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Leagues of Their Own: UCLA Club Sports


By Wendy Soderburg '82, Photos by Elena Zhukova

Published Jan 1, 2013 8:00 AM

Administered by UCLA Recreation and operated by student officers, club sports in Westwood is big-time. In all, 1,500 Bruins, almost all of them undergraduates, are involved. Positioned between the more casual intramural sports and the high-profile world of intercollegiate athletics, these are student-athletes in the literal sense. But why are these students, with their full academic workloads and part-time jobs, so dedicated to their respective sports? We visited with players on three of the more unusual clubs to find out.

UCLA leads the nation in the number of NCAA team championship titles (108 and counting). But the campus also is home to approximately 50 club sports, ranging from the more traditional (archery, baseball) to the quirky (juggling, Dragon Boat) to the downright crazy (Ultimate Frisbee, Quidditch).


These Kids are Fast as Lightning


Wushu Club member Christopher Hoo (in blue) is in a drop stance, blocking himself with a pair of double broadswords; Ernest Wong (in orange) jumps while blocking with a broadsword.

"Wushu? Is that like mu shu? Is it pork, or chicken, or something?"

Karen Mok gets that reaction a lot when she tells people she's president of the UCLA Wushu Club. Wushu — which means "martial arts" in Chinese —may not be a household word in this country, but it's certainly something many people have experienced if they've seen such popular films as 2000's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.


Wushu Club member Christopher Hoo spears out his broadsword in a front stance; Annie Ma blocks with a straight sword in a drop stance.

The beauty of wushu — China's national sport — lies not only in its power, but also in its grace. A seamless combination of gymnastics, dance and weaponry, wushu requires athletes to perform a complex array of kicks, punches, spins and stances (called taolu, or "forms"), upon which they're judged. Or they may choose to spar (sanda) in groups of two or more while wielding spears, staffs or swords, in which case careful choreography is necessary to avoid injury.

At 9:40 p.m. on this Tuesday night in early October, approximately 60 students have gathered for a UCLA Wushu Club practice in the John Wooden Center. For the next two hours, everyone will gamely follow Mok's instructions as she takes them through a demanding workout that begins with a warm-up of running and stretches, continues with instruction in various stances and ends with an intense period of conditioning (euphemistically called "happy hour").

Their hard work will pay off, however, as UCLA Wushu is very highly ranked — second only to UC Berkeley's club, Mok says, which has been around longer than anyone else's. UCLA's club competes in two big tournaments each year: the Chinese Martial Arts Tournament held at UC Berkeley, and the Collegiate Wushu Tournament, which rotates among the different schools.

Mok herself is a wushu veteran, having taken up the sport at age 9. She has enlisted the help of a volunteer coach, JunChang Lu, who will arrive later in the quarter. On this night, however, Mok — a fourth-year senior majoring in physiological science — has the teaching assistance of co-vice president Austin Wang, a sophomore from Palo Alto, Calif.

Like Mok, Wang grew up with wushu and enjoys it for many reasons, including the fact that it requires both physical strength and mental agility. "You have to think about what you're doing," he says. "There's so much mental stuff that goes on. It's like a never-ending sport, where you can always improve. That's what I love about it."

UCLA Wushu Club

Co-vice president Julie Wang, a junior from Oak Park, Calif., had no prior wushu experience but did have eight years of ballet. "I appreciate the similarities between dance and wushu. They both utilize many of the same skills, including flexibility and memorization of movements," she says. "Besides, who could say no to running around with a sword?"

Third-year nursing major Anebel Brinkmann admits she was intimidated when she first joined the club in her freshman year. Now, as a safety officer and social chair, she hasn't looked back.

"It's still really hard, both mentally and physically taxing," Brinkmann says. "But I'm more confident in the skills that I have gained, and I feel that I can progress further each year. … I hope to be one of those little old ladies, doing tai chi in the park!"