Most days, Nathan Skoufis finishes classes at U of G by 3 p.m. and then heads to his dojo, Guelph Family Martial Arts, to prepare for his first students. His day ends at 9 p.m.
But that’s not his only job. Earlier this year, Skoufis was invited to join Hayabusa’s professional karate team. The company, which sells martial arts apparel and boxing gloves, also sponsors UFC World Champion George St. Pierre. Skoufis has been competing across Canada and in the United States at the top level, winning eight world championships — this new sponsorship will take him to international competitions. He’ll also attend special training camps to improve his skills.
“Being asked to join their team is a dream come true for martial artists,” says Skoufis, a third-year student. “I started karate when I was six and I was the worst kid in the class. One of my trainers actually told me I should quit because I’d never be any good at it.”
A discouraged Skoufis asked his parents if he could drop out. His mother encouraged him to keep at it until he earned his black belt — she even signed up for karate classes to support him. Skoufis kept training, and eight years later both he and his mother earned their black belts.
Skoufis says the mental discipline he learned in martial arts helps him balance a full schedule of academic studies, work and competition. “You learn to be focused on what you are doing, no matter what other distractions are going on. In martial arts, you learn how to disconnect yourself from the end result and just focus on the next step.”
For him, this is one of the most appealing aspects of the sport. “Most people focus on the physical side,” Skoufis says. “But I’ve learned perseverance, focus, self-discipline and managing stress. Martial arts is really about personal development.”
As well as karate, Skoufis also competes in kickboxing and taekwondo; he teaches these and a fourth martial art, ju jitsu, to students ranging in age from 3.5 to 65.
Skoufis plans to continue his studies and work towards a master’s degree after graduation, while continuing to instruct students. “Winning competitions is great, but the real satisfaction comes from knowing you are making a positive difference in people’s lives. That’s what I see every day when I’m teaching.”