – will come along with him as he moves forward.
“Karate’s going to be with me for my whole life, I’m sure,” Barnes says. “But honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I like music and music production, so maybe something with that, but I’m not sure yet.”
He’s got a couple more years to figure it out, though. In the meantime, he’ll focus on his kicking form. He’s got a big test next month, after all.