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Martial Arts Keeps Kicking Into Shape

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Following the 2000 season, the Board of Managers made the historic decision to eliminate the football program from Swarthmore College. Although the football team at Swarthmore had seen much success before its termination, the Board’s decision remained firm, and Swarthmore has been deprived of Friday night lights ever since.

Although the disbanding of Football headlined the Board’s decision, students often forget that the Board also cut two other sports: Men’s Badminton and Wrestling. Although these sports were not as popular on campus, the Board at the time still felt these teams were no longer needed.

So what has the College done to replace the energy these sports brought to campus over a decade and a half later? Not much. Men’s Badminton now operates as a club sport, and has been so for some time now. No activity was implemented in place of football to fill the void left after 2000.

The spirit of Swarthmore wrestling is still alive today. The sport has evolved on campus and now takes the face of mixed martial arts. Indeed, it seems as though there is a secret “Underground Fight Club,” that exists on our campus. This fight club differs from a traditional fight club in that an emphasis is not only placed on the combative nature of the sport, but also its artistic nature.

Ever wonder where the stairs in front of Tarble Pavilion in the fieldhouse lead to? Below the fieldhouse is a “secret” wrestling room, where members of the Swarthmore community who participate in mixed martial arts practice and train. The wrestling room is home to the Swarthmore Martial Arts Club (SMAC), a club that practices kickboxing, wing chun kung fu, Brazilian jiu jitsu, and karate, among other forms of martial arts.  

Sebastian Mintah ’19, an active member of the club, spoke regarding his experiences with SMAC.

“I had some martial arts background before coming to Swat. When I got here, I was looking to pick it back up. I found SMAC and was immediately interested in practicing wing chun,” Mintah said.

SMAC is much more than just fun and games. Members of the group practice and train hard for two hours every week. The group brings in a “sifu,” or teacher, to help members of the group master proper techniques to be used both out on the streets and for sparring.

“Angel [Padilla ’18] used to teach us, but he brought in the Sifu that taught him at his school. We now all learn from Sifu Fred. Sifu Fred is certified in teaching wing chun kung fu, so we’re learning from a professional,” Mintah said.

Mintah commented on what separates wing chun from other forms of martial arts.

“We learn a lot about self-defense. Wing chun follows the central line style of attacking, where one attacks the center of their opponent, straight from the head down. It is also about the economy of motion. The goal is to be concealed and to-the-point with your energy and motions. It’s about simultaneous attack and defense.”

Newcomers are always welcomed to join the group.

“You don’t need to be the strongest to learn wing chun. It’s easy to learn, but very hard to master. That’s why we usually don’t let first-timers spar on day one. If we put them in the ring on day one, most will resort to just using brute force instead of focusing on proper technique and the art of fighting,” Mintah said.

SMAC practices more forms of martial arts in addition to wing chun. The group represents a diverse array of fighting forms out there to learn. Although the Board’s actions of 2000 may deprive the college of exciting, contact-oriented sports, SMAC is keeping the fighting spirit alive at Swarthmore College.

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