Karate class emphasizes body-mind connection

Kristin Gustafson

On the third floor corner of the St. Paul Gym, two International Karate League instructors trade off demonstrating and directing each stance: block, strike and kick.
Their calm and quiet voices count off in Japanese, “Ichi, ni, san …,” competing with funk music from the adjacent aerobic class.
Instructors Mark Svenkeson and Nate Clyde, both University graduates and black belts, and their eight students are practicing a form of Shorin-Ryu Karate. The University Recreational Sports Club offers the class, which formed in 1968.
Teaching fitness and mental strength, the club’s emphasis is on both self-defense and style. The club meets three evenings a week, is open to everyone and offers a free two-week trial.
The legs of a white belt student shook as he held a “horse-riding” stance, legs bent and feet planted several feet apart. His face tightened as he stopped the stance. He stood for relief, and then lowered himself back into the pose with a determined face.
“Learn the correct path first,” Svenkeson told the class. “Strength and speed will come.”
The classes are geared toward lifelong learning, which is the art of the martial art, Clyde said.
“Simultaneously, while training our bodies physically, we strive to train ourselves to be better individuals,” he said.
A 10-year student of karate, Clyde said he hasn’t learned a new technique in five years; the repetitive nature of the class can border on boring. But coming back to familiar techniques over and over again has taught him to appreciate day-to-day existence, he said.
Jean Chin, a second-year educational psychology graduate student, said she sought karate for balance. She said before joining, she was too focused on mental and intellectual pursuits.
“You learn to know yourself better in terms of accuracy and fluency with your body and mind: the connection,” she said.
As a fourth grader, Institute of Technology graduate student Alex Bonne was bullied by sixth graders. Ever since, he wanted to learn martial arts.
In class, Bonne’s 6-foot-3-inch frame towered over his classmates, but he wasn’t looking for a fight. He said he is learning balance, control, mental discipline and how to overcome obstacles.
“We don’t want to just kick and punch,” Clyde said. “What we teach is awareness — awareness not to put yourself in situations where you will need self-defense.”
But Sopheak Sim, University employee in the computational biology department, originally joined karate to learn to fight.
And although her eyes were fixed fierce as she explained this goal, she said she is learning it can take more discipline to walk away from situations than to fight.