IIT-M students learn this soft martial art from a teacher of aerospace engineering. VIVEK NARAYANAN report.

A shrill cry pierces the air and a group of youngsters clad in black kick, 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 them is no outsider – he is 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 a 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, can easily be mistaken for a student until he starts taking the Hapkido class. “Hapkido is a soft martial art form which uses an opponent's energy against him/her. 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 on the campus. “I used to practice alone wearing the Hapkido uniform. People started asking what I was practising and some wanted to join. I started 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 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 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.