Taekwondo is more than just a passion for Elite Taekwondo's Master Bañares, it's a chance to help up-and-coming talent while sharing God's love. 

The fifth Dan black belt has taught taekwondo for almost 20 years and found success, but his life hasn't always been a smooth journey. Coming to Canada from the Philippines when he was five was a culture shock. Bañares says he was bullied often and would ask himself "Why is this happening to me?."

That's when the family that had sponsored his family to come to Canada in the first place suggested that he try out judo, which is another form of martial arts. 

"I excelled at it and I'm going 'Wow, this is such a mind-blowing experience.' And you know, that's when I started to really gravitate towards martial arts," he said. It wouldn't last long. "Mom and Dad couldn't afford it. And they couldn't take me. So I stopped halfway and then, you know, growing up as a Catholic, I was given my 3C's, my confession, confirmation, and communion."

Running from faith and back again

"I lost the path in terms of my faith because of different things going on in my life and kind of shied away from the faith and later on in my life, I discovered Christ again. I love to run, this is one of the things that I I love to do and this has always been part of my life."

He admitted that after going through some hard circumstances, he shied away from his faith and focussed on his passion for running. "I needed a timeout for myself, so I started running around Westwood. I would run by 10 churches every single time."

One of the churches stood out against the others. "It kept calling my name for some reason, and I don't know why, and it just kept calling my name. So every time I would run on the weekends, it was just saying, 'You just have to step in there. You have to step in there,' and sure enough, you know I went."

Walking into Westwood Community Church, he was greeted with open arms. "I had a Pastor Rick, come in and say, 'Can I just do a prayer on you?' He put his hand on my shoulders." While this was new for Bañares, he felt the love and that he was welcomed by the church and God.

As Bañares grew his relationship with God, his wife had an idea to make his taekwondo studio stand out. "My wife says, now that you're a fully devoted Christian, why don't you open up your club as a Christian organization?" 

Not fully sold on the idea, at the time, she put that on the website to see what would happen. "I'm going to tell you, it's probably the best thing that ever happened that my wife suggested that."

Boldness leads to opportunity

Being bold and open has led more students to sign up and more chances to have conversations with other people about why he calls himself a Christian. "You know, in taekwondo we go through five tenants. We go through courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and then in bondable spirit." Realizing that those tenants align with Jesus' teachings he uses them to draw parallels to his faith when witnessing to others.

Now, he gets to share motivational quotes coming from the Bible with his students. "I give it to them as homework. Like 2 Corinthians 5:7, they would look at the verse and then they would read the verse and then they would tell me what it means. And so, it's so nice to see other people, especially when it comes to this type of physical sport, talk about God first and talk about the Word and then start doing the physical activity after that, and we do that on a weekly basis for the students."

Running continues to also be a big part of his life, including completing the Manitoba Marathon 19 times, and this year's marathon will be extra special. He says that God told him to ask one of his students to complete the race with him in 2024. "He says, 'Master, I was waiting for you to ask.' So he actually is going to run. I'll be on my milestone twentieth Manitoba Marathon. He'll be on his first Manitoba full marathon and we're going to finish it together. And I made that promise him, we'll be training together and it's coming this Father's Day."

Elite Taekwondo has three locations. Issac Brock Community Center, 715 Telfer Street North. Manitoba Lawn Bowl Building at 1212 Dakota Street. St. Charles Church at 320 St. Charles Street.