Artboard 1 apply Artboard 1 copy 2 Mount_Logo_Primary_RGB Mount_Logo_Primary_RGB give Artboard 1 copy 3 info link Mount_Logo_Primary_RGB Artboard 1 Artboard 2 Artboard 1 visit

Mount-based Karate Group Continues to Unite Alumni

Katherine Stohlman, C'19

Phoenix Karate camp

Short, shrill yells ring out, and are followed by claps and cheers. Dozens of people fill Memorial Gym, clad in white robes and long pants despite the July heat and lack of air conditioning. Phoenix Karate-do Association Kyokushinkai International (shortened to Phoenix in this article), an association that began at the Mount decades ago, is underway.

phoneix-karate-4.jpgPhoenix has been a part of the Mount’s story for over 30 years. The group was founded in 1981 by Dan Soller, a former longtime employee. At the time, he worked in student life. Inspired by his love of karate, the encouragement of his instructor Raymond Elmore, and a desire to get students involved, he began teaching karate and taekwondo on campus. Soller named the small group Phoenix, a nod to the symbolism of a rising phoenix and the booming environment of the Mount campus at the time.

Little did he know that Phoenix would experience its own major boom. A couple of years after its founding, the association began hosting an annual summer camp at the Mount, to keep members who had since graduated connected. As the group expanded, alumni took on leadership roles within Phoenix. Soller left the Mount, returned in 2000 as the executive vice president, and left again, but Phoenix continued to meet every summer on campus. And soon, the association spread beyond Mount alumni and students, to people from all over the United States, and even the world. While the 2022 camp, held July 14 to 17, welcomed dozens of alumni, dozens more were members who previously had no association with the Mount.

phoenix-karate-1.jpg“We started with 5 to 10 members; now we have over 1,000,” Soller laconically observed. “That’s one of our most unexpected successes.” He emphasized that Phoenix hasn’t ever courted notoriety or massive membership. But, as the adage goes, people know a good thing when they see it, and many have dedicated themselves to the mission of the group.

While Phoenix’s first goal is teaching karate-do and helping students master its physical aspects, a very close second is mastery of one’s will. As Soller says, “the purpose of karate is the perfection of character.” To that end, members practice patience, perseverance, and respect as much as they learn movements and positions and encourage each other to do the same.

phoenix-karate-2.jpgThis shared goal certainly inspires camaraderie, and Phoenix members all say they have benefited from it, particularly the alumni who make it happen. Phoenix welcomes everyone but will always have a special love for the Mount’s campus and community. “Among other things, the Phoenix Karate-do Association has provided me with goals toward which to work and a loyal group of friends with whom to share my life,” noted Gary Herwig, C’91, a Maryland-based lawyer who has been a leader in the group for years. Anthony Codispoti, C’91, another alumnus and Phoenix leader, echoed this sentiment, exclaiming that “the wonderful element of both the Mount and Phoenix is the community. I’m truly proud of our alumni who founded Phoenix at the Mount as well.”

It's the annual camp, which leadership is required to attend, that keeps them united. Even after he left the Mount to work at another school, Soller was in Memorial Gym for four days every summer, watching members get promoted to new ranks, helping them master their techniques, and re-connecting with his former students and fellow Mounties. Cathy Melanson, C’87, a Virginia native, Phoenix higher-up, and Mount alumna, sees the camp as integral to the group. “For many of the organization’s leadership, the Mount is our karate home and training here every year at camp nourishes us and reminds us of our roots. They are deep,” she explained.

Unsurprisingly, the Mount and Phoenix ultimately share many of the same core values.

The spirit of self-improvement, community, strength, and service that draws so many members to Phoenix, has likewise attracted countless to the Mount’s campus. “Karate is an incredible way of life—to seek health, to help others, to watch others develop. [The Mount and Phoenix] really walk in the same path,” surmised Soller. Mount St. Mary’s was the perfect environment to foster and grow Phoenix. The memories that alumni, leaders and former employees share of the Mount, and of Phoenix, are deeply entwined.

Katherine Stohlman, C'19