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The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

Sensei Mike helps students heighten awareness with self-defense class

Photo contributed by Michael Szydlowski
Sensei Michael Szydlowski said the camaraderie of martial arts is what matters most, and there is a deep community spirit that comes with it that cannot be found elsewhere.

Michael Szydlowski, an adjunct professor in the Exercise Science Department, teaches a self-defense class at Cal Lutheran. Szydlowski said he found his calling for martial arts after growing up in what he said is a rough area in New York. 

“I was looking for a place for my anger and aggression,” Szydlowski said. 

Coming from a boxing background, Szydlowski said he was surrounded by many professional martial artists who specialized in Shotokan, a traditional Japanese style of karate. Once he and his wife moved to California in the late 1970s, Szydlowski said he was looking for a local studio to keep up with his training. 

“I just never left. I just said, you know what, this is my path. So I did it for many, many years, and then I was assigned to teach in Newbury Park,” Szydlowski said.

At first, Szydlowski said he was not as comfortable with teaching as he is now, as he still wanted to be a student. 

“Once I had a chance to be with the kids, 30 years later, here I am,” Szydlowski said. “So, you know, you don’t get rich doing this, but it’s not the reason why we do it…when you can do something for a child that makes them smile, you should take the opportunity.”

Szydlowski said his teaching approach in class is taking incidents of violence and reverse engineering them. He said he helps students identify if there is something they could have changed before they were attacked to help prevent it.

“We talk about driving tactics, different things that cause accidents because I don’t want the students to be under the impression that the only threat they face is from another human being,” Szydlowski said.

Szydlowski said the class also covers instances students may not be aware of, such as domestic violence situations, internet safety, legal issues, issues of predatory financial practices and gouging.

“In my opinion, that’s the kind of stuff that they can use every day,” Szydlowski said.

Szydlowski said he also teaches about de-escalation responses that require sharp motor skills. This helps recognize what is going on during the initial interaction, according to Szydlowski, and calms down the situation so it does not become violent.

Students in the class are taught to recognize what is in their control and what is not, so if they cannot escape or de-escalate a situation, then that is where physical altercations can arise and where being prepared can come in handy. 

Senior Carissa Melton, who is a previous student of Szydlowski, said he did a great job in challenging the class to become more observant in their everyday lives, including how to set healthy boundaries with others. 

“The world is unpredictable, and you’ll never know when you’ll need to defend yourself,” Melton said. “Also, self-defense isn’t just about defending yourself, it’s about becoming more aware of your surroundings.”

Szydlowski said he gives his students a concept and then encourages them to adjust that notion so it works for them. 

“I thought [Sensei Mike] provided a really safe environment. Whether you’re at the college level or not, but specifically for something so vulnerable like self-defense where you’re using your body instead of your mind in the classroom, he made it a place where you could take the work seriously, but where making mistakes was also really accepted,” junior Amanda Janssen said. 

Szydlowski said he wants his students to develop a critical thinking mindset, so that when they look at any scenario, they can weigh the pros and cons and learn what they can get from it. 

“It’s a very fun class and you get to learn a little bit more about yourself too and about the world that you’re not exposed to yet,” Melton said.

Szydlowski said he wants to keep teaching and training for as long as he can with the body he has now. 

“With the traditional training, you find that there’s a lot of things that you can learn about moving your body and moving effectively. Even though you don’t have the same body anymore, you can do something like this for the rest of your life,” Szydlowski said.

Szydlowski said the camaraderie of martial arts is what matters most. In one of his previous classes, he said he taught a child, their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. 

“I’ve seen soccer parents, baseball parents, and football parents. They all have a camaraderie, but it doesn’t have the same dignity that martial arts has,” Szydlowski said. “You have a legacy, you think differently, and there’s a sense of honor that goes with this.”

Szydlowski said he once told a critic of his work who assumed martial arts is all about violence that they do not understand its reasoning. In the self-defense field, Szydlowski said, you develop the strength not to be a predator, but to protect the people you care about. 

“We bleed together, we sweat together, we enjoy our victories, we regroup after our defeats. There’s a community spirit that comes with all this that you can find in other things too, but not quite as deeply,” Szydlowski said.

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