Several times a week, students of all different kinds gather in the Pohl Recreation Center to kick, punch, dodge and balance. Though they are learning combat, they also learn discipline and self-control. Don’t call it a fight club – this is martial arts.
Speech and hearing sciences senior Brant Rodriguez started the UNT Martial Arts and MMA club last spring. His group has approximately 40 members and holds five different sessions per week. He has black belts in Thai kickboxing and Tae Kwon Do, and seeks to share his knowledge with others.
“It took a lot of convincing with the rec center to let us practice here,” Rodriguez said. “There was a lot of red tape.”
Frustrated by the brutal depictions of mixed martial arts in organizations like the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Rodriguez said he had to work very hard to shatter misconceptions of the sport in order to have support from UNT. The rec center does not allow any contact, so participants must use kicking pads for practice.
Shannon Burkett, the director of campus involvement for the Student Government Association, is a sponsor of the group and assisted Rodriguez in its setup.
“There were ongoing reports of robbery and sexual assault on campus,” Burkett said. “Brant wanted to have a way for students to learn about self-defense.”
Rodriguez noted there are a number of women who come to the meetings interested in self-defense techniques. As a defense technique, Martial arts teaches how to assess a dangerous situation and make strategic choices, he said. In one session they learned how to retaliate if someone grabs their hair, and learned how to break out of a hold if they are pinned against a wall.
“There are many mental, as well as physical, benefits,” Rodriguez said. “This is a thinking sport.”
Rodriguez said the practice of martial arts promotes a very healthy lifestyle, as it keeps the body in shape as well as helping build balance, stamina and coordination. He said emotional temperament is also a learned benefit and many members have learned how to control their anger as a result of practice.
Spanish language senior Nick Jones has been in the group for two semesters. He finds it a good way to stay in shape and a fun alternative to basic exercise.
“I grew up seeing martial arts in the movies and always wanted to try it.” Jones said.
Rodriguez is pleased with the interest his group has generated so far but expects it to increase once they start advertising. He said martial arts is not just meant for certain types of people, but everyone.
“People from all walks of life come here,” Rodriguez said. “They all get something out of it.”