Annaliese Franz in class

Photo: Karin Higgins/UC Davis

Karate Chemist

by | Apr 13, 2023 | Office Hours, Spring/Summer 2023

After a full day of teaching, research and meetings, Annaliese Franz dons a brown cotton jacket and indigo pants, cinches her black belt into a tight knot and, bowing, steps barefoot onto the wooden floor of a karate dojo near campus.

For the next two hours, she focuses on improving her strikes, kicks and blocks, helping teach lower-rank students, practicing kata, and testing her skills in self-defense, partner drills and sparring.

Upon entering the dojo, thoughts of her academic life — as chemistry professor and associate dean in the College of Letters and Science — evaporate from her mind.

“Karate is a very active form of meditation,” Franz said. “It allows me to clear my mind and focus in a way that I didn’t before.”

A noted organic chemist whose research focuses on catalysis and sustainable methods to produce biofuels and other materials, Franz has been physically active all her life — playing soccer in high school and college, running, weightlifting, and taking a variety of fitness classes.

Warming down from a boot camp workout at a local gym about six years ago, she noticed a neighbor preparing for a class in Goju-Ryu karate, an Okinawan style whose name, Goju-Ryu, translates from the Japanese as hard-soft style. (Karate means empty hand.)

Intrigued, Franz started attending classes with Sensei Tony Berger of Kuma No Te Dojo in Davis. “I realized what a great fit it was for me, in terms of both the spiritual and the physical activity,” Franz said. “It allowed me to be very active while also developing a mind-body-spirit connection.”

Last August, she earned shodan rank, or first-degree black belt. She views that achievement as just the beginning.

“Only when you get to the point where you know something well enough, can you really spiral back and see what you don’t actually know,” Franz said. “I hope to be doing karate for many, many more years.