Our Heroes

Cassie - Advanced Black Belt, 1st kyu, Seishidosha

My name is Cassie Chan, I am sixteen years old, and I have been practising Aikido at BigRock Aikikai since 2012. As an enthusiastic five year old white belt, I remember the senior brown belt and black belt girls being my heroes. I would do absolutely anything to be as awesome as them, and if that meant years upon years of dedicated training, persevering through drills, working through injuries, and pushing myself out of my comfort zone, then bring it on! Fast forward ten years into the future and I’m now not only a member of the decade club, but am also a senior teacher in the Instructor Training Program and the most senior student currently participating in the under eighteen program. My younger self would have been so proud. As I continue to spend around twelve hours at the dojo each week, teaching, training, and sweating hard, all I can hope is that I can live up to the legacy of black belt girls at BigRock Aikikai, so that I can inspire and empower the many young girls at our dojo too :)

Natalie - Intermediate Black Belt, 1st kyu, Seishidosha

My name is Natalie Vakulin. I started practicing Aikido in 2015 when I was nine years old. Since then, I have fallen in love with Aikido as a martial art, but also everything else that BigRock has to offer. Along the way, I have met friends, found a love for teaching younger kids, and dedicated thousands of hours on and off the mat. When I received my black belt, I remembered how fascinated and inspired I was by the hakama-wearing teachers I had when I was young. Of course, at the time all I was thinking about was how pretty the black skirt looked when they rolled. I hope that for the younger kids that I teach, I can become as inspirational as my teachers were for me. Especially for the young girls who may not yet realize they practice a generally male-dominated sport. 

Alex - Junior Black Belt, 1st Kyu, Seishidosha

My name is Alex Tsvik. I'm 19 years old and a student at the University of Calgary currently. Aikido has been my primary martial art for 14 years, seven of which I spent taking further classes on the use of weapons. I hold a rank of Nana Dan Kai (7th level) in the weapons class, a junior black belt in BigRock Aikikai's U18 program as well as 2rd kyu through the CAF. My appreciation for Aikido has grown significantly, especially as my knowledge and comprehension have expanded. I took my test in August of 2020 but due to covid, I didn't get my hakama until 8 months later. One could never forget that emotion, especially in light of the circumstances, when I was finally able to return to the dojo and get my hakama. I've met so many people via my Aikido practice, and it provides me with a secure haven from the physical and mental pressures of everyday life. I'll never forget all of the "older girls" who came before me, and how I looked up to them as seniors and role models, wanting to one day achieve their level. My goal is to inspire the generation that follows mine to discover their enjoyment of aikido to be as revered as I was. It's crucial to venture outside of your comfort zone because doing so will help you avoid failure.


Lauryn - Advanced Black Belt, Shodan, Seishidosha

My name is Lauryn, I am 16 years old and I have been practicing Aikido since 2014. I remember telling myself when I first started that one day I would reach black belt and I would not stop training until I got there. Eight years later, not only have I been awarded my Intermediate Black Belt but I am also working towards my Shodan which I hope to achieve before I turn 18.  I started practicing at BigRock Aikikai's satellite dojo in the Cardel Rec Centre where there were not very many high ranking ITP, especially not girls. I became an ITP after two years of practicing and fell in love with it instantly. I decided to try out camps for ITP that were held at the main dojo and felt like I became a part of the dojo family almost as soon as I stepped through the door. Once I fully moved to the main dojo in 2019, I was surprised by the differences in how the classes were run and adapting was a little tricky. Although this is true, I now had so many high ranking students that I could look up to and I would try and follow in their tracks. I hope that I can become a role model for the kids I teach today, especially the young girls, just like how my teachers were for me and help them all feel like they have a place they belong. 



Josie - Junior Black Belt, 1st Kyu, Seishidosha candidate

My name is Josie Webber and I began practising aikido when I was 5 years old in 2011. I began aikido because my older sister and brother had joined a few years before and by watching class with my mom while we waited for my siblings, I became more curious and excited to join. Initially, the inspiration grew from the possibility of learning how to roll and do bear crawl, but as I joined more classes and learned from various teachers, I really saw the possibility of becoming a black belt. Through years of injury, hardship, laughter, and perseverance, I finally started to actually understand the movements of aikido as more than just a copy-paste of how my instructors showed techniques. I am now a senior instructor and a proud member of both the decade and 1000 hour club. The more I practise, the more I have realised that achieving my black belt was only the beginning of my journey. Aikido started as an activity to do once a week, and has turned into a life-long passion. My siblings, Grace and Max Webber, are both high ranking instructors and students and I have always been so grateful that we get to share our aikido connection, and are able to safely brawl with each other. I find it very hard to imagine that aikido will ever not be a top priority for me. I sincerely hope that I am already someone the young girls in our dojo can look to for advice, support, and companionship, and that I can help them achieve all that they have set their aikido minds to. I have learned so much about compassion, friendship, creativity, leadership, hard work, gratitude, and many other values: I certainly would not be the individual I am today without aikido. 



Elizabeth - Junior Black Belt, 1st Kyu, Seishidosha

My name is Elizabeth Lauber and I will be 20 in November of 2023. I have been doing Aikido with BigRock for 14 years, and I started out in the homeschool program at the local rec centre. My mom signed me up for it when I was six, and I never really stopped. I have the rank of junior black belt in the U18 program, seishidosha in the teaching program, and 1st kyu in the international belt system. I remember being young and looking up to the brown and black belt girls who taught at the homeschool classes. I wanted to have a hakama. When I was 11, my family moved to the Middle East for two years, which put a pause on me achieving that goal. I worked hard once I came back, and was close to doing a test when the pandemic started. Thankfully, I received the hakama by the end of the pandemic. I have been helping teach the teen class for the past two years, and also help with teaching at Cardel Rec with Natalie. 


Maya - Purple Belt, 4th Kyu, Joshu

My name is Maya Hanevy, I am nineteen years old and a student at the Training Division Fire Academy. I started aikido at eight years old through the Cardel homeschool program. I hold the rank of 4 kyu in the CAF program and am a purple belt in BigRock Aikikai’s youth program. I strive to apply aikido principles to my daily life as much as possible, for example, perseverance is a principle I continually integrate into my studies. As a child, I practiced Aikido regularly for 6 years before taking a break for a couple of years. Although I tried other sports during this time, none of them impacted me like aikido and I found myself wanting to go back. In the spring of 2022, I came back to aikido and have been practicing since then. The support I have received from my peers and my teachers has been tremendous. As a young child, I looked up to the older girls I’d see practicing and they were always incredibly supportive of me, I hope to pass this support on to new generations of aikido students.


Audrey - Brown Belt, 5th Kyu, Junshidosha Candidate 

My name is Audrey Clysdale, and I am proud to say that I am a brown belt in teen classes. Aikido has been an essential part of my life for the past 5-6 years, and I am honoured to be a part of such a fantastic community. One of my favourite things about practicing Aikido is helping with junior classes and being a Junishosha candidate. I still remember my first class vividly and how intrigued I was by everything we did, even though I wore rain pants. Ever since I joined, I've had the pleasure of making so many new friends, meeting awesome people, and learning so many things along the way. Aikido has been such a wonderful experience for me, and I hope to continue learning and growing as a martial artist. I look up to the senior black belt girls, who are my heroes, and I'm so happy to see them improving with each belt. I always look forward to ITP classes and regular classes, where I can learn from them and continue to develop my skills. 



Freya - Advanced Brown Belt, Junshidosha Candidate 

My name is Freya Moore. I have been practicing aikido at BigRock Aikikai since 2014 when I was 4 years old. I have loved Aikido ever since I started and plan to continue with it for as long as I can. I do other sports at my school, but aikido is by far my favourite. I love working with people more senior than me to improve my skills and I have many goals I want to achieve with Aikido. I love how Aikido gets you out of your comfort zone, makes you work harder than you might think is possible, and makes you reach new heights. I love to be a part of the amazing community at the dojo, especially the growing female population. I love being a part of the ITP (instructor training program) and watching all the little ones improve and grow. I am a part of the 1000 hours club, and I have been practicing for almost 10 years now. I am very proud to be a part of the dojo and I cannot wait to go further in Aikido.  



Paula - Brown Belt, 5th Kyu, Joshu

I am Paula Cusnir. I've been practicing aikido for over 7 years now. I started aikido at Cardel then I started practicing at BigRock Aikikai. Being a part of the Aikido community has been an honour, and I plan to continue practicing the art. There are so many wonderful individuals here, and they are always there for me. The seniors are my role models, so I constantly look up to them. Seeing everyone progress to a new level/belt colour has made me very proud. I enjoy being a part of the teachers' program and guiding young people to become one of us one day. I truly enjoy life here and will continue to practice my favourite sport, Aikido.


Elyana - Brown Belt, 5th Kyu, Joshu

Hi everyone, I’m Elyana Tummers, I have been doing aikido for almost 8 years. I am a part of the Ferocious and Female group, the ITP program, and a general student attending regular classes. Aikido has impacted my day to day life helping me understand the different values of life, it has made me more independent, more understanding, and has just built me into the person I am today. I don’t know what life would be without the aikido community. Everyone there is so kind and amazing people, especially my seniors whom I look up to, and who are always there when you need help. I love how I am able to continue my role in the dojo as an ITP as well, seeing all of the younger individuals working hard and continuing to persevere throughout the classes and seeing them level up makes me so happy! I look forward to continuing my advancement in the study of aikido.