Circa 1986 in Room 219 of the Rockne Memorial Building at the University of Notre Dame.

When this photograph was posted on Facebook, Ken McManus said “Them’s some bad dudes. :-)”

In my first month as a freshman at Notre Dame in the fall of 1983, the University hosted a “Student Activities Night” at the Stepan Center. The purpose of this event was to familiarize the students with the various clubs and activities available at Notre Dame. I had one goal: find a martial arts club.

Due to the fact that I had briefly studied Kung Fu in my hometown, I hoped to find a Kung Fu club. There were none. As I walked around Stepan Center, I found three martial arts clubs. The first was the Notre Dame Tae Kwon Do Club. The second one was the ND Judo Club. Lastly, there was the Notre Dame Martial Arts Institute (NDMAI). I talked to the representatives of all three clubs to get a feel for which club might be the best fit. I confess that I do not remember much of my conversations with the Tae Kwon Do or Judo club.

I remember talking with Gary Cooper (now G. Rogers) and Sang D. Kim at this event and finding out that they taught a blend of Jiu Jitsu and Tae Kwon Do. I thought to myself “Wow, I can study two martial arts instead of one!” I inquired into the first session of the semester. I was informed that it would take place in Room 219 of the Rockne Memorial Building on the following Friday.

Through a miscommunication, I arrived for the first session a half hour late. I thought to myself “Oh geez, way to make a good first impression!” Fortunately, many of the attendees were trying this class out in street clothes, mostly shorts and t-shirts. I quickly joined in the class toward the end of their line drills. I quickly settled into the routine of the Friday night practices from 6:00pm to 8:00pm and the Saturday morning practices from 10:00am to noon as well as the post Saturday practice meal at the South Dining Hall.

The head instructor and founder of NDMAI was a phenomenally talented martial artist named Gary Cooper (arms folded in the above photograph). He was a phenomenal and demanding instructor. He pushed us to the limit. He drove us hard particularly in the Friday night practices. At the same time, he had a great sense of humor and a ready laugh. His assistant, for the first couple of years I was in the club, was Sang D. Kim (not pictured), from South Korea. Some referred to him as “Tiger Kim.” Sang was a warrior with tremendous flexibility and knowledge of Tae Kwon Do. When sparring, he always let out a blood curdling kiai and his face went through a Bruce Banner like transformation. The dude was scary when he got into that mindset.

Room 219 of the Rockne Memorial was our version of the sweat lodge, particularly in the early part of the school year when the summer heat was still present. We were molded in that room. The hard tile floor had, for lack of a better description, “potholes” in them. If you stepped in them while doing line drills or kata, tough shit. Sweat would pour off our faces so profusely that the tile floor became wet and slippery.

We always started practice with knuckle pushups. But first, we had to do it in the “up position” and count to 100 or 200 or whatever number Gary decided. The count had to be measured, not hurried. 

One time, just after we started counting, a friend of Gary’s stopped by and Gary stepped outside to talk to his friend, and being in the moment, completely forgot about us. We are counting and listening to Gary laugh it up outside of the room. “250, 251…..” Still more laughter and good times by Gary and his friend. We are dying….”295, 296, 297…” and in unison, we started yelling out the numbers in desperation “TWO HUNDRED NINETY EIGHT, TWO HUNDRED NINETY NINE, THREEEEEEEEE HUNDRED!”  At that moment, Gary bolted back into the room, somewhat apologetically and said “down!” We were never so happy to hear that word in our entire lives! 😉 300 was the club record for quite some time after that. I don’t know if it’s been broken.

While nearly not as bad as depicted by the pictures, some of us developed calluses on our knuckles from these knuckle pushups.


After the knuckle pushups, we would usually do various types of other pushups and other calisthenics. Then we would get into the line drills and boy, did Gary and Sang drive us in those drills.

“More power, more speed, more focus!” Gary and Sang would shout while counting out the cadences of the various techniques in the line drills and punctuated by “about face!” While driving us hard, the phrase “burn hot” was often used. Still more “Power, speed, focus!”  Sweat would pour off our faces and the floor would get slippery. Due to the condition of the floor, many of us would get blisters on our feet. If any of us made mistakes during the line drills, it was knuckle pushup time. At times Gary would say “If I can’t make you smart, I’ll make you strong!” followed a hearty laugh.

After finishing line drills, we would move onto the kata portion of practice. Kata was always practiced by the numbers first. If you didn’t give your all on a move, it was knuckle pushups. Maximum effort was demanded by Gary and Sang on every single move of every kata we practiced. When they were satisfied that we knew the kata by the numbers, we then did them without the numbers. 

Then it was break time. The last part of class was sparring. Kicks, sweeps, punches were utilized in the sparring. We often went several rounds against different partners. Other times, we watched and learned as others sparred. Sparring with Gary and Sang were always great learning experiences. Believe it or not, in my mind, this was the more relaxing part of class, after going through line drills and the kata. For that reason, I always looked forward to sparring. 🙂 I always had a tough time sparring against the taller guys like Ken McManus and Carl Wiggins (holding the canes in the picture). Carl had legs that seemed to be a mile long and was tough to counter until I got into closer range.

Next up, the Saturday morning practices!

If you were a member of NDMAI, share your memories in the comment boxes below. Let’s hear them!


2 thoughts on “The Notre Dame Years (Part 1)

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