TRADITIONAL JUDOKA , BARROOM BOUNCER & GENTLEMAN BOXER
Canadian Prime Minister JUSTIN TRUDEAU Is All That and More !
When Theodore Roosevelt Jr. wrote those words, the boxer/ judoka probably never would have envisioned a 21st-century leader emerging on the political scene who would be cut from the same cloth as himself. Well, one has, and I’m not talking about Vladimir Putin. I’m referring to Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada. Trudeau is a second-generation martial artist whose courage to throw down in combat sports has helped make him the champion in the Canadian political arena.
SON OF A GUNSLINGER
Justin Trudeau’s fighting genes come from his father Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Canada’s longest-serving prime minister. Nicknamed “The Gunslinger” for his habit of arrogantly tucking his thumbs into his belt while staring you down, PET was a scholar educated at Harvard and the Sorbonne in Paris. He was also a tough guy who was always ready for a shootout.
As prime minister, PET displayed his toughness to the nation when Canada was threatened by domestic terrorism during the 1970s, suspending civil rights and rolling out tanks in front of Parliament Hill. When asked by an annoying reporter how far he’d go to protect Canadians from terrorists, he gave him a Clint Eastwood–like stare and famously shot back, “Just watch me!”
The senior Trudeau had a lifelong passion for judo, which he began in his mid-30s and practiced for three decades. It served both as an outlet for his energy and a way to regulate his legendary cockiness. As historian Paul Nurse wrote in a 2009 essay in The Gentle Way, Trudeau’s cockiness caught up with him one day at the Kodokan:
“On a visit to Tokyo in the early 1960s, it is said that Trudeau wanted a workout at the Kodokan, but for whatever reason — his sometimes arrogant manner, or the way in which he asked for randori — the judoka of the art’s ‘ Mecca’ were not appreciative, pummeling him so mercilessly that he was barely able to crawl off the tatami.”
PET was eventually promoted to first-degree black belt by the Kodokan. Later, he achieved his second degree from Canadian judo legend Masao Takahashi.
TRAINING AT TAKAHASHI DOJO
PET always sought out the best academic schools for his kids, so it was only natural that when Justin and his brothers Michel and Alexandre were old enough to train, they were taken to one of the best judo facilities in Canada: Takahashi Dojo.
Between the ages of 10 and 13, Justin trained under the watchful eye of Masao Takahashi, his two Olympian sons and his world-champion daughter, earning an orange belt in the process. The Trudeau brothers competed in monthly tournaments at the dojo. Tina Takahashi, Canada’s first female Olympic coach and a sixthdegree black belt, shared her memories of training them:
“I thought [PET] was very intelligent. If a technique was shown, he would pick it up very quickly and be able to do it. He was very smart to put them in judo — they were at a perfect age that they could all practice together, too. Justin was the most disciplined and more serious than the younger brothers. He was bigger, so he usually paired up with the bigger boys. They all … had an aggressive nature to their fighting and were pretty tough. I know they liked fighting their father, too.”
One night after judo class, the father decided to retire from politics, and the family moved to Montreal, where a new chapter in Justin’s fight education would begin.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles. … The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood. … If he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Justin Trudeau’s skills for the street were cultivated in two unlikely
places: the basement of the family’s Montreal home and a bar in a ski resort in Western Canada. Regarding the basement, he wrote in his biography Common Ground, published in 2014 by HarperCollins, that his father had customized one room to make it safe for Justin and his brothers to do mock battle. Padded furniture and mats cushioned falls and minimized bruises while facilitating judo moves. It wasn’t uncommon for the boys to engage in stick fighting, as well. The action was no holds barred with two exceptions: Face punches and biting were prohibited.
Justin continued his combat education by getting some realworld experience in his 20s while working as a doorman at the Rogue Wolf nightclub in Whistler, British Columbia. Whistler has its share of testosterone- overdosed and alcoholfueled frat boys and snowboarding punks, most of whom would have relished the chance to smash a former prime minister’s son. But that never happened, not even once.
As the smallest bouncer working the door and devoid of bulging muscles, Trudeau learned to get results without having to get physical. He wrote in Common Ground that the key to his success was using his wits to de- escalate. He also noted that if a fight did develop, it meant his skills had failed him to a certain extent. That and other lessons learned at Rogue Wolf were broad enough to have practical political applications for Trudeau later in life.
THE FIST AND THE FURIOUS
Justin Trudeau began his love affair with boxing while in his early 20s. Having learned how to fly under the radar as a bouncer, he signed up at a local gym called Club de Boxe Champion using an assumed name.
In Common Ground, he wrote about how intimidating it was for a person of his stature to enroll in a roughand-tumble boxing club. If his identity had been discovered, he noted, it probably wouldn’t have gone over too well. Turns out his instructor did find out who he was, but by then, he’d proved he was a dedicated student of the sweet science and not just a thrillseeking celebrity.
When he became a federal member of Parliament in 2008, Trudeau had a decade of boxing experience under his belt, but that did little to prepare him for verbal low blows that would come his way. His political opponents, the Progressive Conservative Party, taunted him as the pretty boy with a good haircut who had nothing going for him but a family name.
After three years of abuse, Trudeau had had enough. As if by a miracle, an opportunity to shut up his critics appeared. He learned that a local cancer charity called Fight for the Cure was holding a whitecollar boxing fundraiser. Although he risked being ridiculed even more if he got beat, he signed up.
Only one member of the Progressive Conservative Party stepped up to the plate: a muscular Native Canadian senator named Patrick Brazeau. Raised in subsidized housing on a reserve outside Ottawa, Brazeau was a former soldier with a second-degree black belt in chito karate, a style brought to Canada by Mas Tsuruoka, the father of Canadian karate. Brazeau had studied for seven years and frequently competed in kumite. For a time, he even trained under point-karate phenom Steve “Nasty” Anderson. Conservative political pundits likened the upcoming bout to one in which Godzilla was fighting Bambi.
Trudeau’s strategy leading up to the match couldn’t have been better. While letting slip misinformation that he knew he’d lose, Trudeau started training like a possessed Rocky Balboa. He sought out an old friend from his Montreal days: a former gang member named Ali Nestor Charles. Charles had legitimate combat credentials. He was a former World Boxing Organization supermiddleweight titleholder who also
had a 9- 5 MMA record. He drove Trudeau relentlessly for up to three hours a session four times a week in his Montreal gym. He enlisted people (some former gangbangers) to shout verbal abuse at Trudeau while he was sparring. He also had Trudeau put in work with some real fighters who lit him up.
To make sure Brazeau’s underestimation of him remained high, Trudeau psyched out his foe at the weigh-in. He showed up wearing large boxing trunks that made him look positively puny and made some inflammatory comments. Incensed, Brazeau ripped off his tearaway sweatpants and bounced onto the scales wearing Speedo-like trunks. His bulging-biceps tribal tattoos made Trudeau’s ink look like hipster art.
Dubbed the “Thrilla on the Hilla” — it was named after Parliament Hill — the bout that unfolded on March 31, 2012, was a sold- out affair with politicians and ambassadors rubbing shoulders with hardcore fight fans. Trudeau ambled into the ring, with his wife and mother at ringside. He wore a robe emblazoned with “The Canadian Kid” in an effort to rub his youthful looks in the faces of his critics.
The action began with Brazeau swinging hammers just like his boxing idol Marvin Hagler. He tagged Trudeau with a half-dozen overhead rights that shook him. However, by the end of the round, Brazeau was gassed. Having survived the onslaught, it was time for the kid with the good haircut to fight back. In round two, Trudeau picked up the pace, sticking and moving and making Brazeau miss amateurishly. At the beginning of round three, Trudeau’s killer instinct came out.
Knowing he had the fight in the bag, he smiled as he got up from his stool and beckoned the senator to bring it on. Half a minute later, the bout ended via TKO. Brazeau left the ring humbled, his nose bloodied. Trudeau emerged unmarked.
Still a member of the senate, Brazeau has memories of the fight that reflect the passions Canadians have for a good scrap. “I thought I was going to win hands down, but I underestimated him,” he said. “I quickly found out boxing wasn’t like competitive karate … but I wanted to knock him out. That didn’t happen, and like most boxing greats who have lost, I still believe I deserve a rematch, but he declined right after our bout. I’m now left with the shame of having lost to Justin Trudeau, but I’m one fortunate Canadian to at least be able to say that I legally punched a sitting prime minister for at least two minutes and loved it!”
Trudeau walked away from the ring, drinking a bottle of Canadian beer. When reporters asked him if it was his last one, perhaps channeling his dad’s legendary machismo, he looked them squarely in the eyes and responded, “I’m just getting started!”
To succeed, a fighter must have supreme confidence in himself. Before the bout, Trudeau looked into the face of his nervous wife and calmed her fears by telling her, “I was put on this planet to do this. I fight and I win. That’s what I’m good at.” ( The quote comes from the documentary God Save Justin Trudeau.)
Good at winning, indeed. Trudeau’s persona as a winner began to take on mythic proportions after the final bell sounded. In short order, he won the leadership of his Liberal Party. A few years later, reminiscent of his father’s political victory in 1968, he was elected
prime minister of Canada in a landslide victory.
Justin Trudeau was now a major player on the world stage. And the message was sent forth that there was a new budoka in Canada’s capital. As the head of state for the Great White North, Trudeau remains true to his passion for the fighting arts. What did he do on his first trip to New York City as prime minister? He laced up his gloves with some kids at Gleason’s, the legendary boxing gym in the Big Apple, for the Give a Kid a Dream program.
As for the future, one has to wonder whether Trudeau will direct his own kids into judo or boxing — or perhaps MMA. No one’s quite sure, but I would bet on boxing. After all, he picked Mayweather over McGregor all the way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: The 2017 World Police and Fire Games champion in karate, Perry William Kelly has a fifth-degree black belt in jiu-jitsu and is an instructor in four other arts. He’s the former national coordinator for use of force for the Correctional Service of Canada.
Justin Trudeau was now a major player on the world stage. And the message was sent forth that there was a new budoka in Canada’s capital.
Judo pioneer Masao Takahashi, former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and a young Justin Trudeau at Takahashi Dojo.
(Left) Pierre Elliott Trudeau, former prime minister of Canada, being thrown by Masao Takahashi on Canada Day in 1984. (Right) Judo master Masao Takahashi being thrown by Pierre Elliott Trudeau on the same day.
Future Olympic coach and world- champion judoka Tina Takahashi (at age 7) with Pierre Elliott Trudeau at a Montreal judo tournament in which her father was competing.
Fern Cleroux bowing to Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau at the 1974 Quebec Karate Tournament, where Trudeau and his wife were spectators.