Kung Fu for the Jet in all of us

By Teresa Matejovsky | September 27, 2001

Looking for a way to expel that studying aggression? Or maybe to burn off last weekend's beer calories? Well, Club Kung Fu just might be for you.

Promoted as the most practical self-defense method of the martial arts, Kung Fu promises to give you not only a lethal punch, but the mental toughness to face anything - even Orgo.

Kung Fu has been at Hopkins since 1988 and hit off its first class for the new year this past Monday in the Mattin Center dance studio. Over 35 brave undergrads turned out in sweats and sneakers to line up in front of the four senior instructors and learn some Bruce Lee moves.

The vast majority of them were there for the first time. You know this, by the way, because the returning students wear snazzy, black Kung Fu T-shirts. Also, they know what to expect. When the instructors yelled out to warm up, the returning students, well, groaned. They knew what was coming.

For those weak at heart, the warm-up, itself, just might be enough to do you in. Before you learn to throw your first straight punch - before you even learn to stand in fighting stance - warm-up is there to prep you up, or knock you out. If you ever thought you were physically ready, this class is here to prove you wrong. You start right in with 20 push-ups, then 20 more, then 20 more. Then there's a mad ab workout - 50 reps - and the killer ones at that, where you lie on your back and cling to your partners' ankles for dear life while they thrust your legs to the ground. A lethal combination of squats and knee raises even got one instructor thinking they might drop that exercise next week.

Before the warm-up was even over, sophomore Tope Akinbiyi was already shedding his second layer of warm-up pants. "It's time to get down to business," he said. Most of the rest of the class were reaching for their water bottles, too.

Don't worry about not being in shape, though - although the returning students pumped out more push-ups and leg raises than the new kids, they don't exactly keep up with 60-odd push-ups over the summer. I have a friend who took the class all last year and woke up Tuesday morning moaning over some major sore legs and abs.

However, besides your own capacity to hang in there, there won't be any excuse for not hitting that Bruce Lee potential. First off, this is traditional, Wing Chun-style Kung Fu. No modifications for wimps. Basically, you know you're going to learn to kick ass when the first thing you do in class is sign a release waiver acknowledging that you might seriously injure yourself before you even leave the room. Unlike karate, in this class, you learn to break necks, not boards.

"We don't hit boards 'cause boards don't hit back," said senior instructor and board member Moky Cheung, a computer science and chemical engineering double major.

Secondly, their teacher, respectfully called "Sifu," is Julian Sawyer, one of only 11 teachers of the traditional style in the U.S. He trains under the international Grandmaster himself and, quite frankly, appears on first glance like he could kick some major ass.

The class is certainly hard work, but it's worth it. Everyone's got a different idea of what they want to get out of it.

"[Kung Fu] is always something you hear about, but never get to do. This is an opportunity to learn something you don't usually get to learn," said freshman Sam Hahn.

Akinbiyi was there for the first time, too, honing up his pick-up skills. "Girls like it when you can break shit," he said. Sophomore Jamie Palaganas is back again this year because she wants to keep her muscle. Hey, learning how to punch five to seven times in a split second is enough to keep anyone buff as heck.

In the most general sense, though, this stuff "can be applied directly to yourself. It's the most practical self-defense," says senior biology pre-med Justin Paul, one of the club's four Executive Council members and a senior instructor. He and Cheung have stuck it out three years and have mastered the sport's five forms. What exactly that entails, I'm sure is tough stuff. All I know is that they were flashing some pretty vicious butterfly swords and looking a lot like Bruce Lee.

The two other board members are seniors, too, and are studying some equally-difficult stuff: physics pre-med Tony Law and econ/bio double major Charles Huang. As Cheung said, Kung Fu is like "a physical game of chess," and the work out is complete for body and mind. Law said he returns year after year because the sport, for him, is "like a drug. You just get hooked - in a good way, of course."

This Kung Fu thing just might be the secret to succeeding at Hopkins. Plus, living in Baltimore is a reason in itself to jump onto the bandwagon: What mugger couldn't you scare away with seven punches in a split second?

So grab your sweats and get pumped. Classes are held by Sifu Sawyer on Mondays at 9 p.m. in the Mattin Center dance studio. On Thursdays, the class meets at 7:30 p.m. at the Athletic Center squash court.

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