My Journey in Martial Arts

My stories as I remember them during my journey in the Martial Arts

Saturday, November 3, 2012


 It has been a long while since I have posted to this blog.  My focus was diverted from the blog to concentrate on some other life challenges but I plan to go forward with posting here.  Over the past two years I have struggled with my father’s cancer and eventual death from that disease.  I took time to care for my father and comfort him in the face of death.  I also managed to train for and achieve my Third Degree Black Belt while traveling through this life challenge.  I also have begun another chapter in my professional career.   I decided, after over nine years of service, to take a severance package from my employer.  The department I worked with was reorganized and relocated and I took the opportunity to move on.  I have just now begun a new chapter in my professional life with a new career in a new company.

I have been planning on writing a post for some time and a significant event prompted me to begin.  Many Martial Artists across the country knew Steve Lavallee.  On the morning of June 11th 2012 he committed suicide.  It is a shocking event. We all may have skeletons in our closet.  Some closets are much darker than others.  Out of respect for Mr. Lavallee’s family I will not go over the turmoil surrounding this saddening outcome.  Instead I would like to turn this sad event into a reflection on how to live life.

How we deal with challenges that can threaten our way of life will define our true character, regardless of the public facade we create.  Walking through life is many times a very difficult adventure.  Adventure is the word we should use for life’s journey. Adventures teach us lessons and life should be lived as one long lesson.  On our adventure we should gather up the mementoes and cherish each event whether it is sad or joyous. We melt these things into our character.  Many stories and myths have the hero leave on an adventure full of challenges and obstacles.  The hero returns from the adventure reborn and enlightened.  We should all strive to be that hero.  

If our choice is to focus on negativity then the adventure becomes negative.  While sadness is often times viewed as negative let us challenge that perspective. Sadness should be embraced and experienced.  Let the tears fall but do not dwell there. Fighting sadness multiplies inside and prevents us from moving on. Sadness is like a boiling pot. Cover the pot and eventually the top will no longer hold the pressure.  The water will over boil and can extinguish our flame. If we uncover the pot and allow the steam to rise, the waters of sadness disappear into the steam.  What we have left is the memory of the boiling, a memory of the sadness.  We can look back at it without being consumed by it.  The energy of our sadness in the passing of a loved one can be turned towards a celebration of their life and lessons they gave us.  The sadness of betrayal can be turned to a lesson of how we ourselves should live to be trustworthy and never inflict that pain on others.  Sadness in the face of evil deeds and people should be turned to lessons on how to protect ourselves and others from evil and those who would do us harm.  The examples can come forth endlessly. Every negative encounter and experience can hold a positive energy.  It is our perspective and reaction that rescue us and find the positive. 

Forgiveness is another lesson we should take and embrace in life.  Forgiveness does not mean we condone evil behavior.  Forgiveness is about our ability to not be held captive by evil.  If we look to always embrace the hurt and pain we carry that on our shoulders it infects everything we do.  When we look for revenge or an apology that will never come, it darkens the mind with images of events that will never erase the reality of what has happened.  With forgiving we release the pain and let go of the control the evil and the evil doer have on us. Without forgiveness in our hearts evil and the evil people in our lives influence our everyday thoughts and actions.  Forgiving does not condone the evil acts.   Forgiving does not mean we allow evil ones to stay or come back into our lives.  Forgiving means we jettison the control evil’s influence has on us.  Malice in the heart towards any person evil or good only diminishes our character.  Do not allow yourself to be a victim of malice.  Become a survivor of evil.

Many times evil will hide behind the veil of trust.  Evil doers will present to the world greatness of character.  Whether this is an intention or not evil will use the good that they do to mask and conceal their evil deeds.  This takes many forms.  A business man or woman that speaks with motivational platitudes may very well be insidiously cheating and harming business associates for his or her own selfish gain.   People thought to be great leaders can easily hide their immoral and illegal doings.  We are all loath to believe that people we looked up to, counted on and may have even called a friend would betray our trust or the trust of many.  We, by placing people on pedestals make it difficult for victims of this darkness to come forward.  Often times a victim is looked at as a jealous rival or someone just looking to topple the royalty.  Victims that do come forward to challenge this false royalty are courageous warriors.  These victims are willing to stand up to the masses and the regime and know they face an army of ridicule and doubt.  We should never dismiss a cry for help.  Yes it could be false.  However if we see a drowning person we assume they should be rescued.  We should assume people crying for help deserved to be rescued even if it means rescuing them from a person we hold in high regard. We may love the water but we know it can kill.  We cannot allow the waters of friendship, respect, and love cloud our vision of victims that need to be rescued from the water.  

On our adventure and our journey we should remain the hero. Be a hero to those that need our help.  Heroic acts will take courage and we may face fires, obstacles and monsters.  We need to walk through the fires, go over the obstacles and slay the monsters.  There are obstacles of sadness.  There are fires of forgiveness. There are monsters of evil.   All these things take many forms.  They hide in places we never expect and will pounce on us in an instant.  We as Martial Artists train to protect ourselves our families and should be ready in an instant.  Protect yourself from all things in this world physical or otherwise.  Be prepared to always be the hero.  During your life adventure embrace, overcome, protect, rescue, and forgive. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Respect & Courtesy Will Bring You Joy

There is no joy in being cruel to others. There is no joy for your heart if you consciously create harm for another person. There is only sorrow, grief, and strife for those who live their lives for revenge, cruelty, and pain. Look to be kind and courteous in all your interactions with others. Look to bring joy to others, and treat everyone you meet with respect. When you enter into another person’s life bring light and leave the feeling of joy for having met you and know you. A rising tide will raise all ships.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A little History, Again

Lineage is a topic often talked about in Martial Arts circles. Now beyond knowing my own training roots and my own interest in family genealogy, how viable your Martial Art is, based on lineage will be a topic I would like to avoid. Now with that out of the way, I would like to talk about my roots. I have touched on this topic before. Here I would like to be a little less verbose on the subject. I am also consolidating some basic history on Iannuzzo’s Black Belt Academy and Lavallee’s here.

I started training in 1983. Mr. Rick Iannuzzo gave me my first lesson. I have trained with him ever since. This is an honor for me. Mr. Iannuzzo laid the foundation the Lavallee’s organization was built on. Most of the current major players in that organization were trained by Mr. Iannuzzo. Shihan Jim Andrello, Shihan Jeff Sgarlata, Master Theron Feidt, Sensie Frank Scaccia, and others were trained by Mr. Iannuzzo. All these Martial Artists trained by Mr. Iannuzzo are talented and have achieved much on their own. Much of that success can be traced back to the solid foundation of training they received from Mr. I.

Here is a list of the Early Black Belts Who tested under Steve Lavallee:

1. Bill Stanley**
2. Rick Iannuzzo**
3. John Vanelli**
4. Jeff Iannuzzo**
5. Scott Ogata
6. Jeff Snoggles
7. Rob Vanelli

** Tested by Mr. Lavallee but where promoted through their kyu ranks under Lee Thompson.

There is a list of Black Belts awarded under the Lavallee’s organization here at this link:

I tested on the third “Large test” Dec. 3rd 1988. The list has me at number 55. Prior to the April test of 1988 the tests were small having 1-5 people. Prior to the August 1985 test Black Belts were tested and promoted one at a time. I am not sure exactly when the organization started Black Belt Spectaculars if anyone knows that feel free to let me know.

One other major player in my own training and also a contributor to the early success of Lavallee’s was Rob Vanelli. Mr. Vanelli was instrumental in my becoming the first official S.W.A.T. member.

I also had many others that helped along the way too. Jim Andrello was a great influence for my sparring. Jeff Bertolo was a great help for me. Pat DiDomenico was also a Black Belt instructor I admired. His brother Tony and I tested together for our Black Belts. I could go on much further about the influence of instructors and fellow students I have had the good fortune to train with, but let me say thank you to all and they know who they are.

I worked as a Staff instructor from about mid 1989 to early 1990. In 1991 shortly after Mr. Iannuzzo started his school I started training at Iannuzzo’s Black Belt Academy. Around 1994 or so I took some time off from official training to go back to college. I started back around 1998 and earned my 2nd Degree from Mr. Iannuzzo in Dec. 2000. Shortly after that I began a new career that had working hours that conflicted with any training times offered. After a promotion with better hours and after hearing of Mr. Jeff Iannuzzo’s passing in June of 2007 I started back with formal training at Iannuzzo’s Black Belt Academy. During all of my breaks from formal training I still trained on my own. I would do all my Katas everyday just to stay somewhat in shape.

My current training is with Mr. Robert De Simone, the head instructor of Iannuzzo’s Black Belt Academy. “Mr. D” was actually a student when I was a staff instructor. Now he is a 5th degree Black Belt and one of the most talented Martial Artists I have ever known. It is an honor to train with him. Since returning to training in 2007 I have learned an entirely new system of kyu rank Katas created by Mr. I. I am now learning more of that system with two new Nunchuck Kata’s and a new Coma Kata. I also have a traditional Tracy’s bo/staff form and Chinese Sword form to learn for my 3rd degree.

As I have stated before I am on the path to earn my 3rd Degree Black Belt. I can say I truly believe I am receiving the best training in the Martial Arts available anywhere in the Greater Syracuse NY area. I would also say I have the honor of being trained at one the highest quality schools available anywhere.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Feedback the Breakfast of Champions

Feedback is often times called the breakfast of champions. Feedback on our performance and work is essential in the creation of improvement. The key to the success of feedback and your own success is how that feedback is assimilated and used. While positive feedback is helpful, encouraging and motivating, negative feedback creates the greatest forward momentum.
I have been working on and trying to improve my Martial Arts skills for over 27 years now. It is easy for someone with my experience to think there is nothing more to learn, or I am too old to improve now. That is why I always recommend this old adage: Black Belts must always keep a white belt mind. The old saying tells us to keep an open mind, and be willing to learn new things and accept new ways of looking at old challenges.

Negative feedback is sometimes difficult to assimilate. We my think, “I have never been told that before” or “I’ve never needed to do that” when a person rejects feedback with these thoughts they lose the chance to improve. The analogy often used in the Martial Arts is the empty tea cup. If your tea cup is full it can’t hold anymore tea. You must empty your cup so it can take on more tea. This means you must keep your mind empty, so you can take on new ideas. If you think you have learned all there is to learn about anything you have put yourself on a dead end road and lose forward momentum. The loss of forward momentum creates a backwards motion like a stagnant environment that soon becomes a quicksand that will swallow future success.

Hard work, practice, conditioning, and personal self development (P.S.D.) are the foods that feed success for a Martial Artist. Feedback is the cook that prepares the meal and puts the right foods on the plate. A good coach/sensei/ instructor provides feedback that directs you to things to practice, areas of conditioning to work on and what direction your P.S.D. should take. No one can make you eat the food on the plate and that is where the hard work comes in. Hard work is going back and taking action based on the feedback provided.

Mr. Iannuzzo, the owner of the school where I train, has been heading a new sparring class on Friday evenings. Mr. Iannuzzo sees things in advanced students that others with less experienced eyes miss. He provided me with feedback by pointing out several things I did not realize I was doing during sparring. I took heed of his advice. Mr. Iannuzzo later pointed out that he has never seen a better sparring performance from me before. Had I allowed negative attitudes about feedback enter my mind, or thought I needed no improvement in my performance, I would still be making the same mistakes. Incorporating Mr. Iannuzzo’s coaching tips and feedback was essential to my improvement. Mr. I’s positive feedback is also a good motivator that good coaches always provide.

Even elite athletes are coached. These are people who have reached the top of their “game”. In order to stay on top they still need to improve and maintain all their skills. Without feedback from a good coach the competition soon closes in and over takes even the best of the best. While most of us are not elite athletes the same principle applies. Feedback from a good coach is needed to stay focused, move forward and grow. As a student avoid “stinkin thinkin”. I often see younger students, and sometimes older students, perceive feedback as a negative. I will sometimes hear things like: “My instructor is always on my back about…” Negative thoughts will block the message. There will always be setbacks and obstacles to overcome, but closing the door to opportunity to improve is an obstacle that can easily be avoided by absorbing and incorporating all coaching tips and instruction. Good instructors are providing you with feedback to help you. When they point out areas that need work become the empty cup and listen with open ears and an open mind. Go back to that day when you were a white belt. As a white belt you are ready to learn, respective to new ideas and anxious to get to the next step. Take on these attitudes and thought processes and it will be easy to become a champion and stay a champion.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Marching On To a New Level

The journey to another level will never be easy. Progress is always full of challenge. Creating success happens when challenges are worked through, around, over, or chipped away at until resolved. I am realizing this again as I proceed forward in my journey to 3rd Degree Black Belt. I have never been a “natural” talent. My success has come from repetitive practice. Every step forward for me has meant repeating over and over again each Kata. I sometimes have to repeat a single move over and over and over until I have it down. I will practice the same sparring combinations for hours on end. I still, after twenty-seven years in the Martial Arts, practice basics in repetition several times a week. The hours of practice are what I need to do to overcome my challenge of lacking a talent in easily picking up new material.

Now here I am again learning something new. I have never worked with nunchucks. I am now learning two nunchuck Katas. The weapon handling for this new weapon is the most difficult part of the new Katas for me. I have gone back, again, to my roots of repetitive practice. The goal is to have all the weapon handling needed for the two Katas down in two weeks, and perfected in one month. So far I am ahead of schedule for this goal.

The lesson I am once again being reminded of is: the Journey is full of hard work. I have never been able to easily learn new material. Most people who see me now do not suspect I have no natural talent. Mr. Rick Iannuzzo knows this. He has trained or watched my training for the past twenty-seven years. What I have done is create my talent. I created it by practice, practice, and more practice. Never giving up is another thing that has made my success a reality. I actually failed my first Black Belt test. I worked hard and made it on the second try. I also failed one attempt at 2nd Degree. I never gave up though. I picked up where I left off and made it, although my second attempt at 2nd Degree Black Belt took a few years since that is also the same time I left Lavallee’s to train with my friend Mr. Iannuzzo. Sticking to a goal is what gets you there.

Also since picking up formal training again in 2007 I have had to learn an entirely revamped system. While Mr. Iannuzzo has left much of his original material, he has also added many new things. Almost all of the “old” Lavallee’s Kyu rank Katas have been removed from the system and replaced by Mr. I’s original Universal Katas. Mr. I has kept the Kenpo two man form. These new Katas were created and developed by Mr. Rick Iannuzzo and his late brother Jeff. Even the beginner Katas are dynamic and fun to perform. One Kata left in the system is Ki Chung which came from Ernie Reyes Jr. & Sr. If you are now in the Lavallee’s system you might still see the Iannuzzo brothers’ influence. The three kick combos, the Kumite forms and much more reflect their influence and creativity. I still practice the “old” Katas side by side with what I call the “new generation” Katas. I have managed to remember the old Katas through repetition. The advantage of creating my own talent through practice is in the repetition. I have repeated these Katas so much over time I will probably never forget how to do them. I am now doing the same with the new generation Katas.The real story here is how a person, like me, with only a modicum of athletic talent has made it to beyond even Black Belt. If I can do this anyone can. That is why I encourage everyone to consider getting involved in a Martial Art. Striving to become your best will enrich your life. Once you realize you can reach Black Belt you begin to realize that nothing can stand in your way. Regardless of age or athletic talent anyone can reach Black Belt as long they are dedicated, motivated, and on a quest to be your best.

Create your own personal Health Care Reform - move more.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The TRANSformation Coach Challenge

Recently I engaged in a first of its kind ever challenge. I ended up winning the men’s division of the challenge. Master Hung Tran the TRANSformation Coach started a Face Book Page and a 90 day fitness challenge. In the final part of the challenge we had to write an essay/summation of how we where Transformed during process. Here is my Essay. Anyone who wants to stretch and meet a new goal or make a new goal would benefit from Master Tran’s advice. Go to the TRANSformation Coach Facebook page and take on his challenge. You don’t have to be a Martial Artist to take the challenge. Of course I recommend the Martial Arts for everybody. Create your own personal Health Care Reform, move more.

Master Tran:

First I want to thank you, Master Tran for providing the TRANSformation fan page. This has been a journey and an experience that has surely been a privilege to be a part of. I need no other reward than this privilege.

Tammy Ferguson invited me to join the Fan Page when it began in January and I am grateful for that. I actually only know Tammy through FB. I added her as a friend because she was on the Lavallee’s Alumni Group on Face Book. I have learned through this journey that she has courage and an indomitable spirit. Tammy’s spirit is truly an “old school” spirit that emulates a “Black Belt” attitude. Witnessing her fire and desire truly inspired me to regain my own spirit and desire to finally take up the path and goal to my Third Degree Black Belt which is something I have been putting off for sometime now. So here I give a special thanks to Tammy for introducing me to you and your fan page these experiences has truly caused a transformation in me.

My own journey over the past 90 days has actually taken me back in time. I thought about my own personal self development and remembered that I had a vast amount of inspirational material that I had gathered over the past twenty-seven some years in the Martial Arts. I was a staff member at Lavallee’s and had many notes and materials from that time in my life. I was also the first official S.W.A.T. member with the Lavallee’s organization. I have since moved on from my Lavallee’s family like a child who has gone on to grow on their own.

I searched for and found a box I had filed away. In this box were journals of my old workouts, inspirational material, coaching tips from my old instructors, goal setting sheets for Black Belt testing, and much more. I gathered them up read through them and constructed new goals to take me on my new journey to Third Degree Black Belt. Now being 50 years old I knew this would be a challenge but began to realize that I CAN still do this. I want to be truly inspirational to others my age to prove that you are NEVER too old. I also want to honor one of the most inspirational instructors I ever had, Jeff Iannuzzo who tragically passed away in 2007, he was only 39 years old.

In this box, I found the reasons that originally drove me to achieve a Black Belt and beyond. Nothing was concretely written, but there I found documented my thoughts and trials from that time in my life. Now I am on that same journey again towards my next step as a Black Belt. So many things have changed since those days in the eighties. One thing that has not changed is the ongoing journey of life. I have been married, watched my parents grow older, and become a grandparent. I even watched one of my own students proceed on to a 5th Degree Black belt and become my coach now. So here I stood at another launching point for new adventures.

I was also inspired to find new sources of inspiration. So now I am also moving forward. I have been transformed in so many ways over the past ninety days it would take a novel to note it all. What I can say is I have truly gone back to my roots. I realized this most when you commented on one my posts that indicated I have old school training methods. Not only have I gone back to my old training that brought me to Black Belt, I have gone back to the attitudes that got me there too.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Move More! Third Degree Journey 4/14/10

Today was a great day at the Dojo. I had some great sparring matches. I also had some matches where I did some coaching of novice students. It is so great to see the enthusiasm of people who are trying something new. I remember when I had some matches with Black Belts when I was coming up. I was always so scared! I now try to make people who have their first sparring class feel at ease. I think that is why the instructors usually have me work with people in their first few sparring classes. We did some great cal at the end of class too.

I also bought a bicycle today. I am going to use it for transportation to and from work. I will have a great workout. I will also save gas money, and help the environment. I would recommend this for anybody than can feasibly do it.

Create Your Own Personal Health Care Reform. Move More!