It’s Family Weekend at the University of Miami, and School of Communication Dean Sam Grogg sits cross-legged on the atrium floor at the Herbert Welnness Center amidst scores of parents and siblings. With his son Zubin at his side, Grogg isn’t waiting to give a presentation to the visitors. They’re there for karate practice.
Three days a week, Grogg trades his coat and tie for a karate uniform, formally called a gi, and spars with the members of the UM Karate Club, which he serves as advisor.
If there is one word that defines the karate club, it’s “respect.” Each practice begins and ends with a bow into the room as a sign of respect, and this theme is carried through practice amidst kicks and punches.
The club practices shotokan, which is one of a number of types of karate. It is characterized by deep, long stances that provide stability and enable powerful movements. Colored belts are given as techniques and stances are mastered, progressing from white to black. However, one does not need to have experience to join the club.
“If you can crawl into the class, we have room for you,” Grogg joked.
Though karate may look easy, Grogg assures everyone that it isn’t.
“A lot of people drop it within the first month,” he said. “But once you get past that, it’s easier to stick with.”
Grogg said he got involved because of his son. Zubin got into martial arts when he was 11.
“Rather than sit in the car, I’d go inside,” Dean Grogg said.
Ten years later, he holds black belts in karate, tae kwon do and aikido.
Both Groggs have been involved in the UM karate club since coming to campus about five years ago. Zubin has been the club president for four years, and Dean Grogg has been the club’s advisor for one.
Grogg spends the practice sessions offering advice to members, said club member Helen Hampikian, who just passed the test for her second purple belt.
“He encourages new people,” she said. “He’s really good with the lower belts.”
New members aren’t the only ones needing encouragement. At practice, even the black belts make mistakes. Karate blows can be jarring, so apologies are made if any punches actually make contact during sparring. In between drills, members chat and joke around , which is a far cry from the no-nonsense attitude of the sport.
The karate club is affiliated with a local dojo called Miami Shotokan and competes alongside it at both regional and national tournaments. Senseis Jose Ferrand and Robert Escobio, a UM alum and fifth degree black belt, instruct the club.
The 25 to 30 members include people of all ages and genders, faculkty, staff and students.
“I like the mix,” said Zubin Grogg. “It brings a lot of variety to the club and everyone can learn from each other.”
Having a dean as a member didn’t put off Hampikian. She thinks it’s cool.
“He’s like the lynchpin of the club,” she said. “He never misses a class. He’s always here.”
Though Grogg will be stepping down as dean at the end of this school year, he won’t be leaving the karate club behind. He plans on taking a year off to prepare himself for a return to teaching full time. but will remain the club’s advisor.
One person particularly glad about this is Zubin Grogg.
“Not only do we learn from each other, but he has been a big influence on other club members and has really helped with getting the club on track,” he said. “And it’s always fun to spar with him!”
The karate club meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7 pm and Saturdays at 10 am. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Darci Miller may be contacted at email@example.com.