Stick fighting. Battling crayfish. Body ornamentation.
For some college students, these unusual courses are the hidden gems inside the binding of a thick course book filled with far too many straight-forward subjects like chemistry, political science, and geology.
“The students love it. They actually love it to death,” Nick Bruno, the instructor of the stick-fighting class at the University of Toledo, said. “A few lessons and, wow, the kids think they're Bruce Lee.”
The for-credit course is one of the more unusual offerings at area colleges this fall. Combined with some other classes covering everything from action movies to unruly women, a student might think of trying to major in fun.
UT is one of a handful of universities offering credit for stick fighting, a Filipino martial art involving one or two rattan sticks that are 28 to 32 inches long and 3/4–inch thick, Mr. Bruno said.
An instructor of the class for more than 15 years, he said it has grown considerably by word of mouth. About 30 students are taking the beginner class this semester.
Of course, calling the course stick fighting helps considerably: For years, the course failed to draw much attention when it was listed as “Modern Arnis,” the martial art's formal name.
“I changed the name of the class ... and we blew them out every quarter since then,” Mr. Bruno said.
For those who prefer to watch others fight than do it themselves, there's Action/Adventure Movies, a popular culture class at Bowling Green State University that practically begs you to take it.
“Action films! Yeah!” gushed Thomas Morris, a pop culture major from Columbus. “It's a lot of fun. You grow up watching these movies so why not take a class?”
Students registering for the class filled the 35 available spaces in an hour.
Participants should not expect to coast to an easy “A.” There will be serious discussion about changing American and international values - not about popcorn or Sno-Caps, according to Dr. Jeffrey Brown, who's offering the course for the first time this year.
“I don't think I'd put it in the fun category,” Dr. Brown, an assistant professor of popular culture, said. ‘‘It'll be fun, but it will be hard because it's a hot topic right now in film studies.”
Classes, each split between a lecture and movie, will cover racial tensions, colonialism, gender issues, and marketing logic. Just as important to the students, the class will survey the all-stars of action: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jackie Chan, and others.
The syllabus features a picture of Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage in The Rock.
“I own it on DVD, so I watch it two or three times a month,” Geoff Guss, a general business major with a minor in pop culture, said.
For the more scientific-minded, BGSU offers students the Crayfish Journal Club, a class focused on the fighting behavior of crayfish.
“They are very feisty animals that fight at the slightest provocation,” Dr. Robert Huber, associate professor of animal behavior, said.
During the summer, undergraduates and graduates research how the crustaceans' nervous systems are related to their aggressive behavior. They discuss papers on the topic in the fall.
Most of the crayfish battles are brief, with lots of pushing and wrestling, but sometimes things can get serious.
“It's downright nasty. They try to rip each other apart, Angie Pytel, a doctoral student taking the course said.
There are plenty of other hip-sounding classes competing for students' favor.
“Unruly Women, Women Who Rule,” is a UT English class focusing on 16th and 17th century literature. It deals with the contradiction between Renaissance views that women should not rule over men under any circumstances and the reality of three prominent European queens during that period.
BGSU has an honors course called, “Trouble with Testosterone.” Taken from the title of an essay on the course syllabus, the class has to do with the relationship between hormones and the behavior of animals - including humans.
For fine arts students, BGSU offers “Body Ornamentation.”
“I'm trying to do this where people are really thinking more about the significance of the way they ornament their body and not just the kind of jewelry that ornaments the body at its most generic like white noise,” explained Tom Muir, professor in the school of art.
And then, of course, there's sex.
UT features a course, “Sexual Politics,” that examines the history of sex and sexuality and their relationship with politics.
Among the class readings are selections from works with titles like Erotic Welfare and The Use of Pleasure. But the point isn't to make students blush and giggle.
“The nature of the course is to explore how sexuality comes to matter in the political world and why,” said Dr. Renee Heberle, who teaches the course. “We're living in a time that is saturated with this kind of discussion, whether we like it or not.”
Carolyn Majesky, a 24-year-old senior taking the class, said the articles and discussions have been enlightening.
“It's interesting,” she said, smiling and raising her eyebrows. “Lots of Freud.”