I had the great pleasure to watch Gary Sabean Sensei develop through the years from a young competitor to a National Champion. He was always very fast, and his punches and kicks seemed to explode and come out of nowhere. He was always fun to watch. I remember he was a brown belt for a couple of years before moving up to the black belt division. Even at that young age he dominated that division, which was often one of the largest and roughest divisions at any tournament in those days.
As Gary Sabean Sensei honed his kumite skills, he continued to train in all aspects of Chito-ryu and he very rarely missed any clinics with senior instructors. He took to heart that in order to be a good karate man you needed to be well rounded, and he certainly was that.
After he became Canadian Champion, I invited him to come and teach kumite skills at my Dojo in Yarmouth. I remember I received a great deal of criticism at that time from senior instructors in Chito-ryu. They said it was not proper for him to teach at my Dojo because I was a higher rank than he was. I did not listen to them because in my opinion, he was the best in NS, and we could certainly learn a lot from him. He was the Canadian Champion after all.
In 2000, I began to officiate at the National level, and I got to watch Gary Sabean Sensei compete for a no of years. In a span of 10 years, he was 9-time Canadian Champion in -75 kg weight class. A few of those years, he also won the open weight division. His techniques were lightning fast and there were not very many competitors in the Country who could compete with him. During this time Gary Sabean Sensei competed all over the world and represented Canada at countless competitions. He also became a Chito-ryu World Champion.
Gary Sabean Sensei was a different kind of champion, and for many years I could not put my finger on exactly what made him so special. Higashi Sensei used to say that he should be able to tell who the Chito-ryu competitors were at a tournament by the way they “carried themselves”. The way they were respectful, the way they folded their gi, the way they bowed in the ring, the way they accepted their medal, etc. This is the quality that set Gary Sabean Sensei apart from everyone else. He was always so humble, and he always showed the utmost respect to everyone. This includes the opponents, the officials, the medical staff, and everyone he encountered. I never saw him embarrass an opponent or purposely try to hurt anyone. Even when the officials made mistakes, or the call went against him, he never lost his cool, he just accepted it and moved on. He always took the responsibility upon himself, he never blamed anyone else for his losing a match.
Because of these qualities, and the level of success he has achieved, I believe that Gary Sabean Sensei is the greatest Champion that Canada has seen in my generation. He is the type of Champion that inspires the people around them to reach for the highest of goals. He is the Champion that any parent would want their kid to be like. You can not say that about many so-called champions.
I recall one day at a summer camp in Canmore Alberta Gary Sabean Sensei was tickled pink that he and I had lined up on the same line. We were the same rank. He told me that had always been one of his goals, to line up, side by side, with me. I was humbled by this comment. But that is the kind of guy that Gary Sabean Sensei is. You do not forget where you came from or take for granted those who helped you along the way. Gary Sabean Sensei is the real deal, a class act from start to finish, a true Champion in karate and in life. He is the one who made all of us believe that, even though we come from a small place, like Southwest Nova Scotia, there is no limit to what we can achieve. Whenever anyone talks about him or we hear his name mentioned we are filled with pride. He is one of us.
Gary Sabean Sensei is a member of the Sport Nova Scotia Hall of Fame. He is the only Karateka from Nova Scotia ever to receive this honor, and it is well deserved. He is an inspiration to me and to many, and I am very proud to call him “my friend”.