IIT-M students benefit from this soft martial art form learnt from their professor. Vivek Narayanan reports.

A shrill cry reverberates in the air and a group of youngsters clad in black throw kicks, apply arm locks and throw their opponents down.

This is not a scene from a Hollywood ninja movie, but a group of students practicing Hapkido – a Korean soft martial art — at the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (IIT-M). And the man who teaches it is no outsider, but an assistant professor with the Department of Aerospace Engineering, Dr. T.M. Muruganandam, who holds a second degree black belt.

At 5.30 p.m., students assemble on the first floor of the student activity centre on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The session begins with warm up and gradually proceeds to kicks, punches, locks and throws. The class ends at 7.30 p.m. after a gruelling two hour practice session.

Muruganandam, a bespectacled man, is easily mistaken for a student until he starts taking the class. “Hapkido is a soft martial art form which uses an opponent's energy against them. We don’t believe in using force against force. The practice of the art makes the students alert and fresh,” he says.

He learnt Hapkido while in the U.S. for his PhD from 2002 to 2005. When he came to IIT- M, he was unsure how the institution would react if he started taking martial arts classes in the campus. “I used to practice alone wearing the Hapkido uniform. People started asking what I was practicing and some wanted to join. I started of with six students,” said Muruganandam.

Now, his class has over 40 students. “There are no rules and no competition. Students are trained to face real life situations. I train them to take the properties of water – allowing the opponents to get in and then entrapping them,” says Muruganandam.

The students say the practice of the martial art makes them more alert and increases their stamina. P. Sarnath, a biotechnology PhD student, who holds a blue belt in the art, said “It has made me feel fresher.”Srinija, a fourth year dual degree Ocean Engineering student said that this is the first time she is learning any kind of martial arts. “I started learning six months ago. I am able to focus more after I started practicing it,” she said.