Occidental’s karate class is a ‘great big family’

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Karate teacher Victor Chico teaches a karate class in the dance studio at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 31, 2022. Angela Guglielmino/The Occidental

Occidental offers various physical activity courses, including karate, which is instructed by Victor Chico, who is also Occidental’s postal operations manager. According to emails sent to the student body in late August by William Morris, the college’s coordinator of community wellness, the class meets on Monday and Wednesday evenings from 5:10 p.m. to 6:25 p.m. in the dance studio and introduces students to the fundamentals of karate.

Chico said he first found his love for karate when he immigrated to the United States. Inspired by Bruce Lee and Muhammed Ali, he said he began to take up the activity as a way to defend himself.

“I just always loved it and didn’t know that it is really a good workout and actually useful whenever I first immigrated here,” Chico said.

Joaquin Martinez (sophomore), a student in Chico’s class, practiced karate for many years as a child. According to Martinez, after taking a break from an injury, he decided to take up martial arts again at Occidental.

“I actually used to do karate when I was younger around sixth grade, elementary school, but I had an injury to my knee, so I had to stop,” Martinez said. “After a long time, I felt like I wanted to sort of get back into it. It was fun learning how to do moves, especially in karate where you need to sort of memorize forms and execute them. It’s like a performance art.”

According to Chico, each class begins and ends with reciting the Dojo Kun, a meditation that seeks perfection of character, being faithful, respecting others and refraining from violent behavior. The class begins with focusing on drilling blocks, stances, kicks and punches. Then, the class moves into varied practices including offensive techniques, defensive techniques and partner work. Chico said in addition to the basics, he stresses the importance of respect for others.

During a karate class students throw their blue foams to each other at the same time and try to catch in the dance studio at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 31, 2022. Angela Guglielmino/The Occidental

“When you enter the door, you have to bow. When you exit the door, you have to bow. When you see anyone that is higher than you, you have to bow,” Chico said.

In a classroom setting, Martinez describes Chico as a funny and welcoming instructor who tries to reach out to students in and out of karate.

“I think he’s a really great teacher, particularly friendly and very approachable. Honestly for me, as a bit of a shyer person, it’s really nice to sort of see that in Mr. Chico,” Martinez said. “Actually, he invited me out to lunch last weekend, just to talk about stuff since I’m helping run the club as well. He’s a really charismatic person and I love going to his classes.”

Martinez said karate is a great way to escape the rigors of college life.

“It’s really easy to get lost in it. A lot of it is automatic, not thinking about it, sort of just feeling out movement and such and it’s a really good way to take myself out of the mindset of ‘I’m caught between two assignments,’” Martinez said. “I’m just sort of in this space of karate. It’s almost meditative. You’re just focusing on the movements, not really thinking about anything else, it’s almost like stepping out of myself whenever I go into the studio.”

Hin Yu Kenneth (sophomore) said he has also seen the benefits of the class. Kenneth said for him, it is more than just karate class; it is also a community-building experience that he has gotten more out of than he originally expected.

“While it does definitely provide me with a good consistent outlet for exercising, it has also slowly transformed into a meditative activity,” Kenneth said. “It is a place where I can put down everything that is going on in my life and focus on the singular task of karate. Everyone in karate is super nice to each other and in a way, has become a great big family.”

Joaquin Martinez (sophomore) on the right, and Kenneth Huang (sophomore) on the left, at a karate class in the dance studio at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 31, 2022. Angela Guglielmino/The Occidental

Contact Mary Jones at Mjones3@oxy.edu