Not My Day Job: Out of the Classroom, Onto the Mat

Melissa Barfield-WorksOnce a week, Dr. Melissa Barfield-Works’ students are six to 12-year-olds eager to learn judo and jujitsu skills. The associate professor of sociology is a tang soo do (Korean karate) instructor for Guardians Martial Arts Academy at the YMCA in east Belleville, Ill.

Melissa learned martial arts in 1998 as a graduate student in Starkville, Miss. She practiced consistently for four years, earning black belts in taekwondo in 2001 and jujitsu in 2002. She later trained in aikido and judo while teaching in California.

“I did my black belts and graduate work at the same time. They really complemented each other,” she recalled. “In martial arts you learn persistence and you learn to stick with things - to work toward a goal in small increments. You learn you can do more than you thought you could.”

Like breaking boards, for example. “It’s all about technique,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to do with a kick than with a punch. And you have to pick the right kind of board.”

Melissa Barfield-WorksShe finds the concentration a natural stress reliever. “Martial arts command all of your attention so it’s a good way for me to deal with other stuff in my life. I can get immersed in it. Martial arts require a lot of focus. You have to focus on doing technique correctly, to think about all different parts of your whole body. You have to pay attention to a lot of things. It’s therapeutic; you have to devote your attention to it.

“I think a lot of people think they can’t do it. When I started doing martial arts, I was anxious about some of the stuff I saw the more advanced students doing. But you don’t get there overnight. It takes time. You gradually attain those things.”

Practicing martial arts “gives you a sense of control over your body and your movements. I feel much safer when I’m doing martial arts.”

In addition to self-defense and better balance, she has found other benefits as an instructor. “I enjoy getting to know the kids and I really get a sense of community out of that. I feel more connected to my community.”