Review of Maria Morgunova’s Karate in Ontario: The Uphill Battle

Developmentally Edited by Alexandra Hidalgo
Copy Edited and Posted by Megan Elias

Karate in Ontario: The Uphill Battle. The Cost of Raising a Champion (2016). 73 minutes. Directed by Maria Morgunova. Written by Maria Fletcher. Featuring Kevin Crocker.

Before I watched Karate in Ontario: The Uphill Battle, the word karate for me sparked images of Bruce Lee movies and little kids trying (to no avail) to break wooden planks. But the goal of any documentary is to educate an audience, and Karate in Ontario: The Uphill Battle not only showed me a world I knew little about, but inspired a call to action.

The film begins with shelf upon shelf of trophies and medals and shots of students and adults participating in martial arts. This beginning eases the viewer into the world of karate with imagery that those who, like me, are not intimately familiar with martial arts would expect to find in a film like this. Then a voiceover provides statistics about the sport that really surprised me. There are far more people doing karate than I ever expected, with workshops and camps all over the world. The more I watched, the more I learned. Every student, instructor, and parent had inspiring things to say about karate and the positive people and experiences it has brought to their lives. Director Maria Morgunova emphasizes the emotional aspect of something that at first glance seems to be nothing more than punching and kicking. 

After providing more information about the benefits of karate and the sacrifices and time commitments the athletes and coaches make, there is a notable shift to the main point Morgunova is making in this film. She’s proven karate to be an amazing experience, so why does Ontario’s governing body for the sport, called Karate Ontario, make it so difficult for its constituents to practice it? Competing in tournaments is crucial for an athlete to improve, but, as many coaches and parents say, the arbitrary restrictions in the Canadian province make organizing these events a nightmare. 

The film is very persuasive in making its arguments  As Morgunova shows, Ontario’s governmental and media structures display a blatant disregard for karate practitioners and for   the nature of karate itself when drafting (and rewriting) regulations for tournaments. The film shows the consequences of these governmental actions from the perspective of the people most directly affected by them. Her ability to center this story around the experiences of those who love karate shows Morgunova’s talent for pathos.

In spite of its ability to humanize karate for its viewers, the film at times relies too heavily on facts that slow down the narrative and keep us away from the athletes we’ve come to care for. The tension between trying to educate viewers and to carry them away with a story can be daunting for filmmakers and in this case, it felt like at times the film veered in the informational direction for too long. At least for someone who, like me, isn’t well versed in karate and has little interest in becoming so in the future. All of that being said, I learned a lot watching this and by the time the credits rolled, I’d developed a sense of respect for karate and those who dedicate their lives to becoming proficient in this martial art. Whether you’re a seasoned black belt or have never stepped foot in a dojo, you are bound to find something of interest in this film.

You can learn more about Karate in Ontario: The Uphill Battle on its website or on its Facebook page. Learn more about Megan by visiting her profile.