“By the end of freshman year, I had a purple belt, and getting a black belt became my four-year goal,” said Zelan von Kaenel ’18, who achieved that in October. (There are six colored belts, the last being black.) Zelan, who practiced martial arts as a young child, is also an avid member of Hun’s rock climbing team and was recognized this fall as a PSAT/National Merit Scholarship commended student.
Dr. Stephen Fabian, chair of the Hun Upper School’s history department, started Hun’s martial arts club in 2007, providing an alternative way for students to fulfill their co-curricular participation requirement. A seventh-degree black belt and a doctorate in cultural anthropology, Dr. Fabian also coaches track at Hun. He discovered martial arts in college at Colgate University, and pursued it through his years as a Fulbright scholar and then as a graduate student, when he lived in a Korean martial arts studio. He found his current system of martial arts, Hon Tai Yoshin Ryu, when he and his wife lived in Japan (she was on corporate assignment) in the late 1980s. He is a skilled practitioner of sword arts and stick arts, and was an all-Japan champion of sword arts in 1989.
Dr. Fabian teaches Hun students a mixture of karate, tai kwon do, and jujitsu. The club, consisting of about a dozen girls and boys, meets three times a week during the fall sports season for 90 minutes. Advanced, optional, 30-minute sessions follow the regular sessions.
“I try to get across the philosophical dimensions of the program, such as respect and focus, and meld it with Hun’s own principles,” said Dr. Fabian, who has written a book about his martial arts pursuit called Clearing Away Clouds, Nine Lessons in Life from Martial Arts
. “You have to show that you are respectful of the other person, such as when you bow, because you are dealing with systems of combat. The respect is important.”
Dr. Fabian said Zelan’s athleticism, background in martial arts, and his dedication all resulted in his black belt achievement.
“He was very focused and dedicated during the season, spending time doing extra, advanced sessions, and really absorbing it all,” said Dr. Fabian. Zelan was tested in formal strikes, blocks, kicks, fighting techniques, throws, take-downs, and how to fall.
“I learned how to control my body much better, and how to move it exactly the way you want, in micro-movements,” said Zelan, who said he will likely continue martial arts in college next year. He noted that he sometimes uses the meditation he practices at the start of each session to center himself during stressful situations.
“I learned a lot about myself,” he noted.
Watch Zelan put his training to the test!