Guelph’s Skoufis aims to unify martial arts titles

Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal

GUELPH – Nathan Skoufis isn’t going to be having a big meal on Christmas Day this year. The Guelphite won’t even be in Guelph, the city he loves so much.

But this isn’t a tale of Yuletide woe. It’s a tale of determination, one of trying to achieve a goal he set for himself years ago.

The reigning champion in his weight class in the North American Sport Karate Association (NASKA), the 23-year-old martial artist will be in Buffalo preparing to fight in the National Blackbelt League’s Super Grands World Games XXVIII. They’re set to begin on Boxing Day and continue to New Year’s Eve.

“I won’t be eating turkey or stuffing or anything like that because I have to keep my weight,” he said from the Guelph Family Martial Arts dojo that he owns and helps operate and where he is the head instructor. “No Christmas dinner for me, but that’s OK. There’s something else I have in mind.”

The Super Grands will be a quality tournament and for Skoufis, it’ll also be a return to his roots.

“It’s going to draw competitors from all over the world,” he said. “I’ve won it four times in the past and I actually set the record as a junior for most straight victories in a row with the Super Grands wins.”

He’s an adult competitor now and a regular in NASKA competitions, but a lot of his determination came from his first trip to Super Grands.

“You can do something called being a wild card. You give up your ranking and you fight from the bottom and you fight all the way up,” Skoufis said. “The first Super Grands I ever went to I went unranked and I fought 25 straight fights in a row without a back-to-back break. I was one point from going for first and second and I lost.”

While the loss was devastating, it also made Skoufis because it made him determined to do better.

“I always tell people that that tournament right there was the reason I was able to come back and win four in a row,” he said. “As soon as I (came home), I started training and I was already envisioning the next title I was going to win, the next year in NBL. I feel this is full circle now because NBL is kind of where I started.”

Skoufis has spent most of his time in martial arts proving people wrong. A sport he didn’t really like too much when his parents enrolled in classes when he was 8 is now one he thinks is just the greatest thing for him.

Now he wants to unify the titles, to become a champion in both NASKA and NBL in the same year.

“This is something that I envisioned,” he said. “I told people years and years ago when I was not a very good martial artist that I was going to win NASKA and NBL in the same year – two titles in the same year. No one had ever done that. Before anyone believed in me, I envisioned that goal myself and I worked toward it. I’ve been working toward it for over 15 years now.”

He also feels that holding both titles at the same time will make all the struggles he’s gone through during his time in the sport worth it. And he’s also a student of the game, so it’ll be special for him in that regard, too.

“The history,” he said. “I’ve studied all the great martial artists that came before me. A lot of people see the success in martial arts that I’ve won. This will be my 11th world title. I was not an instant success. All the trials and tribulations I had to get to this point, I feel that it makes it even sweeter. I appreciate it that much more.

“I wouldn’t have changed the journey for anything. Being a white belt that people didn’t think I’d get to yellow belt, but achieving my black belt and setting the goal of being world champion and being able to unify it kind of solidifies that all of the sacrifice and hard work and my Mom driving me hours and hours to train with the best people in the world when I was little, this kind of solidifies all of that.”

While there are differences in the rules between NASKA and NBL, they aren’t anything that Skoufis is concerned about.

“The difference between NBL and NASKA is that in NASKA any kick anywhere is two points. In NBL, it’s one point,” he said. “I feel the rules, people use them as a kind of excuse sometimes. I’ve had success in both leagues and I kick a lot. I feel if you’re the better fighter, rules shouldn’t matter. If you believe in your skill set and you believe in your preparation, the points you’re still going to get them anyway. You’re going to win if you believe in yourself. Both rules sets I’ve had success in so the rules, I’m not too worried about.”

Skoufis said his opponents won’t get any huge surprise from him if they’ve studied his past bouts.

“I’ve been doing the same, same, same thing for years and I’ve never changed my game plan. I never change what I’m going to do,” he said. “I feel the biggest thing, and this goes for all avenues in life, but especially in martial arts, you’ve got to feel the fight. You can teach people techniques, but a great martial artist, a world champion, is going to be able to feel that, get in the groove and know what they’re going to have to do at that point. They’re not really anticipating anything, they’re just reacting to a thing just on the fly. I feel that going with the flow is kind of the biggest thing that sets me apart.”

He also feels that there isn’t any pressure on him to achieve his goal.

“I don’t feel any pressure because I’m not doing it for anyone else, just for myself,” he said. “A lot of it is that I’m mentally preparing myself. In my mind I’ve been at this Super Grands moment 10,000 times, at the line ready to go. I know it’s going to be difficult, but I feel I’ve been here times before.”