Tucked away in a matted room on the public health building’s ground floor, members of the University of Maryland Black Belt Club kicked training bags, stretched and practiced self-defense techniques three times per week.

The club, which was formed in 2000, is an interdisciplinary martial arts group that aims to teach community members several forms of martial arts.

Josh Chau, the club’s president, said he grew up practicing taekwondo — a Korean martial art form. The club hopes to provide its members with a range of martial arts practices, he added.

“Martial arts tends to be very insular,” Chau, a junior government and politics and history major, said. “I’m trying to introduce other people to other arts.”

Chau highlighted that club members come from diverse martial arts backgrounds such as kung fu, krav maga, karate, muay thai, wrestling and boxing.

While most martial arts include self-defense techniques using one’s legs and arms, the specific movements and teachings can vary depending on the form practiced. Some martial art disciplines, such as karate, focus more on using hand strikes while others, like taekwondo, emphasize kicking strikes.

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James Liao, a freshman computer science major and the club’s newly elected treasurer, said he has been practicing taekwondo for 14 years. Liao joined the club to continue practicing taekwondo, despite being far away from his studio at home, he said.

“It’s been part of my life for a very long time,” Liao said. “It’s just fun for me so I want to keep doing it.”

While Liao has experience with taekwondo, he enjoys learning different disciplines and comparing techniques with others. He still practices with other taekwondo martial artists to learn different techniques.

“Even when we try to talk about the different moves, we use completely different terminologies a lot of the time for the same thing,” Liao said. “It really shows me different backgrounds and different types of teachings.”

James Liao, a freshman computer science major and club treasurer, kicks a target during a Black Belt Club practice on Dec. 6, 2023. (Lizzy Alspach/The Diamondback)

The club hosted self-defense seminars and delivered performances on campus before the COVID-19 pandemic, Chau said. Club leadership hopes to return to a similar “footprint” on campus, he added.

To grow local engagement, Chau said he is working to host guest martial artists from the College Park community who can provide lessons on their respective disciplines.

“There’s a lot of people in the community who know martial arts and are very experienced,” Chau said. “It would be great to have them come here and teach people or show them something new.”

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The club provides students like Miriam Klos-Hernandez with a way to reconnect with their passion for martial arts.

Klos-Hernandez, a freshman criminology and criminal justice and psychology major, practiced tang soo do, a Korean martial art practice, until she was 13. In her first year at this university, Klos-Hernandez joined the Black Belt Club to explore her passion for martial arts.

“I decided, ‘Hey, why not join it?’” Klos-Hernandez said. “I don’t have a black belt, but I was like, ‘Let’s join anyways.’”

Tang soo do incorporates principles from jiu-jitsu and weapon techniques, Klos-Hernandez said. Klos-Hernandez plans to teach some of the new techniques she learned at the club to her father, who also practices tang soo do.

Klos-Hernandez added that attending the club’s practices each week helps her relieve stress from classes and exams.

“When you have the stress of the work and everything, you can just sort of take your anger out on [the kicking target] and just de-stress,” Klos-Hernandez said. “For me, it kind of grounds me back to reality.”

Moving forward, Chau hopes the club can create a community where members can learn more about themselves and martial arts.

“We’re trying to do a conducive learning environment,” Chau said. “Somewhere where you can grow as a person, as a martial artist, expose yourself to broader horizons than just what you were doing.”