Seton Hill revives martial arts club on campus

Betz and club treasurer Dale Detrick practice moves. Photo courtesy of Erika Totaro.

A new club is kicking butt on campus. Members of the Seton Hill community now have the option to join the newly-formed Seton Hill Martial Arts Club, or SHMAC.

The club began as two separate endeavors headed by Erika Totaro and Mariah Betz. Totaro, a sophomore majoring in mathematics and engineering, has studied Tang Soo Do – a Korean martial arts form – for six years and is a second-degree black belt. She hopes to test for a teaching certificate in martial arts soon.

Betz, a freshman Spanish major, currently serves as the club’s president. She has studied martial arts – primarily Tae Kwon Do and Kung Fu – since she was six years old. What initially began as a lack of interest in dancing and gymnastics has turned into a lifelong fascination with martial arts and self-defense.

Once Totaro and Betz joined forces, they gathered other interested students and set about forming the official club. Due to the existence of a previous martial arts club, they did not need to have the club re-recognized by SHGA.

Club officers and founders researched possible schools to partner with in the area. This required determining what form they wanted to focus on, which was resolved through a Facebook poll in which it was decided that SHMAC would offer lessons in Tang Soo Do.

Totaro, Betz and other club officers then reached out to two martial arts schools in the area, inviting them to interviews to determine which school would be the best fit for the needs of SHMAC. Ultimately, club officers voted to partner with C.S. Kim Karate. As a result of this partnership, three instructors visit Seton Hill during club meetings on a rotating basis.

For more experienced club members, this means a chance to experience a martial arts style that is different from their own. Though Tang Soo Do is the style taught by the C.S. Kim instructors, club participants have the opportunity to observe martial artists from a variety of backgrounds in action.

“We each have our own way of explaining things, and that helps different people,” said Totaro, referring not only to the variety of instructors offered through SHMAC but also to the variety within martial arts studies themselves. It is possible to have a ten-year-old child and a sixty-year-old woman in the same class as black belts. However, what the woman lacks in physical strength and flexibility she makes up for in experience with technique, and vice versa.

According to both Totaro and Betz, one reason to join the club is the opportunity for a full-body workout. Sessions are structured so that everyone, beginners and experts alike, can participate. Beginners get to learn techniques and receive instruction; more advanced club members get a chance to step back and revisit the basics from a different angle.

“It’s a mental sport as well as a physical sport,” said Betz. She notes that for some, it can include a spiritual dimension as well. The study of martial arts requires discipline and careful attention to detail.

The first three sessions are free – following that, club members interested in continuing their martial arts education are asked to pay a $30 fee per semester. Members in their first semester of participation are asked to make a one-time additional payment of $15.

While this may seem rather steep for a college club, both Betz and Totaro commented on the need for perspective when considering the club fee. The rate they are asking for is the same that is offered by the martial arts clubs in operation at both Virginia Tech (VT) and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Additionally, the price of the campus club is cheaper than a similar membership obtained outside of SHMAC. Totaro estimates that after the first semester, the attendance cost comes to roughly $1 per club session.

A number of faculty and staff members have quietly offered resources gleaned from their own martial arts experiences throughout the creation of the club. The advisor for the club is assistant professor of mathematics Jared Burns.

The club meets every Monday and Wednesday evening at 7:15 p.m. in the Aerobics Room in the McKenna Center.

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