Finding Balance

Dennis Stevens sees training for Fifth Degree Black Belt as next step in personal journey.

Dennis Stevens, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dean of the College, Black Belt
"My martial arts study has taught me the value of perseverance. You engage issues multiple times, and even fail, to achieve success."
- Dennis Stevens

As vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College since 2008, Dennis Stevens oversees and guides the academic operations of a liberal arts institution known for innovation.

He also embodies a fascinating quality of the liberal arts: combining diverse disciplines to create unexpected benefits.

Stevens, a Fourth Degree Black Belt, applies his training and insight on campus in a confluence of vocation and avocation, intellectual and physical. This unique combination has a practical impact on his interactions with colleagues.

“My martial arts study has taught me the value of perseverance,” said Stevens, who earned his Ph.D. in political science at Boston College. “You engage issues multiple times, and even fail, to achieve success.”

Although he is considered an advanced martial arts practitioner, his quest for new challenges never ends.

“It’s all about personal improvement,” said Stevens. “I reached a certain level and wanted to challenge myself again. It’s exciting to keep pushing yourself.”

In recent months, Stevens has been training for his next challenge: successfully completing a test with the International Combat Arts Federation to acquire a Fifth Degree Black Belt. During the test, he will re-affirm his mastery of all of the skills required to attain his current level and also demonstrate mastery of the bo. This ancient weapon, a wooden staff made of oak that is six feet in length and one and a half inches in diameter, is used to strike an opponent and disrupt balance.

Stevens was introduced to the weapon by Master Zefo in Illinois, with whom he trained in kuk sool won, a martial art technique used in the Korean royal court to protect the emperor. While the bo is an impressive implement, its origin is a simple stick or branch.

“In the past, people used what they could find around them for defense, especially when weapons were prohibited,” Stevens said. “Weapons training is about having the implement become an extension of your body.”

“Master Zefo passed his bo to me,” he said, “as a sign of respect. Now I’m honoring him by studying its use.” The student has also become the teacher. Stevens has taught self-defense to colleagues and students for more than 20 years.

His leadership style is deeply rooted in the philosophical aspect of his training. Stevens places value on the principle of water, a core tenet that emphasizes fluidity and flexibility. These characteristics are important in an environment that places increasing demands on the liberal arts to demonstrate value for students’ careers and futures.

“You let your actions flow like water instead of opposing force with force,” he said. “The principle enables you to modify, redirect, and use force against itself. It’s not about brute force. You move, channel, and ultimately succeed. I try to apply that in my life as well.”