Story by Susanna Hayward
Photo by Morgan Dezenski
A cold Morehouse Ballroom becomes a stage for Jerel Krueger. The dimmed lighting makes his fast punches and swift kicks look like dance moves in the empty hall. Krueger, a black belt, is warming up for his usual 6:30 p.m. class.
“You’ve caught me on an off night,” Krueger said.
But to an inexperienced student, Krueger comes off as a professional. Krueger has been teaching Drake University’s Tae Kwon-Do club since 2007. Krueger began meeting with students to bring the club back to its high standards.
“Tae Kwon-Do teaches you to become a more effective person, we set out a system of goals and work to systematically achieve them,” Krueger said, “and set out a system of behavior to become more effective people.”
Every Monday and Thursday, a range of four to eight students meet in the Morehouse Ballroom to practice the ancient Korean martial arts techniques.
Before the class begins, an American flag and a Tae Kwon-Do flag are displayed on either side of the doorway. Four students enter and begin to stretch and small talk about different brands of martial art belts.
In Monday’s class there are two orange belts, a blue belt and a black belt (not including Krueger). Krueger announces the beginning of class and the four students scurry to line them based on rank, the orange belts in the back and the black and blue belts in front of them.
The students center themselves in the room and face Krueger, each taking a moment to collect their breaths and focus. Krueger says a few words and they bow as a group initializing that class has begun.
The class starts with a series of warm-up combinations. Krueger explains the moves verbally with a small demonstration then the students perform the movements repeatedly, each on count when Krueger’s yelled “up!” After about four rounds the students have a moment to rest, only after Krueger has bowed to them. Once signaled, the students turn around to reset their clothing, a task that is done after each dismissal from practice of a movement.
After several across the floor combinations, the group takes a break and begins individual mini-lessons. The students are preparing combinations for competition later in the year. This year Drake’s Tae Kwon-Do club competes in national tournaments in Topeka Kan., Kansas City, Kan., and St. Joseph, Mo. Krueger instructs each student a different set of moves then evaluates his or her performance.
“Students here are very self-motivated,” Krueger said. “When a student goes up in rank, they learn a new form they will practice it until they fall over, and I love seeing that kind of determination,” Krueger said.
Determined students like junior orange belt Nicholas Budden are reasons Krueger appreciates his job so much.
During his individual lesson, Budden is verbally instructed to do a number of frustrating movements.
“Tae Kwon-Do has taught me a better sense of patience. I’m a very impatient person and Tae Kwon-Do requires a very patient mindset,” Budden said.
Toward the end of class, the “senior” status students (black and blue belts) matched with the “junior” status students. They practice different battling techniques.
Black belt Benjamin Greuchow helps Krueger demonstrate different skills to the less experienced students. Greuchow has been practicing Tae Kwon-Do for almost three years. He started at the University of Iowa and is now working toward a high ranking at Drake’s club, while acting as an adviser to other students.
“(Tae Kwon-Do) changes your entire outlook and self discipline. It changes the way you carry yourself and the way you speak,” Greuchow said. “It’s a rewarding elective you can do with others that share the same physical and mental strength as you.”
As the class comes to a close, Krueger instructs Greuchow to announce the end of class. Students align themselves in the same positions as the beginning and take a few breaths before bowing to each other and shaking hands. Before each student leaves the room they bow to the Morehouse Ballroom and are dismissed.
“A lot of people want to try martial arts but don’t know how,” Budden said “It’s a very welcoming sport that more people should try.”