Keeping your head in the game

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Student instructs martial arts class with mental health focus

You’re surrounded by a wave of people each time you walk through the halls of ECS — but how many of these people could throw you down on the mats?

Fourth-year engineering student Colin Federici opened up about his passion for martial arts over coffee in Bibliocafe earlier in October.

“When I was six years old, my brother and I got signed up together by our parents [for martial arts], because we didn’t enjoy being on the same team and were very competitive,” said Federici.

Federici grew up in Mission, B.C. studying Sun Hang Do, a unique version of Taekwondo taught specifically in the Lower Mainland. He proceeded to practice Sun Hang Do for 13 years, earning his third degree black belt.

“For a bit I was considering getting a gym and owning [it], but that didn’t happen because of the politics, and that wasn’t what I was in martial arts for,” said Federici.

What draws Federici to martial arts is the family. When he first started, his focus was on competing against his brother. But as he got older, he began competing beside his brother and eventually found his passion in being an instructor.

Martial arts has many well known branches: the most popular being karate, kickboxing, Jiu Jitsu, and Taekwondo. Victoria has many gyms specializing in martial arts for every skill level, but Excel has been doing things differently.

“I looked around [Victoria] but I didn’t get into any because of my course load. But there are so many different styles around Victoria area,” said Federici.

Together with a group of fellow instructors from Sung Han Do, Federici helped form a new style: Excel Martial Arts (EMA).

Excel is an Americanized style of Taekwondo, involving grappling, weapons, and, most importantly, an emphasis on mental health. EMA, along with Sung Han Do, is taught in the Lower Mainland.

While this type of mental conditioning is not usually taught in martial arts, Federici sees it as an important aspect to include in practice. Excel has its own mental health curriculum students can include in their own personalized practice.

Scott Williams, Registered Clinical Counsellor and Clinical Therapist, was the creator of Excel’s Mental Wellness curriculum.

“[Excel] was founded with the principle that our mandate was to create whole people, not just black belts,” Williams said.

The Mental Wellness Curriculum focuses on Excel’s mantra (Sport. Art. Defence. Life.) and infuses that into psychology, kinesiology, and coaching components: all of which help better their students.

“We provide psychological insights, health and wellness instruction, university-level training in health and nutrition, mentoring and counselling,” Williams added.

“I helped create a few of the [traditional] forms, and helped build it up before university,” Federici explained. “I enjoy Excel because it is such a wide range of curriculum, and you don’t have to be excellent at everything — you kind of pick the pieces you want to specialize in.”

Martial arts isn’t limited to young, fit men. Some branches of the sport include slower, yoga–like paced classes, basic grappling, and in every branch, there is no need to compete if the student doesn’t want to.

“If you just want to practice at home at first, that’s totally okay,” Federici said. “It’s still the movement, it’s still the idea of martial arts, [and] getting that activity there, that counts”.

You can even find martial arts on campus, as classes are taught both in McKinnon gym and at CARSA. The classes range from beginner to advanced and offer a variety of martial art practices.

Thinking about trying martial arts for yourself? Federici gave his advice for those thinking about hitting the mats.

“It’s really about finding what suits [you],” he said. “Don’t be intimidated. If you’re there to do something, [the instructors will] cater to you.”

“That’s what keeps me there today,” Federici continued. “I’m still involved in everything even though I’m an ocean away [from the Mainland]. It’s the family.”

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