Interview with Sarah-Jade Folk
Sarah-Jade Folk, along with Jay Cooper, is the co-owner of Esteem Martial Arts and HAVOC JKD, based in Calgary, Canada.
She is a multiple time provincial and national champ and world level competitor.
Sarah’s qualifications include:
Apprentice Instructor – JKDAA (Jeet Kune Do Athletic Association)
Instructor – HAVOC JKD
2nd Dan Karate (Shotokan)
Brown Belt – HAVOC Ju Jitsu
Bronze Medallist (Continuous Sparring HW) – WKC World Championships 2011
Sarah-Jade is one of the highest ranked female JKD Instructors in Canada.
Sarah, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview.
Firstly, what got you interested in Martial Arts?
Growing up I didn’t have much exposure to Martial Arts.
When I was 7, my parents moved to New Zealand with my Sister and I, and I clearly remember the influence that Martial Arts was having on people in the 80’s, but growing up, I was into horse riding and competitive swimming.
Fast forward to October 2005. I was 30, and had three kids, Hailey, 7, Gavin, 5 and Olivia, 8 months. Hailey was in ballet, and there was a martial arts studio in the same building. I decided it would be beneficial for my son to join a class. Hailey joined a few months later, and gave up ballet for it.
I sat on the sidelines and watched for a year with a growing interest, but I was 200 pounds after having 3 kids, which was substantial on my 5′ 5″ frame, and like so many felt I needed to lose weight before I started.
In the end I decided to try it out as an activity to do with my kids regardless of the number on the scale, and in November 2006 I tried out my first class.
I was 31, and fell in love with Martial Arts the moment I stepped on the mats.
The style I started out with was Shotokan Karate. I have my second dan in that style, and continued to train in it for 7 years, until I opened my own dojo.
You mentioned competitive swimming, so did you always love competing?
I did do competitive swimming, and was good at it. I was a very active as a kid, and always very competitive.
Did any of your children continue with their training?
The two girls did continue, but Gavin gave it up eventually and did football instead.
I was teaching classes so Olivia started her classes when she was two and half being she was at the dojo with me anyway.
That girl has literally grown up in the dojo.
She’s 13 now and still trains in Karate, is on her school wrestling team, and has expressed an interest in starting adult classes with Jay.
Hailey is also still very active in the school. She has her first dan in Shotokan, and continues in JKD and Kali with Jay, Fitness Kickboxing with me, and teaches the kids classes now and then for me too.
What took you to Canada from new Zealand?
We lived in New Zealand for just over 9 years.
My Dad had a job opportunity back in Canada, so my parents decided to take it, and we returned in 1994.
I finished my high school in Lloydminster, Alberta.
After that I got married and we moved to Red Deer, Alberta where I went to College and graduated from the Legal Assistant program at Red Deer College in 1997.
Right after graduation we moved to Calgary, and I have been here ever since.
Can you give us an idea what it was like eventually getting a place on Team Canada?
When I qualified for Team Canada the first it came as a bit of surprise really.
I had only been doing Martial Arts for 3 years, and had competed on the Provincial level, but it was my first time competing on the National level.
I took Silver that year in point fighting at Nationals and wow that was exciting!!
Being I was 34, I wasn’t sure how long I was going to be competing for, so I decided to go for it. Trained hard and represented Canada for the first time in Dublin, Ireland. It was a fantastic experience.
So the next progression was teaching. What lead you to opening your own school?
In one word…Integrity.
Jay tells me he’s never met anyone who is as good as you at teaching the kids.
Teaching the kids is so rewarding. Watching their skills grow and develop. I’m so proud of them. They teach me just as much. It amazes me how much they can learn, even my 3 and 4 year olds. They do everything the older kids do. It’s mind blowing.
I was teaching most of the kids and family classes at the school I started training in still.
At that time I had retired from competing, and was training more often in JKD, and Jujitsu with Jay.
I was learning a different way, and of course it was reflecting in what I was passing on to the kids, and adults. I guess you could say I was sort of evolving a bit. It made sense to me.
If I’m learning a better way, why not teach it?
The changes were mostly coming in the self protection area. It wasn’t appreciated. In addition to the changes, my integrity was being called out in gradings.
I have a strong belief, that if you are ready to grade, then fantastic. If you are not, there is no harm in waiting a few months till the next one.
If you grade when it’s been advised not too, and you don’t pass, then you don’t pass.
Pretty simple concept.
It’s not about money. Gradings shouldn’t be about that. This was also not appreciated.
Leaving my students, and friends was the hardest decision. I did not even think I would open my own school until after I had put my two week notice in. A friend, and student of mine found a space that worked out beautifully to open my first school in. When I saw it was the day I decided to do it.
So you had already started training with Jay. How did that first come about and were you just training out of his garage at that time, or did Jay have a venue and students of his own?
Jay had taught a few guest spots in the school I was teaching/training at.
He started teaching there more regularly when the Jujitsu Instructor had to take leave for a time.
I remember the first time I met him, I was training for World Championships that was held in Ireland that year. We were training Point Sparring that night, and he came.
I remember sparring with him. I think I kicked his butt….no one can say any different….and don’t believe him if he tells you otherwise!!!
This was a few years before he opened HAVOC.
So were Esteem and HAVOC schools ever independent, or did you merge when he opened his first school?
Esteem and HAVOC were independent.
I opened Esteem before he opened HAVOC.
After I left the school I was at, I continued training Jujitsu once a week on Friday mornings with Jay privately.
Once he left and opened HAVOC, I started training with him everyday.
I was closing Esteem after the kids classes, jumping in my car, and driving over to his house for training.
He was teaching out of his garage. It wasn’t too long before he started talking about finding a space to teach out of because he was outgrowing his garage.
I had space I wasn’t using to train with him, so it was completely natural to offer it to him. We didn’t even need to change schedules around.
You continue to train with Jay and he gives you the nickname “The Morrigan”, after the Celtic War Goddess because of your dedication and ferocity when training.
In 2014 Jay invites you to the JKDAA Expo, which for those that don’t know is a yearly get together with Sifu Singh, his top coaches and masters from around the world, in addition to members of the JKDAA team.
Jay says this changed everything. Can you elaborate on that please?
Most of my training up to that point had been within the school we had been training at.
I had trained with a few world champions there when they came for seminars, and attended the seminars that Sifu Singh had come to Canada for, but it was the volume of knowledge, and experience, and the pure love of Martial Arts that was presented at the expo that was so eye opening.
Four days of learning from people devoted to their arts, and spending time growing with like minded people is amazing.
Since I’ve joined HAVOC I’ve been so welcomed and not only by those within Esteem and HAVOC, but by all of the Masters and Grand Masters you train with.
They are not only friendly, but genuine friends.
The support network is something I’ve not witnessed before.
I absolutely agree. Both as teachers and friends, the whole organisation stands behind each other with respect and love.
So you move into a new bespoke facility and things seem to have gone from strength to strength.
Obviously behind the scenes there is a lot of hard work, so what next for Sarah-Jade and Esteem / HAVOC?
You are right, behind the scenes there is a lot of hard work…especially keeping the Hound in line.
That’s like a full time job in itself!! HA!!
In all seriousness, business wise, we have some big plans in the works with the future launch of HAVOC U, which is very exciting.
We have been working closely with Christopher Darryl, and Jujube Business Builders.
Their services have been amazing , and we’ve seen spectacular growth with their support.
We look forward to continuing our work with them so we can expand and keep, keeping it real.
Next step for me personally, I’m possibly coming out of competition retirement and getting back in the ring in 2019.
I’ll continue training and representing women in Martial Arts. Continue putting out the word how important it is for women to step up, take control of their own self protection for themselves, and the people they love.
Jay put a quote on the door of the dojo, “we do not rise to the level or our expectations…..we fall to the level or our training” Archilochus, 650 BC.
I just want to say a special and heart felt thank you to Sifu Harinder Singh Sabharwal and the Jeet Kune Do Athletic Association (JKDAA), GM Darren Tibon and the Angels Disciples, and Professor James Hundon.
You have been such a huge inspiration to us. You’ve had a profound impact on us, not just in continued growth in training, but also spiritual and business.
We miss you already, and cannot wait for the next time we see you. Professor, who loves ya?
Also thank you to all the students at Esteem/HAVOC, from the 3 year olds, kids, their families to the War Dogs. We appreciate and love you all. Without you, there is no Esteem/HAVOC, and last but definitely not least, Hound.
Not just my coach and business partner, but one of my best friends. Best decision ever made for us to merge, and I couldn’t imagine, nor would I want to, moving forward without you.
Business partners for over 3 years already and going strong. I look forward to many more.
CRY HAVOC AND LET SLIP THE DOGS OF WAR!!
Sarah-Jade, thank you for taking to time out to do this interview.
I’ll leave the final words to those that know you best.
Alan McNaughton (Freight Train)
I have trained with a lot of martial artists over the years both here in Canada, the UK and Spain.
I can’t express enough how fortunate I was finding this wonderful woman.
Her Martial Arts experience and heart-warming nature is like a breath of fresh air in the Dojo at Esteem Martial Arts / HAVOC.
Her technique and knowledge of martial arts is extraordinary and her quest of knowledge and finding ways to break down techniques to make it work for herself and others is amazing.
She definitely wears her heart on her sleeve but is not afraid to act in an instant.
I’m positive everyone at the Dojo and parents would agree without question that we are very fortunate to have her directing us on our paths in Martial Arts.
I look forward to train and grow with her over the many years ahead and see her become an even greater martial artist than she is now.
Grand Master Darren Tibon
Sarah – Jade is a very serious Martial Artist , I take great pride in teaching Sarah Serrada Escrima and I look forward to seeing her growth in training in the future !
Professor James Hundon
Sarah is one of hardest working female martial artist I know.
I love her energy and the fact that she’s just as tough, if not tougher than some of the men that I know!
She is no nonsense when it comes down to training, and even more dangerous when she smiles and wears a dress!!
I love her and what she represents, a strong, positive and intelligent woman who you’d love to have on your team!!!
Sifu Jay Cooper
SJ – or as I call her “The Morrigan” after the War Goddess – is one of the most inspiring people I know.
Her passion and dedication to her training is matched only by her passion and dedication to teaching others.
I count myself blessed to have her as a friend and business partner and attribute much of my own success to her.
While I am often the “Front of House” that people see at the dojo, rest assured it is Morrigan that is the heart and soul.
Humble and self-deprecating, Morrigan is legitimately one of the toughest people I know.
I use her for my demos and my own training because there is no quarter asked for or given and she gives me everything she has all the time – she isn’t a good female martial artist; she is good martial artist PERIOD.
Sarah Jade aka the Morrigan is the epitome of a fighting mom.
She is a warrior in all facets of life. From the way she approaches her training to taking care of her family.
Her dedication to the arts is second too none, always training and eating the bitter with a big bright smile.
Her enthusiasm for martial arts and learning is infectious. She teaches children with love and compassion, but when she trains she brings the ferocity of a tiger.
As the owner of Esteem Martial Arts and the lady behind the scenes of HAVOC JKD, I’m sure she is destined for great success.
If you are seeking real world knowledge and experience I recommend her highly.