Rutgers Martial Arts Club offers challenges, diversity
Being able to hit someone in the face and still be friends means a lot, said Neha Ghosh, a martial arts instructor for the Rutgers Martial Arts Club.
With its unique mix of styles and close-knit community, RMAC gives members the opportunity to challenge themselves in the discipline of self-defense and fighting, said Ghosh, who graduated last year.
Ghosh has been studying martial arts since she was 6-years-old and decided to join the club when she was a first-year student at the University.
Jorrell Figueroa, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, also joined the club as a first-year student after years of experience in the discipline.
“My dad started teaching me a few forms of Kung Fu when I was younger,” he said. “From there, I started learning a variety of different things and started branching out from Kung Fu to things like karate, kickboxing and Muay Thai.”
The term “martial arts” literally means “military art,” Figueroa said. The “military” aspect encompasses hand-to-hand combat and fighting. The “art” aspect makes it a form of expression. Because of this, Figueroa finds martial arts different from other sports.
“I see martial arts as being a lot more practical than other sports because there is the application of the self-defense aspect as well,” he said.
The club competes in several tournaments throughout the year, usually focused on point-sparring, which is like a game of tag, Ghosh said. The first person to touch his or her opponent in a legitimate manner, such as a touch to the face, is the winner.
Malcolm Hill, an instructor and School of Arts and Sciences senior, said tournaments usually focus on a karate style, where it is all about accuracy, speed and top-notch defense.
Ghosh said the diversity of the team helps its performance.
“Normally [the other teams] train in taekwondo or more karate-esque styles,” she said. “Our styles are usually more intermixed in the sense that we do Savate, which is French kick-boxing, or Muay Thai. Every type teaches you a different element of fighting.”
Figueroa said the tournaments are nerve-racking, but satisfying. Though the experience is stressful, he said it can also be a stress reliever.
At a recent tournament, the club saw two of its teams win first and third place, Figueroa said. One of the club members earned the highest number of points for the entire tournament.
The club members have a variety of favorite martial artists, including Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Mohammed Ali and Lyoto Machida, Figueroa said.
Ghosh said the club also looks up to its own head instructor, Adnan Islam, whose inspiring character makes him a role model.
“Islam has several black belts, and his unique teaching style is a mix of all different types of martial arts,” she said. “He is extremely fit and pushes everyone to make sure they are ready to fight. He even works out with us to connect with us more.”
Ghosh said martial arts has many benefits, including learning about self-defense, fighting, movement and awareness of one’s body and fitness. As far as the difficulty level, she stressed that it can be demanding.
“It’s as physically demanding as you personally make it,” she said. “We’ll give you a lot to do, we’ll tell you to do this, that and the other thing, but it’s only as hard as you push yourself. You can burn a lot of calories if you wanted to.”
To join the club, students do not need any prior knowledge about martial arts, and Figueroa said the club welcomes students of all skill levels.
While some people with no experience join the club, some come in with black belts and tournament experience, he said.
The members of the club are close and hang out with each other after practice, Ghosh said. This close bond helps everyone push each other so they can all improve.
“Even though I’ve been in martial arts and done this for a long time, I don’t consider myself to be the best,” she said. “Everyone has their pros and cons, their weaknesses and strengths. You can learn something from a beginner even.”
Hill is excited about the future because of all the new connections and networks the team is creating.
With the diversity of martial arts, it can be used for competitions or as an art, he said.
“[The University] is a great foundation for learning basic martial arts,” he said. “In the future, as we grow, I see the club as a great bridge to get to anything you are looking for.”