Tim Sullivan was a traditional martial artist, a skilled mechanic and a grandfather to seven. Ultimately though, he was a leader. Tragically, he passed away on February 9, but was posthumously honoured by Loisir Sport Outaouais with the Lise Waters Prize for leadership earlier this month. The award honours “builders” in the region’s sports community.
As the founder of the Chapeau Karate Club in 2005, Sensei Tim - or Timmy as his friends called him - set an example as a strict but fair coach and mentor to hundreds of aspiring martial artists.
Close friend and fellow Sensei Paul McGuire, who has taken over as the head of the club, said that he was both sad and proud to see Tim honoured.
“Timmy was a guy that never sought out attention, but he deserved the attention,” he said. “I don’t know what he would think of [the award], but I was very proud of him. I’m proud of the club and I’m proud of the resiliency that they’ve shown this year … Timmy is the guy that built that attitude … I’m happy to see him recognized because he certainly deserved it.”
Tim’s widow Joanne agreed that he wouldn’t have been one to seek out recognition, but said that she was glad to see his work celebrated. This year would have marked their 35th anniversary.
“Oh my god … I cried, and then I was happy. It was pretty emotional,” she said. “He wasn’t big on, you know, ‘Look what I do.’ He wasn’t that type of person. For him to be honoured that way, it was really nice.”
Tim started training in Itosu-Kai Karate at the club in Pembroke in the mid-1980s, just as a fun way to keep in shape.
“He started with karate when we were first married, probably the fall of ‘85,” Joanne recalled. “It was just something he had started with a couple of his friends for exercise and a night out, or two nights out a week, you know. Then he just stuck with it.”
After achieving his black belt under Sensei Mark Stevens, Tim established his own school in Chapeau in 2005. The gymnasium at Dr. Wilbert Keon School served as his dojo.
“One thing we hear constantly from the people in Chapeau is that there’s nothing for the kids to do,” McGuire said. “So Timmy wanted to give them something positive to do, and he did.”
The club trained hundreds of students over the years, and they racked up numerous awards in national competitions.
McGuire remembered his friend and fellow sensei as a determined mentor with his pupils, who ranged from adults to young children.
“Timmy was tough, but gentle,” he said. “He was a very traditional karate teacher who insisted that things were done correctly … The kids absolutely loved him. He made sure that his students followed the rules in and out of the club.”
Joanne said that Tim held his students to a high standard and it showed when they travelled for competitions.
“The dedication Timmy felt so strong about, you can see it in the students, you can tell who was from [the Chapeau] club, which is nice to see,” she said. “It’s nice to see that continue.”
Joanne added that training martial arts was a family affair, and she along with several of their kids and grandkids participated in the club over the years. She said that having your husband as a sensei could be difficult at times.
“I know there was one time … I must have done something wrong and he made me do pushups,” she said with a laugh. “I was a little upset for a couple of weeks, but you know, those are the rules.”
In June of this year, Joanne and her granddaughter Rhiley did their ranking together and advanced to their next belt. Since in-person classes have been suspended during the pandemic, the club has been hosting virtual classes through Zoom videoconference.
“While we were quarantined, we had to do online classes here, so I got to do it with Rhiley, you know, so it was pretty exciting,” she said “We had Timmy’s picture staring at us … for motivation, it was quite nice.”
McGuire said that dealing with the loss of a close friend and a global pandemic has been hard on himself and the rest of the club, but added that they are adapting well.
“[Tim’s death] was a pretty big shock to everybody, so we regrouped, and the family asked us to do a karate demonstration at his funeral, which we did,” he said.
“When the schools closed, we lost our dojo, so we turned to Zoom and we started doing Zoom classes,” he continued. “It kind of caught on, and we managed to get Sensei Daniel Tsumura, who is the number one sensei in all of Canada, to teach the classes.”
Outside of the dojo, McGuire said that Tim was a skilled mechanic who would drop whatever he was doing to help any friends in need.
“Tim was a guy who you could call at two in the morning from just about anywhere, and he would show up every time with a smile on his face,” he said. “He had a hobby shop where he worked on people’s vehicles you know, friends and that, and worked on his classic cars. He was a man that never stopped, if you showed up there he was always working on something. He was never a guy that sat around.”
“He’d work on weekends, he didn’t have a set schedule, somebody would pull in because they needed to have this done because they need to work tomorrow, that kind of thing,” Joanne said. “He would do it, without even thinking.”
Joanne concluded that he was a gentle, easygoing soul that was a positive influence on those around him.
“He seemed to always have the answers,” she said. “For whatever reason… whether it be personal or advice on anything, he just kind of knew the right answer.”
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