Each week, Taylor Knopf ’18 transforms the St. Olaf College wrestling room into a space for coming together to encourage empowerment.
Beginning this January, Knopf started offering self-defense classes free of charge to members of the campus community. As a pre-med student majoring in Spanish and concentrating in neuroscience, Knopf generously opened up her schedule to make room for helping those around her.
In the midst of the harsh wintry month, those who joined the class made the trek to Skoglund Center in the blustering wind, where they were warmly welcomed with Knopf’s energy and enthusiasm. Her humor and confidence broke the ice for those hesitant to cross into the lesser-known territory of self-defense.
With the support of St. Olaf Recreation Director Judy Tegtmeyer, Knopf was able to put together her biweekly class and start teaching in Interim. The class proved to be a success, with 40 people participating during January. This spring, she is offering an advanced class in addition to another beginning level class.
Having been surrounded by martial arts since childhood, Knopf started Tang Soo Do, a Korean martial art that includes influences from kung fu, in 2001 at the age of six. She eventually started teaching in 2007. In 2011 she became the youngest person at her martial arts school to receive a first degree black belt in Tang Soo Do. Currently, she holds a third degree black belt, which she earned in 2015.
But self-defense is not just for those with a strong background in martial arts, and Knopf, who has been teaching self-defense for three years, proves this by giving back to the St. Olaf community. She offers free instruction in a positive environment that welcomes all students, faculty, and staff.
She sees her knowledge as a tool for allowing people “to feel more confident in the things they know so that, should they need to protect themselves, it’ll come naturally to them, and they’ll know that they can be safe wherever they are.”
Extracting practicality from the art form, Knopf teaches how to gain control over an opponent rather than inducing violence. “Most of the time, that means locking your opponent into a position that allows you to be in charge,” she says.
Knopf has a visible passion for teaching martial arts, and her outlook is one of inspiration and the feeling of security. Members of the campus community interested in learning more about spring schedules should contact Knopf.