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A visit to the birthplace of the Olympic Games helps put things in perspective

In this Following Up feature we visit the dojo at Guelph Family Martial Arts and catch up with sensei Nathan Skoufis

When GuelphToday first profiled Nathan Skoufis in May of 2018 he already had a long list of achievements under his third-degree blackbelt and he had just claimed his 13th world championship title.

When we caught up with him this week at the Guelph Family Martial Arts dojo he had just returned from a vacation in Greece and was training to represent Canada in the WKC World Championships.

“I will be getting a package within the next two weeks and it will be telling me what I will be going to,” he said. “It is definitely exciting to get to represent the country. I was on the Canadian team when I was a kid but never as an adult. The world championships are going to be in Niagara Falls, New York, in the first week of November.”

In February he brought a team of GFMA students to the Ontario Provincial Championships in Burlington.

“Most of our students are recreational martial artists but we had a group that wanted to compete,” said Skoufis. “It was a pretty big tournament and we finished with nine first places. So, it was really good. There is a big one for them coming up in September in London so we are getting ready for that.”

The walls of the GFMA dojo are covered with Skoufis’s citations and awards and dozens of trophies are lined up along the wall, but he doesn’t pressure his students to compete.

“It is something I choose to do but I don’t really push competing on any of our students,” he said. “It can be difficult losing and not being able to reach your goals so, it is not something we bring up.”

He does however encourage those who do want to compete and enjoys sharing the experience of winning.

“Eventually I will have to retire from competing,” he said. “Being able to teach it kind of gives me another outlet to express myself.”

Skoufis started competing when he was 6-years-old and he and his mother Sophie have been operating GFMA for five years.

He trains about three hours a day, teaches classes six days a week and is a fulltime student at the University of Guelph. It’s a heavy schedule and he was long overdue for a vacation, so he chose his ancestral homeland and the birthplace of the Olympic games to get away for a while.

“I thought, when I go down there, I am going to train and run on the beach, but I didn’t do any of that,” he said. “I think the most walking we got was when we went for souvlaki. I was in vacation mode. I was thinking this must be what normal people do. This not working out thing was pretty good. I actually liked it.”

He was en route to Greece when he got word that he won the Young Innovator Award at the Guelph Chamber of Commerce Awards of Excellence.

“I was on the plane to Europe and I had people who were emailing me from the awards ceremony and updating me on the evening,” he said. “It was kind of crazy because you don’t think of martial arts when you think about technology or innovation, but I have an activity on that same level. It shows how far martial arts have come.”

Skoufis had been to Greece before when he was four years old but had no memory of it. This time he made sure to visit with his grandparents and soak in the culture. One landmark that resonated with him was Olympic Stadium.

“It was crazy because I am getting ready to compete for Canada and that is where organized sports started,” he said. “When I was a kid a big thing for me was watching the Olympics.

"They have tentatively set the 2024 Olympics in Paris and that is a goal for me to compete in the Olympics. That is what I am aiming for now.”

Skoufis is just 24-years-old and already has many competition and career highlights to look back on. He plans for many more in the future and finds it very rewarding to share his skills and experiences with his students.

“Competing is awesome and being world champion is a great feeling but I think you make an impact on as many people as you can and that’s how you make the world a better place,” he said. “I am lucky that I found something I enjoy doing and is interesting to me every day.”

He will graduate from university in the fall with degrees in business, nutrition and child psychology. That education helps him improve the service he brings to his students and a personal highlight has been his work with an autistic student who joined the GFMA three years ago.

“He couldn’t look anyone in the eyes – no noise,” said Skoufis. “He couldn’t focus too much. He had no fine motor skills. They had tried everything else and somebody encouraged them to try martial arts. He has been doing it now for three years and he’s got to his purple belt. He remembers 10 katas. He has come out of his shell. As far as noise, he is the loudest one in the class. Those are things that, when I look back on my life I’ll say, ‘It’s been a crazy journey and I don’t regret any of it’.”