For this feature, we have an incredibly strong woman who is open to sharing her story about being in an unhealthy relationship. We recognize this can be a sensitive topic for some readers.


Please tell us a little bit about yourself.


My name is Antoinette, most of the martial arts community knows me as Toni. I am an immigrant and was born in Jamaica. I moved to Canada in 1990 when I was 16 years old. Canada has been my home for almost 30 years now! I am currently 45 years old and I have been involved in sport all my life. I played soccer in high school and university, and then I went onto coaching and refereeing as well. I wanted to start martial arts when I was in Jamaica but schools did not want to teach girls so I was not able to start. My mom, however, decided to take action and lobbied about sexism. I learned at an early age from my mom, if someone says no to you and it’s not right, you can speak up about it.


I started university at University of Toronto when I was 19 and was pregnant with my daughter at 21 years old. While I was pregnant, I was taking a marital arts course. My doctor said it was fine to continue, but by teacher would not allow me to continue with the class. I was frustrated and did not want to deal with the sexism, so I decided to take a break from pursuing martial arts.


When my daughter was 4 years old, she saw a commercial on television of a girl dressed as a ninja fighting off other ninjas. She was inspired and excited by the character and wanted to join martial arts. She was able to find Desantos Premiere Martial Arts by luck, after similar experiences of gyms not welcoming girls. Since then, I have been involved with Desantos, running a school and teaching classes for almost 20 years.


Please share a story about an internal or external barrier you have faced.


One of my biggest barriers was being in an abusive relationship. As a new-comer to Canada and a 16-year-old teenager, I was in a relationship that started off with verbal abuse, isolation and then physical abuse. I received many scars, emotionally and physically. The obstacle I faced was not being able to stand up for myself. With my cultural background, it is normal for your partner in a relationship to be angry and become physical. I had to learn that was not appropriate behaviour and I had to learn over years from the community. The moment I realized I could stand up for myself was when I started martial arts with my daughter. The relationship didn’t end until I received my black belt, two years later. It took time and strength for me to walk away from the relationship. It was a big challenge and obstacle in my life I had to overcome.


How did you overcome that barrier? What skills did you develop in sport that helped you overcome your barrier?


Martial arts has so much to offer and at the time, I was holding myself back. I was scared to upset my partner. As I was becoming more independent, the abuse got worse and worse. My mentor started to notice signs of abuse, so I opened up to her to tell her what was happening. She ensured my safety by acting on my best interests and allowing me to build my strength throughout the years. My relationship with my mentor became stronger and I was able to truly explore the benefits of martial arts. I was able to travel, learn from different people the importance of character building.


I also picked up Krav Maga (Israeli martial arts), a form of self defense and had the privilege to teach many young students in schools and the community. I teach both boys and girls, but I take pride in teaching boys because it’s important for them to learn to take care of not only themselves but also their partners. They need to learn to not be physical in a relationship, and it is alright to walk away. It is not unmanly to walk away from a situation that is not healthy. It is also important to teach girls to set boundaries and to maintain boundaries. Girls can say no and walk away from a situation that is not right for them either. Martial arts teaches people to build strength mentally first, before getting physical. We need to learn who we are first and the difference between what is right and wrong for us. I didn’t think when I was young, I had the strength to know what was right for me. With years of training, I learned “yes, I can”. I truly believe martial arts helped me overcome my obstacle.


If you had one word to describe your character, experiences or philosophy what would it be? Why?




People often assume I can’t do much, especially in the martial arts world. Especially when they see my size, a woman and my softer approach. But when things need to be done, people see my fierce side. There has been many situations in my life where I’ve been underestimated. People often don’t expect a lot of different things from me but knows I’m a force to be reckon with.


If you wanted to motivate a young female athlete to #BuildHerUp, what quote would you use? Why?


“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Ghandi

I strongly believe that change starts with you. You have to look inside. You can’t expect people or things outside of you to change. You need to be able to see where you want to be and what is holding you back. It starts from inside and it’s important to do some soul searching.


I read the book “The Secret” and it taught me the need to put things in the universe that I wanted rather than dwelling on the things that were coming at me that were making me unhappy. I started to re-envision what I wanted in the world. I needed to envision what my family looked like, what my future looked like, and how I wanted to be remembered in the community. I’m helping others to change their lives because I took time to reflect on my own life. I was able to find love again. I initially thought when I ended my abusive relationship that I wouldn’t be able to find love again because it had such a negative impact on me. I changed how I looked at where I am in life, who I am, what I have to offer. Now I’m getting married in 2020 to an amazing man. He is my ray of sunshine. He embodies what I put out in the universe of what I wanted in my life. I wanted to have someone who is caring and nurturing. Someone who loves my family as well. I wanted someone that also loves my son because he has down syndrome. My son has also brought so much pleasure and love to my life. He has helped me learn more about people. People who care and gravitate towards my son are the people I truly want in my life. I’ve learned these are people who are open-minded and see him for who is rather than someone with challenges.