Martial arts group tries to kick low numbers

Campus martial arts student groups are aiming to increase visibility and attract members.

Sarah Connor

The University of Minnesota’s Tae Kwon Do club lined up on the Great Hall auditorium stage in Coffman Union on Tuesday, barefoot and dressed in all white.

One by one, each member let out a guttural shout before cracking a pine board with a swift kick of the leg.

The students were demonstrating their martial arts skills in front of a small audience for a special exhibition, marking the first time several campus martial arts group met in one place.

Following a recent downward trend of participation in the sport, the groups joined forces for the exhibition with hopes of increasing their visibility on campus and attracting new members.

Trevor Foster, one of the event planning coordinators and member of the Vo Lam Kung Fu student club, said while there’s been some interest in martial arts on campus, participation in the University’s clubs has dropped over the past couple of years.

Foster, a longtime practitioner of martial arts, said he hopes Tuesday’s expo will generate students’ interest in the activity.

The event included aikido, karate, judo, taekwondo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Kung Fu demonstrations.

In the past, Foster said, University martial arts groups have hosted events that targeted certain cultural demographics that the sport reflects, but Tuesday’s event was geared toward students of all backgrounds.

“There hasn’t been a big event like this for many, many years with all the martial arts groups in one place,” Foster said. “For me, it’s really about creating that sense of community because we all practice for similar reasons.”

John Wulterkens, president of the Tae Kwon Do club, said his group has actively tried to increase participation on campus this year through marketing and events like the expo.

And so far, it’s working.

“We have been doing a lot more advertising, painting the bridge, putting up flyers,” Wulterkens said. “We’ve had a lot more interest in our group since we started doing that.”

While other martial arts clubs are suffering from a decrease in membership each year, Wulterkens said the Tae Kwon Do club has grown a little — from seven students to about 15 since he joined in 2012.

But Wulterkens said the group will continue its efforts to increase its visibility on campus and grow, so more students can take advantage of the unique physical and mental sport.

“We want to be able to provide low-cost instruction of taekwondo [for] as many people [who] are interested in participating,” he said.

Foster said the Kung Fu club has also been working on new initiatives this semester to attract more martial arts enthusiasts.

“We’ve really been getting out on campus more and taking advantage of opportunities to reach new members,” he said.

He added that he was surprised that last year’s string of violent crimes on and around campus didn’t bring more students to the sport.

“There’s been more interest in self-defense classes,” he said, “but there hasn’t been that same interest in martial arts.”

Even though some groups have had a decline in participation, students who practice martial arts say they experience the benefits of the sport regardless of how many people are participating.

“For me, I get everything out of it,” Foster said. “It’s a community. … You can just lose yourself in it.”