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Active art: UND karate club introduces campus, community to martial art discipline

Mohammed Mahmoud, president of the UND Karate Club, demonstrates a block to students at a Friday night lesson. Mahmoud, a Ph.D. student at UND, says karate teaches self-discipline to those who practice it. (Andrew Haffner/Grand Forks Herald)1 / 3
Zoya Kovalev and Kasey Zhang of the UND Karate Club square off to practice high blocks at a Friday evening lesson. The club, a student organization that provides classes free of charge to members of the public, maintains its dojo in the basement of Swanson Hall on campus. (Andrew Haffner/Grand Forks Herald)2 / 3
Corey Zhang, left, and Igor Kovalev laugh with fellow karate students Briley Zhang, mid-left, Zoya Kovalev and Kasey Zhang, back right, at a Friday night lesson taught by the UND Karate Club. The club teaches karate in Swanson Hall on the university campus. (Andrew Haffner/Grand Forks Herald)3 / 3

The dojo in the basement of UND's Swanson Hall was bustling Friday night with students of a different kind than those typically found in the campus residence building.

Pupils of the karate class had trooped in, ages ranging from adults to a 5-year-old, for one of the regular gatherings of the UND Karate Club, a student-run organization that holds open classes free of charge. Friday's lesson was taught by third-degree brown belt Mohammed Mahmoud, a Ph.D. candidate in computer science.

Mahmoud, who is the club's president, is keen to promote the group's mission. Karate, he says, is more than throwing punches and stylized kicks. Though there's plenty of that to be had, Mahmoud and other martial artists say karate has much deeper benefits such as heightened self-discipline and body awareness. He demonstrates that point with his younger charges by encouraging them to be mindful of their breathing, syncing their motion to their breaths. He urges them to slow their movements, tightening up blocks and punches for crisper, more controlled patterns.

The students spend about an hour in the dojo, a long room just down the hall from Memorial Union, moving across the floor. All are barefoot, and most are wearing the traditional white uniform known as the gi, cinched at the waist with a knotted belt signifying rank.

Their instructor counts out loud in Japanese, calling out after the students launch one move after another. The students have their own vocalization, exhaling with a punctual "hai!" after launching each maneuver.

Mahmoud is one of a handful of brown belt students, who represent some of the older students in the room. The club's resident black belt, La Royce Batchelor, serves as the dojo sensei, an honorific term for a head instructor. Batchelor was previously an instructor at UND and is currently the director of the University of Manitoba Center for Entrepreneurship in Winnipeg.

Dustin Ringuette, 15, is one of the brown belts. When asked how long he's been involved with the sport, he gently rejects the term, saying karate becomes "more of a way of life."

He explains that further by pointing to the focus on self-restraint found in the martial art, as well as its community of dedicated practitioners. Both features find their way outside the dojo to shape the individual, he says.

Ringuette started doing karate with the UND club about seven years ago. He's also furthered his practice by attending a karate camp in South Dakota and participating in tournaments, most recently in Bemidji.

His friend in the class, David Davis, 16, is another brown belt. Davis says he likes to do karate as a form of exercise, but there's more to it for him. The martial art, like most activities, comes with its own challenges. These can leave a practitioner feeling "weak or helpless," Davis says.

"But when I get something right," he adds, "it feels amazing."

The UND Karate Club hosts lessons free of cost and open to the public at 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday nights, as well as at 10 a.m. Saturday mornings. All classes are held in rooms 16-18 in the lower level of Swanson Hall on the university campus.

The club dojo is the sole facility in North Dakota to be certified by the International Shotokan Karate Federation, one of the largest karate organizations in the world.

For more information, potential students can call (701) 289-4896 or (701) 289-4896. The club also maintains a social media presence on Instagram at @und_karate_club

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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