Guelph martial arts champion Nathan Skoufis was ready to throw in the towel and give up on his passion for competing but his mother knew exactly how to change his mind.
“I wanted to quit martial arts at one time,” said Skoufis. “I was around 10 and I just wanted to be a regular kid and I was kind of bored with the instruction. That is when my mom joined martial arts to keep me in it. I thought I can’t let my mom get a black belt and I’m quitting.”
His mother Sophie did become a third degree black belt and Nathan went on to earn countless medals and trophies including 13 World Champion titles.
“I think what she did, the sacrifice she made, has changed my perspective now,” he said. “It is hard to put into words.”
Mother and son decided to help others develop their confidence and passion for martial arts by starting their own school/dojo Guelph Family Martial Arts in 2014. Members at GFMA range from young children to seniors and from amateurs and professionals to Olympians.
“We started with one class a day and now we run seven, six days a week,” said Nathan. “It has grown a lot quicker than we thought it would. We were ready for it, but we didn’t think it would grow as quickly as it did. The main thing is whatever I am doing to be the best I can be at it.”
It is a philosophy that has guided him since before he started training in martial arts at the age of six.
“My brother Spiro is five years older than me,” said Nathan. “He was the first of us to start martial arts and I used to go watch him because I wasn’t old enough to do it at that time. My mom wanted to get us into it not only for self defense but for self confidence, perseverance, modesty all the things in martial arts she saw as valuable that maybe other extra curricular activities didn’t have.”
Sophie also knew the value of setting goals and following through.
“You work hard every class and I think that builds work ethic and it is something I wanted them to finish,” she said. “Go through the chapter, get your black belt and go try whatever else you want to do. When he found the competition side he really liked it.”
Nathan set lofty goals for himself and was determined to reach them.
“I was from Guelph and a lot of people said it wasn’t possible for someone from Guelph to become world champion,” he said. “My first world title was a big thing for me that I will never forget. A Canadian hadn’t won for a long time and it was such a goal that I had set for myself.”
It was an admirable accomplishment but he was only getting started.
“I just claimed my 13th world title,” he said. “I was the first martial artist to win NBL (National Blackbelt League) and NASKA (North American Sport Karate Association)
Those are the two big ones. I told people 15 years ago when I wasn’t a very good martial artist that I was going to try to do it and people were like ‘ya, okay’. To see it now, to see what I visualized actually happen is surreal for me.”
He continues to compete while attending classes at the University of Guelph in business, nutrition and child psychology and teaching martial arts at GFMA.
“I started GFMA at 19,” he said. “I was in first year of university and people asked why I would want to do anything more than just being a full time student. It definitely challenges your time management skills just being able to balance everything but I would do it all again.”
He said there is much more to martial arts than learning to punch and kick.
“People ask, ‘What did you learn from martial arts?” said Nathan. “I say everything I’ve learned and achieved has been through martial arts.”
He has also learned a thing or two from his mother.“My mom was behind the scenes guiding me along the way and I think that is a big thing,” he said. “I had a guiding force and a lot of people aren’t lucky enough to have that. She had a perspective I didn’t have at 19 and that I don’t have now.”