The end of summer weather is no reason to get out of shape. And for those students involved in the University's Tae kwon do Club, working out means more than staying fit. The club boasts an environment that offers a strenuous workout, self-defense skills as well as opportunity for new friendships.
The University's Tae kwon do Club was formed eight years ago. According to Albert Kim, club president and fourth-year College student, membership fluctuates, with numbers ranging anywhere from 30 to 60 students.
While the majority of club members are undergraduates, several graduate students and faculty members attend each practice.
"We do have some professors and faculty members who join the club," Kim said. "They're just as welcome as anyone else."
Eric Dunham, a fourth-year College student and one of the club's vice presidents, has been in the club for two years. Dunham said it is nice to learn from black belt instructors who also are peers.
He said the club's purpose is to allow students "to learn physical and mental discipline, but to do it in a setting that allows interaction with college students."
"All four of the instructors have in some way competed on a national level," third-year College student Jared Goor said.
Kim, one of the instructors, has been practicing tae kwon do for 12 years and has participated in international and national competitions.
"I've been everywhere inside the continental United States," he said.
Kim said that students join the club with a variety of different goals in mind.
"We try to tailor to what the individual is looking for. Whether it be to get in shape, to learn self defense or to compete," he said.
Goor said that tae kwon do is a beneficial skill to learn for several reasons.
"The primary intent is to get people interested in doing martial arts and doing things for themselves," he said. "It's mostly about confidence and about having a skill that you can really apply towards something."
Skills learned through the martial art can also be applied to other aspects of student's lives, he added.
"You develop a better mental focus, it helps you study," Goor said. "My reflexes are a thousand times better than before I started to do martial arts."
Stephanie Winters, club treasurer and second-year College student, also said there are many reasons to learn tae kwon do.
"It's really good self defense, it's great fun, it's great exercise," Winters said. "You really take care of each other and you learn a whole lot."
Goor said that self-defense is an important aspect of the club.
"Obviously we do have the self defense element," he said. "Anyone in our club would be much better off in a dark alley."
Right now membership is almost exactly split between males and females, although females have a slight edge.
"The typical female is there primarily to get a good work out," Kim said.
Winters said she feels that tae kwon do is an invaluable skill for a college-age woman.
"I feel confident that I'm not helpless in a situation," she said. "Most men that attack women are expecting them to be docile."
Her tae kwon do skills would come as a surprise to an attacker, giving her the upper hand in that type of situation, she added.
"Thank God I've never had to use that," Winters said.
Tae kwon do includes a few different aspects. Goor said part of tae kwon do is choreographed moves, or forms, and part is controlled sparring, which is padded fighting.
"We don't force anyone to spar in the club," he said. "It's a personal choice."
The instructors also have knowledge of tae kwon do weapons, such as the bo staff (a six-foot-long pole) and nunchucks.
Goor said they have the ability to teach the sword, but "we didn't think the rec center [Slaughter] would go for that."
In addition to teaching its members, the club often performs demonstrations for the University community.
"There was just a demonstration done up at Hereford," Dunham said. "We've done demonstrations for the Korean Expo and also for Culture Fest."
During demonstrations, members usually break boards and cinder blocks for audiences, he said.
The club also sponsors social functions and parties.
"We try to make it as interesting as possible," Kim said. "We work really hard when we're in class, and when it's time to play, we play hard."
Although classes are held five times a week, members can go whenever their schedule permits. Most people go three times a week, Dunham said.
This is the first year, however, that the club has designated one night each week as practice for competitions.
"We've sent individual people, but we've never taken a U.Va. team," Winters said. "This would be the first year we'd take a U.Va. team. We're real excited about that."
CeCe Williams, one of the club's vice presidents and a second-year College student, said the new focus on competition is a step in the right direction.
"Hopefully this will give people a way to go to tournaments and grow in their martial arts experience, and it creates a goal for training," Williams said.
The instructors chose the competition team from among the students in the class, based on who they feel is ready for the change, Kim said.
He said the competition team follows Olympic-style fighting, as tae kwon do is a recognized Olympic sport.
"The team is not a teaching class, and so experience is required, along with a dedication to the training schedule," he added.
But Williams said there are some drawbacks to having an organized team.
"A team is a great deal more of a time investment than the club is, since the team will require extra practices, more intensive training and a great deal more funding," she said.
As club treasurer, Winters has a good grasp of the costs of competition. She said that fundraisers, as well as club dues, will help pay for travel.
"Maybe we could get some donations," she said. "We still have to sit down and talk about how exactly we are going to earn this money."
Currently, the team is funded by its members, but Williams said she is attempting to apply for Student Activity Fee money because she wants to take a group to the National Collegiate Championships in California in October.
She said that the National Collegiate Championships is the highest level of competition for U.S. college-aged tae kwon do competitors. From there, competitors go on to the U.S. team trials in June. The other qualifier is the National Senior Championship, held in May, and she added that she is considering taking the team there as well.
Williams is planning to attend less competitive tournaments as well.
"We are also going to attend smaller, more local tournaments to gain experience, and for those members of the team that desire competition but do not want to attend a national level event," she said.
All of the competition and practices have brought the team closer together.
"I've gained friends that are interested in training towards disciplining their minds and bodies," Dunham said. "I've had a lot of fun learning self-defense type things. I've also enjoyed it as a sport."
Williams said she has high hopes for the club in the next few years and said she is ready to meet new challenges.
"The club is well established with members, so it is time for it to grow and expand its horizons, and I think the team will be a good part of keeping a lot of the people with more experience interested in the club and tae kwon do," she said.