By David Song, October 3, 2017 —
From lifting weights to going for a run, the University of Calgary offers many ways for students to exercise on campus. For those looking for a less conventional work out, the U of C Sparring Club provides students with the opportunity to practise martial arts and train both physically and mentally.
Neuroscience student and club representative Jacinta Specht says the Sparring Club, which started in 2015, welcomes all students regardless of experience.
“We’re open to anyone who wants to learn martial arts,” Specht said. “We want to provide people with confidence and some of the principles that come along with martial arts, such as discipline.”
Martial arts — an umbrella term for a variety of combat practices and traditions — can be intimidating for beginners. The Sparring Club wants to dispel the myth that martial arts are reserved for athletic men.
“Anyone can learn from martial arts,” Specht said. “I’ve taught elders starting at 60. And then I have kids who are five. I always try to tell people who want to join the club, it’s not for a certain age or body type. Anyone can be a martial artist.”
Club executive Farrah Shiela Urmeneta stresses that practising martial arts isn’t about causing harm to others.
“Martial arts isn’t equivalent to violence,” she said. “It’s a controlled form of exercise. You look super cool. You learn that you can do things that you could never do before.”
The Sparring Club’s weekly sessions are structured to teach newcomers various basic disciplines and to further cultivate veteran members’ skills.
“Normally, the room will be split in half,” Urmeneta said. “On one side, you see people beating each other up — sparring. They’re from a variety of different martial arts backgrounds or they have no experience. On the other side there is more conditioning and training led by an exec or senior member who knows exactly how it works. We normally allow members to use our equipment, or they can bring their own.”
Sessions are often led by Specht, who holds a third-degree black belt in Shotokan karate, or by guest instructors. Faculty of Science dean and dual karate black belt Lesley Rigg led one session last semester.
Specht says sparring is a high-impact workout that develops cardio, balance and overall fitness.
“It’s very interval-based,” Specht explained. “You go hard for a couple of seconds, then [the referees] stop it, then you go again. You’re using your whole body and it helps with coordination and focus. It’s a very good way for people to get fit fast.”
Practising martial arts also has a number of mental and social benefits. Specht and Urmeneta say that being a Sparring Club member fosters a sense of community on campus. Training in martial arts is also accompanied by greater discipline, confidence and a sense of camaraderie.
“When I first came in, I didn’t know what to expect,” Urmeneta said. “I didn’t know there were as many [forms of martial arts] as there are and I didn’t know so many different people could be interested in martial arts. It touched my soul.”
“You make good friends through martial arts,” Specht added. “You learn to trust each other.
A year-long Sparring Club membership costs $20 — a paltry amount compared to fees charged by off-campus clubs, which can cost upwards of $200. Meetings generally take place on Fridays from 5:30–7:30 p.m. To join the Sparring Club, visit their Facebook page or email email@example.com.