By Jake Fain
When Union’s Judo Club organizers held their first meeting this fall, they were surprised not only to meet with about 33 interested students but also equal numbers of men and women.
“We honestly never expected that many people to show up, so it was a pleasant surprise,” said Judo Club president Zachary Foropoulos.
Foropoulos, junior Christian Studies major, helps the club’s primary instructor, Mario Melendez, by organizing events, setting meeting times, hosting social events and fostering communication among members.
Melendez has practiced martial arts for 15 years, having trained in shotokan, jujitsu and judo. He started Union’s Judo Club in 2010.
Foropoulos, now a brown belt, joined the club in the spring semester of his freshman year. He originally joined to learn self-defense, he said.
Doing so is one of two paths a student can take. The other option includes participation in judo competitions.
Melendez, who is associate pastor of Mullins Station Baptist Church in Memphis, said he teaches self-defense and discourages students from participating in unnecessary confrontations.
By blending his fields of expertise, Melendez ties Christian theology into his martial arts training.
“In our lessons I acknowledge that God made our bodies and [that] this is to be used in their defense,” Melendez said.
Melendez melds Christianity in with the training by offering an open ear to any student who wishes to speak with him about Jesus Christ.
“The most important thing that you can do outside of school right now is to find a church you can regularly attend and make it a home,” Melendez said.
Natalie Neal, sophomore intercultural studies and psychology double major, recently joined.
“I’ve always wanted to learn how to defend myself, but it is totally not what I had been expecting,” Neal said.
Neal was surprised by Melendez’ defensive approach rather than an offensive one. Though this is Neal’s first martial art to practice, she explained how it may impact her in the future.
“It makes me intrigued to look into more martial arts and to look into the styles of different cultures. It really opened my mind up to a lot of options,” Neal said.
Neal’s new expectations represent the other positives that the club offers students other than combative training.
“I really like the friendship that comes out of it,” Neal said, “We really bond a lot, and I guess it’s just a different kind of atmosphere to see people’s hearts interacting.”
Neal reflected on Melendez’s theological lessons.
“I have the most respect for him to involve that in our training,” Neal said.
The Judo Club meets from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Bowld Student Commons gymnasium on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Monday and Tuesday lessons are led by students; Instructor Mario Melendez teaches the Thursday night session in the Bowld Student Commons gymnasium. The initial fee is $75. Each following semester costs $45.