Martial Arts Academy instructs self-defense and inspires friendship


Greg Staskiewicz; CONTRIBUTOR

Students can work out, make friends, eat pizza and relax in the hot tub at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Martial Arts Academy.  

The academy is held in H&K 124 every Tuesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and offers instruction in three different martial arts – taekwondo, hapkido and judo.

Neal Hakenson, a third degree black belt, teaches taekwondo. Kent Templien, also a third degree black belt, taught hapkido and judo before he was injured. He plans to continue as soon as he recovers.

Taekwondo, “the way of the foot and fist”, is a Korean martial art that uses a variety of kicks in quick combat to keep opponents at a longer range, reducing the chance of getting hit back, Hakenson said.

Judo, “the gentle way”, is a Japanese martial art, focused on close contact, using throws and locks to make the opponent submit, Templien said. Though judo is intended to be a sport, it can also be used for self-defense.

Hapkido, “the way of harmony”, is a fusion of several Korean and Japanese techniques, using blocks, strikes, throws and locks, similar to judo.

There is a tradition within hapkido that it was founded by a Korean who worked as a servant to a Japanese household, and learned that family’s secret martial art, Templien said. After returning to Korea, the founder was said to have blended what he learned with Korean techniques.

Beginners at the Martial Arts Academy first learn the basic stances, blocks and kicks. After mastering those, students get to spar with each other – unlike at some martial arts schools, where there is no contact allowed.

“You’ve seen those classes where they go up, and they go down, they go up and down,” he said. “They don’t have any contact with anybody. That’s kinda boring. So, we like to mix it up a little bit too.”

Safety is paramount for UNO’s Martial Arts Academy, where students use foot pads, mouth guards, chest guards and avoid striking to hurt others.

“It’s nice to have some place for students to go that didn’t cost an arm and a leg, and wasn’t, in our minds, a questionable environment,” Templien said. “Our policy is very much that students shouldn’t have to get hurt to learn a martial art.”

The academy is also affordable, compared to many other martial arts programs and gym, Templien said. Classes at the academy cost $40 per month for students and campus rec members, and $60 for non-students.

“Neal and I were both college students at one point in our lives, so we get it,” he said.

The academy began in 2011 when Templien called Hakenson and floated the idea of starting a club at UNO. The two instructors wanted to create a place where former students of their classes at H&K could continue studying martial arts – the two also teach for-credit classes as adjunct instructors, in addition to leading their academy.

From practice to tournaments, students in the academy make lifelong friends. The night before one tournament, the team was relaxing in the hot tub. Gus Silva, a Brazilian exchange student,  got the team to do a Brazilian line dance in the tub to lighten the mood.

The best way to get involved is to just show up, Hakenson said. There are monthly pizza nights, friendships and intense workouts. 

“Physical conditioning is there,” he said. “You’re gonna sweat. You’re also gonna learn how to defend yourself.”