Niagara Gazette

September 2, 2012

Worth fighting for: Teaching kids character and courage with sumo wrestling

Former pro football player teaches kids character and courage with sumo wrestling

By Michele DeLuca, michele.deluca@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A former pro football player from Niagara Falls is devoting his life to teaching local children about courage, honor, and respect. He’s teaching them the same way that he learned it, almost by accident.

Charles Bray, once an offensive guard for the Toronto Argonauts, is a giant of a man, towering over his students while he teaches them how to win and how to lose so that at the end of a match, you can’t tell one from the other as both look each other in the eyes and shake hands. The point, Bray says, is to win with dignity and lose with grace, a lesson he admits, might be of benefit to more than just sumo students. 

He teaches them for free. This summer he touched the lives of 150 kids who attended his camp at the Belle Center in Buffalo. Just a couple of weeks ago he debuted the World’s Biggest Children’s Sumo Festival on the lacrosse field at Smokin’ Joe’s on First Street in downtown Niagara Falls. 

Bray said that after his nine year pro career,  his life was transformed by sumo.  As he practiced the deliberate squatting and stretching moves which are much like yoga, he found himself changing inside.  He was becoming calmer, more respectful, more compassionate, and more peaceful.  He first thought it was old age. Then he realized it was the sumo. He thought to himself, “man, this is what I needed when I was in high school.” And then he realized, “this is what kids need today.”

So, he is now a one-man army, fighting to win the hearts of the young. He is teaching them an ancient Japanese sport involving a circle that only one of two opponents can occupy. Keeping low and agile, they attempt to push each other out of the circle. It is a sport, he says, that will strengthen them for — and make them better at –  every other sport. It will also make them better at facing all the challenges of life. 

Yes, it’s the same sport where Japanese men wear those funny belts called mawashi (loincloth) and not much more. He can’t convince the kids to wear the belts, but they’ve certainly taken to the sport.

The Falls festival drew about 20 kids and their families. The Canadian team never made it, as they were stuck at the border, but a good time was had by all. The excitement has refueled his energy to continue growing the program. “I’m fired up,” he said, his face creasing in a huge smile.

“My dream is to expand this for kids from all over,” Bray added, standing on the field at Smokin Joes. “Then maybe they won’t be out here shooting each other. They’ll be doing something positive.”

SUMO FOR CHILDREN • WHO: SumoKids USA • WHERE: 1321 Millersport Highway, Suite 204, Williamsville • CONTACT: Charles Bray, 1-866-465-0084

Contact Features Editor Michele DeLuca at 282-2311, ext. 2263.