When senior Katherine Siple enters the Fitness Center on Monday nights, it’s not to lift weights or to use the cardio machines. Instead, she wraps up her fists, puts her gloves on and participates in two hours of boxing with other members of the Ithaca College Defenders.
The Ithaca College Defenders is a boxing and mixed martial arts club that allows people of all skill levels to learn combat techniques in a fun, low-pressure environment. Whether they are seeking a unique way to work out, an understanding of self–defense or a place to relieve some stress, the Defenders provides a community for students to learn and collaborate with each other.
The team’s workouts consist of rotations with each of the student coaches. Each coach has an area that they focus on teaching; Siple and junior Vincent Marchese teach punching and blocking, and senior Adam Rabayda teaches muay thai, a type of mixed martial arts.
On their first day, members learn the basics, including footwork and various punches. Once members are comfortable with their basic skills, they move on to more complex moves such as hooks and uppercuts. Members who are more advanced or who have been members for a long time will also learn how to slip, dodge and block punches, skills that are helpful for self–defense. They are also given the opportunity to learn kickboxing and mixed martial arts. Having a team of diverse coaches adds to the depth of the club, as members can learn several different styles of combat.
The club is run completely by students and meets at 7 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays in the Fitness Center gym. Having a student-run club is beneficial because it allows the members to have more freedom in what goes on in their practices. It’s up to the students to decide what they do and don’t want to do. Senior Lilac O’Brien, a member of the club, believes this is an important aspect of the Defenders.
“It’s something that we have complete say over, and if we don’t like something, we can be very vocal about it,” O’Brien said.
The Defenders is an athletic club, but it also provides students with self-defense skills. According to Rainn.org, 11.2 percent of all undergraduate or graduate students experience rape or sexual assault. The Defenders gives students a chance to learn how to protect themselves and take ownership of their own safety. Siple is president of the Ithaca College Defenders in addition to her role as a coach. As a member of the club, she has learned the value of self–protection.
“I think some of the significance is definitely personal defense and feeling powerful,” Siple said. “Learning how to box has made me feel more confident in my ability to protect myself and friends.”
Members learn footwork and placement so that they know how to punch correctly, and they use heavy bags and punch mitts to warm up basic punches. If they decide to learn muay thai, they learn clinching techniques along with knee and elbow strikes that could be useful in a dangerous situation. Rabayda said he believes that it is important for the Defenders to provide a place where students can learn to protect themselves.
“I’ve always thought it was important for everyone to know some amount of self–defense,” Rabayda said. “Even though you may never have to use your self–defense in your life, it’s always a little bit more safe and secure–feeling knowing that you know at least a little bit of it.”
Despite its serious side, the Defenders also provides a place where people who love to box can come and do what they enjoy. Freshman Marc Fletcher has been in the club since August and got involved because of his prior interest in boxing.
“I had a heavy bag in my basement, and I liked doing it for cardio,” Fletcher said. “I got interested in the whole science and technique behind it.”
Though its members may have different motivations for joining, they are all unified by the cooperative atmosphere that the Defenders’ practices have.
“There’s a social aspect to it, [and] there’s a fitness aspect to it,” Fletcher said. “Personally, for me, I enjoy teaching other people techniques, and I enjoy learning technique.”