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Club practices art of gongfu

Aubrey Butts | Monday, November 21, 2011

Graduate student Erik Blair has found the perfect outlet for stress in the middle of his busy schedule.

Blair turns to gongfu, a unique martial arts form, along with other members of the Gongfu Club he founded earlier this semester.

“I get so much out of teaching martial arts,” Blair said. “Teaching techniques strengthens my grasp of those techniques and deepens my skill. I think the relationships I build out of it are the best part. It’s really a lot of fun when you have students who are motivated to learn and to teach others also.”

Blair first learned gongfu and earned his black belt in the discipline during his time as an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy.

“Upon coming back to Notre Dame for a Ph.D., I didn’t want the knowledge to evaporate, and I still wanted to advance in the art,” Blair said. “That led me to desire to teach others and that led to the club.”

Sophomore Thomas Voutsos joined the club when it first began this semester. He said he especially enjoys the welcoming atmosphere of the club and gongfu’s relevance in his own life.

“Erik and the club members have been great teachers and very welcoming” Voutsos said. “The best part about participating in the club is learning a completely new skill that can have real life applications in the future. It is great exercise, and the body movements, combined with mental focus, create a very unique inner feeling during and after gongfu practices.”

While Voutsos entered the club with no prior martial arts experience, he said his skills have quickly progressed, thanks to Blair’s guidance.

“In this semester, I have been able to earn a yellow belt and I am currently working on earning an orange belt,” Voutsos said. “Erik is a great teacher, which has allowed me to learn a lot in just one semester.”

Unlike Voutsos, sophomore Max Geraci did have previous martial arts experience before joining Gongfu Club.

“I did practice martial arts before joining the club and had obtained a black belt in Tae Kwon Do,” Geraci said. “I was fairly well-experienced with martial arts prior to training in Gongfu, but I would say that it has significantly improved my form to experience Gongfu.”

During their Gongfu workouts, both Geraci and Rob McKenna said they enjoy the kiba-dachi stance, which mimics a wall-sit exercise without the support of a wall.

“I think my favorite memory so far is the time I had to hold a squat for several minutes as part of a black belt test in February,” McKenna said.

Saint Mary’s junior Elizabeth Schroff said she appreciates the communal aspect of the club and the ability to assume a teaching role at practices.

“Everyone in the club here is really dedicated to the art, and they are all awesome to work with,” Schroff said. “Being a green belt, I really enjoy getting the opportunity to help teach the younger belts and give them tips on how to improve and progress in the art.”

Blair said he hopes Gongfu Club can continue as an exciting way for students, staff and faculty from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s to learn or progress in martial arts techniques.

“In the long term, I would like to get students, faculty and staff members to black belt so that the club can be self-sustaining, for I know that I won’t be here at Notre Dame forever,” Blair said.