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Gong Fu club aims to increase interest in martial arts

Christopher Barnes | Sunday, January 29, 2012

Step, step, pivot, kick, and giving back to the community are the newest movements of Notre Dame.

The Gong Fu club, started by graduate student Erik Blair last semester, is expanding martial arts beyond the workout room walls.

“Very few people in the Midwest practice Gong Fu, commonly known as Kung Fu, so this club represents an attempt to drum up interest for the practice here on campus,” Blair said.

Blair said he decided to start the club after meeting with several students from Bethel College, Saint Mary’s College and Notre Dame who shared his love for the martial arts.

“I’ve spoken with several students and professors from the area who practice Gong Fu, and most of them are affiliated with the ROTC program on campus,” Blair said. “I was in the Navy for several years before I began my doctorate, so with this common thread, we decided to … share our love for Gong Fu.”

Blair, who passed the test for his black belt in front of the highest teacher of Gong Fu, said he hopes the club’s members will eventually achieve the same feat in order to create a group that is self-sustaining.

“Ideally, our young group will have 10 members committed to the goal of reaching the level of black belt in their study,” Blair said. “I would like them to advance in the art as much as possible because I definitely want to get the club to a point where it is self sustaining.”

Blair said he will be hosting his teacher as a guest sensei to come and train with the club at the end of March.

But Blair said he hopes his students will gain something beyond physical strength. Instead, he wants the club to enhance members’ minds.

“There’s a sort of a mindset that comes with Gong Fu, and a responsibility that comes with it,” he said. “The Gong Fu that we practice is valid for self defense, and when I train people, I train them to think about it as a defensive tool only.  It’s not for offensive purposes.  I try my best to get them thinking about avoiding trouble rather than seeking it.  That sort of training helps people to start thinking about their words and actions to avoid an engagement.”

Blair said he also wants the club to serve as a social outlet for his students.

“[We’re] launching a Kung Fu Movie Night series in February,” he said. “This will be a periodic screening of some of the best Kung Fu movies of the past 20 years, including Ip Man, The Matrix and Kung Fu Panda. I also hope to fit in some more obscure gems such as Twin Warriors and Kung Fu Hustle, or maybe Fist of Legend. This is an opportunity to involve more people in the club, to have [a] more social opportunity for members to interact apart from practice and training and to promote the appreciation of Kung Fu on campus.”

In addition, Blair said he hopes the club can give back to the community that has welcomed it.

“We are going to the Healthwin Nursing Home to perform a demonstration there with some martial arts techniques,” Blair said. “We’re also going to be going there on a regular basis to help with their Saturday Bingo sessions.”

Students currently in the group said they have been satisfied with the activities of the club thus far.

“I have always been interested in studying Gong Fu, and this group has finally given me that opportunity,” Chad Stevenson, a graduate student majoring in electrical engineering, said.  “I knew Erik [before joining the group], and his workouts emphasize the fundamentals of applicable self-defense.”

Blair said the group will meet regularly throughout the week so that group members may build on the skills developed from previous meetings.

“The group will meet on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays, with the two sessions later in the week scheduled so that students can easily fit our group into their busy schedules,” Blair said. 

Above all, Blair said he wants students to realize that despite the shape they are in, most people can participate in martial arts.

“Everyone, regardless of ability, is welcome to attend our meetings and experience a Gong Fu workout,” he said. “It’s not just an exoteric thing.”