People who stop by the HPER building’s dance studio on Thursday nights are met with an intimidating sight – a group of students moving as one at the command of their sensei, arms cutting through the air to fell invisible attackers. This group is the ESU Karate Club, and despite their ferocity, they are more than welcoming.
Gilbert Rodriguez, head of the club and third-degree black belt, said that about 20 years ago, a university student created the club before leaving for Topeka to continue his schooling. This student has since started a number of different karate clubs in the Topeka area as well.
Rodriguez himself has been doing karate for about 27 years, he said, following his time in the Marine Corps.
“I liked the self-discipline,” he said.
He also liked the use of the weapons and the fighting aspect of it, but, of course, the art of karate is so much more, he said. Now, his favorite aspect of karate as a whole is the harmony among practitioners, as well as that same self-discipline.
Ambrea Hendrickson, junior elementary education major, is currently a purple belt. She explained the different degrees of belts from most to least experienced – white, orange, blue, green, purple, first brown, second brown and, finally, black. She said the club travels to Topeka to test those who are ready to step up a belt.
“I (joined the club) my freshman year,” she said. “It sounded really cool, and I’m still here.”
Rebecca George, junior art therapy major, realized something of a childhood dream by joining the club.
“I always wanted to do karate since I was little,” she said. “My favorite kinds of movies were like ‘Karate Kid (and) Ninja Turtles.’”
But there’s more to the club than just the physical. Rodriguez said the club is very active in the Emporia community.
“We do a lot of community work,” he said. “We put in about 60 to 70 hours of community service throughout the year.”
Roberta Gitchel, administrative assistant for Interdisciplinary Studies, is Rodriguez’s assistant. She said appreciates the friendship the club offers.
“I like the camaraderie of everybody,” she said. “Everybody knows everybody. It’s like we’re a family.”
Rodriguez encourages students to drop by, not just to make new friends, but also to learn a new and valuable art.
“It’s good to know…so that way you can protect yourself,” he said.
The ESU Karate Club meets every Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the PKP room of the Memorial Union and also every Thursday at 7 p.m. in the HPER dance studio.