The floor of Clemente Center’s intramural basketball court comes to life on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
Standing at the far end, Sensei Mark Laderwarg calls out in Japanese as his students strike precise poses, moving in sync with his voice.
The Florida Tech Martial Arts Association is a student organization which meets directly after his Introduction to Karate class. Laderwarg is the organization’s faculty adviser.
“The credited class, the P.E. class, is designed for beginners and people with no training,” Laderwarg explains. It’s to bring them up to a certain level by the end of the semester.”
The school also offers an advanced karate class, which students can take after the introduction class.
Though there are various styles in martial arts, Laderwarg instructs Karate to his first-year students, who then progress to Jujitsu, in which Karate can be included.
Katarina Vukovic, a senior in Aerospace Engineering is the president of MAA and has been practicing since her freshman year at Florida Tech.
In the years since attending her first martial arts class, where she saw other students training and asked to join, she has progressed through the program to the level of probationary black belt.
Laderwarg, who served as a police commander with MPD before retirement, requires a minimum three years of training from his students before they enter the black belt probationary program.
“When they start the probation, I ask them if they’re willing to dedicate the next year to training. It’s a big investment for me as well as them,” Laderwarg said.
Though students may learn few new techniques during their probationary year, the process is about learning to perfect the many techniques they already know.
“I train my mind and body,” said Vukovic. “It’s a great release from all the stress.”
She trains three to four times each week, intent on honing her skills for the final test. She also helps instruct classes.
Laderwarg has promoted four students to black belt in his eight years at Florida Tech, and Vukovic hopes to be the fifth. “It takes effort,” he said.
“I tell people they can get their degree and get a black belt at the same time, but I don’t want to make it sound easy. It’s not easy.”
Martial Arts tournaments are also part of training students for Laderwarg’s students. They participate in about three or four per semester, Vukovic said.
“The sporting aspect is only a small part of what we do, but it’s still important,” Laderwarg said. “Partially to overcome that fear of facing people you don’t know, is we go to tournaments, and we get to fight strangers.”
“To me, that’s the main idea. I don’t care whether my students win or not, even though they do tend to win more than they lose,” he said.
Students begin attending tournaments when they reach their green belt. “So my first one was a few years ago,” Vukovic said. “They’re really cool, you get to meet new people, you get to compete, see how other styles do their thing, see where you’re standing compared to them, bring home medals and trophies.”
Laderwarg became the Sensei at Florida Tech when he took over the martial arts program eight years ago after the previous instructor passed away suddenly. At that time, MAA was inactive.
As an adjunct professor, he also teaches a course titled Principles and Techniques of Personal Protection, which stands separately from the martial arts programs, and meets twice a week for a total of nine hours over the course of four and a half weeks.
He also instructs classes at the Palm Bay Recreational Center, where several Florida Tech students choose to receive additional training, he said.
There are many things students can gain by taking a class. “It makes you physically strong, which is always good, even if you’re not practicing the martial arts,” he said “It also teaches you skills which can help with survival in self-defense situations. It builds confidence.”
And some people simply love it.
“Ultimately, for someone who does it for most of their life, the art is the end goal, and they do it for the sake of the art,” he said. “At a certain point during the last 50 years, I probably learned how to defend myself.”
“But it’s art for art’s sake.”
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