Mac Martial Arts: deadly warriors or agents of mighty justice?

By Daniel Kerwin

As you go about your daily life, molding yourself into the global citizen that Macalester strives for you to be, other students work behind the scenes to mold themselves into something else: deadly weapons.There is indeed a strong presence on campus of students training in the martial arts, but the above statement may be an exaggeration. These students may fall short of being undercover ninjas, but for them martial arts training is nothing to laugh about.

“I don’t know of many other sports where you can kick someone in the head and have them laugh in response,” Keaton White ’09 said.

Alright, maybe there is some laughter involved.

Martial arts at Macalester go back to the early 1980s, when Anita Bendickson started a Karate class. Bendickson has instructed the class on and off since then and is currently teaching the class this semester.

Bendickson is a distinguished instructor; she co-operates the Midwest Karate Association of St. Paul, has been a two-time American Amateur Karate Federation National Women’s Kumite Champion and has achieved fifth-degree black belt, the highest degree being tenth.

“No-one in the world has tenth, you have to die to get it,” Tue Tran ’11 said. “They seem to think the only way to attain perfection is to be a spirit.”

The majority of students in the class have only recently been introduced to the world of martial arts.

“A lot get into it because they want to get some self defense, and it’s interesting, a good workout,” Bendickson said. “The martial arts teach a lot about self confidence and concentration. It’s not usually explicit, but implicit in the training. You learn it because of what your body does, not because a teacher says it over and over.”

This year’s class is a little different than previous years, with an unusually high number of people making the commitment to test for the next belt level. Last semester Tran was the only one to test, but this semester seven people will be testing. Because of the high number of testers, Joel Ertl, Bendickson’s co-instructor the Midwest Karate Association of St. Paul, will be coming to campus to administer the test.

Despite the large turnout of beginners, some students come into the class with past experience in the martial arts, be it that they took classes at a young age or that they have experience training in another discipline. Tran is a combination of both, having taken Karate classes when he was young and training in Kung Fu and Jujitsu before coming to Mac. His perception of martial arts has changed since he’s been in the class.

“When I came in I just wanted to beat people up,” Tran said. “Now I just want to get the moves right. It’s kind of like doing art.”

Even though Tran calls Karate a “more direct, in your face kind of style” compared to his other disciplines, he’s gained an appreciation for the defensive nature of Karate.

“You shouldn’t always just be the first person to throw a punch,” Tran said. “Fighting isn’t just about who wins; fighting in itself can be beautiful.”

Macalester has had other martial arts classes in the past. As recently as a year and a half ago there was a Tae Kwon Do class taught by brothers Mark and Michael Dawson, who are also Macalester graduates, but the class dissolved after the old athletic facility was torn down. The Karate class however has had a firm enough grasp on campus that it has been able to stick around.

“It’s really established. Every time something goes wrong they find a room for us,” Keaton White ’09 said. “We’re really resilient like that.”

Currently that room is the IHM gym, but this year they have also bounced around between Kagin, the basement of the theatre department, 10K and even the lawn outside the art building.

White is another student for whom the martial arts are more than skin deep. White also took classes as a kid, more recently taking up Aikido during high school. For him the martial arts have grown to have more of a philosophical function, becoming a tool that he has adapted to his own everyday experiences.

His commitment to martial arts at Macalester goes far beyond the Karate class. He’s also heavily involved in the Macalester Martial Arts Club (MMAC).

“MMAC started off as a group of Caribbean black belts who wanted to practice on a regular basis,” Kacy-Ann West ’08 said. “However, as time passed as the group became more known on campus, other Mac students who had no previous experience with martial arts wanted to join.”

The club functions as a community for students involved in different styles of martial arts. Members teach free classes based on their specific styles, but there is also a workout/physical fitness class and a weapons class.

“The classes offered are based on what club members are willing to teach, as all of our instructors are also Macalester students, and frequently change on a semester-by-semester basis,” Ashton Troia ’08 said.

The club also participates in tournaments, such as the Diamond Nationals, which are held in St. Paul during the fall, and at the end of the year the club puts together a martial arts show.

This year’s show will be held in the Campus Center on Friday, April 18th at 9:30 p.m. The show combines martial arts performances with a comedic script that is written by members of the club.

“Every year around this time we have an idea and think ‘that’ll be awesome,’ and then eleven months later we get around to writing the script,” White said. “It’s a little chaotic, but a lot of fun and we really make sure everyone has a good time doing it.”

I won’t give too much away from this year’s show, but for those of you that saw the show 3 years ago, look for the return of the Sword of Mighty Justice.

That’s right: justice. There’s nothing to fear; these student warriors may be deadly, but they’re on our side.