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

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Life with Cancer Part II

My wife had gone through her radiation treatments and was now doing well. We had survived breast cancer. Donna was now among the many breast cancer survivors. I was planning on running in the Susan G. Komen Race for Cure in honor of her survival. Then one evening in March of 2008 my mother called and said she had something to tell us. She too had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Now I was running for two women in my life.

My mother's cancer was different than Donna's which made her not eligible for the radiation treatment Donna had participated in. Also because of the position of my mother's tumor a lumpectomy without radiation was not an option. My mother opted for a mastectomy.

In April she had the operation all went well. She wasn't going to need radiation her recovery was more painful than Donna's but still all went well.

My mother did have the benefit of Donna for support having been through the fear and anxiety associated with news that you have cancer. Again the whole family gathered around my mother to support her. Today my mother is a survivor and I will run again this year in The Race for The Cure for two of the most important women in my life.

As a side note: The local paper did a story on my run in 2008. They had called looking for stories of runners participating in the Race for The Cure. When I told them my story they were interested. They ran the story of our experiences in the Breast Cancer world just prior to the 2008 race.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A little LaVallee's History thanks to Rob V

Here is the history of Liverpool Martial Arts known as LaVallee’s Sport Karate Studio, now as Steve LaVallee’s East Coast Karate.

Lee Thompson owned the studio and decided to sell it to Steve Cravic. I think the year was 1974. LaVallee was upset that Thompson didn’t sell it to him so he left and moved to California. A student named John Vanelli kept calling him and asked him to come back; the school needed him. He came back and bought the school from Cravic. LaVallee’s older brother George worked for a bank and told him it was a very bad investment. The school was in debt. Working many side jobs and teaching karate, LaVallee was determined to make it work. He even picked up a job as a repo man.
The school and LaVallee were very successful on the karate circuit. The problem; people didn’t realize Liverpool Martial Arts was Steve LaVallee. He changed the name to LaVallee’s Sport Karate Studio.

The original students were taught one private lesson and two group classes per week. Instructors would teach the private lessons and then LaVallee would teach the group classes. This was possible because the studio only had about 50 students! As the studio grew, the teaching style would later change to what we have now.

At the time, black belt exams were all done on a one to one test. The order of black belts are as followed:
1. Bill Stanley
2. Rick Iannuzzo
3. John Vanelli
4. Jeff Iannuzzo
5. Scott Ogata
6. Jeff Snoggles
7. Rob Vanelli

*Bill Stanley came up under Thompson’s rein, but LaVallee tested him when he took over the studio. The remaining black belts were all taught directly under LaVallee.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Life facing cancer

It was October 2007 we had been planning a camping trip to Old Forge with the family and the news came. We had both been worried about this for a while ever since the mammogram showed something “suspicious”. I guess we both thought it couldn’t be - it just couldn’t. I think it was Wednesday Oct. 9th. Not sure since it was all a blur. Donna didn’t want to tell anyone until we actually saw the surgeon again. Yes we had heard it. It was cancer. My beautiful wife had breast cancer.

We went ahead with the camping trip anyway. We told the kids that Donna just had a cyst removed. We didn’t say anything about a biopsy and what results we knew of. We tried to forget and just have a good time. I am glad we did since we did not have a clue of what we were in store for.

Donna is the strongest person I know. Guess that is why we are friends and why we married and have stayed married. This was a new challenge. It was for sure going to be the toughest challenge we have ever faced together. But perseverance is in our blood, relationship, and souls. Cancer was not going to beat Donna and it wasn’t going to defeat us!

After we came back from the camping trip we settled in and tried to come to grips with what we now faced. First we needed information. The appointment with the surgeon was Monday. We let Donna’s older sister and mother know and they went with us to the appointment. The doctor went over everything in detail and spent a lot of time explaining what the possibilities were. What stage the cancer could be and what treatment options might follow the surgery. Nothing would be set in stone until after the surgery. Donna went with the doctor’s recommendation and the lumpectomy was scheduled.

We called the kids in for a family meeting. We explained what was going on. We also called Donna’s siblings and they all planned on being present on they day of the surgery. I think this family support helped Donna face this disease with courage.

The gang all gathered and we waited to hear from the surgeon. Donna’s sisters Judy, Pat, Ann, Margaret, Debbie were there. Her mother also came to support her daughter. Donna’s brother, Carl, was represented by his wife Dianne. Carl is a judge and had to be in court or he would have been there too. Donna was in surgery for a long time. We were all getting worried. She went in at 10:00 A.M. We did not hear anything from the surgeon until 2:00 P.M. The surgeon explained that all went well, and as they suspected, the cancer was stage one. The good news was that it had not spread beyond the breast tissue. The next steps would be the radiation treatment. There would be no chemo at this point.
We went in for the follow up appointment. Donna had decided to go with a new radiation treatment that would only take a week instead of the standard six week treatment. The insurance was approved and we went forward.

The treatment involved cutting space in the breast where the tumor had been removed. Yes more surgery. A balloon is placed in the newly created space. A catheter is attached to the balloon and is exposed outside the breast. Once in place the radiologist fills the balloon with radio active material. This is done twice a day for a week. It is very painful and Donna suffered for that week. The up side is the treatment is over in a week and recovery time is shorter than standard radiation treatment.

Then the ongoing treatment began. For the next five years Donna will be taking hormones that will reduce the chance of the cancer recurring. This is not easy. The hormone treatment causes hot flashes, fatigue, headaches and night sweats. It also causes a drop in calcium levels so calcium supplements are needed as well. The calcium supplements have their own side affects which are varied stomach and digestive issues.

It has been over a year now and Donna has done well. I am lucky to work for an employer that provides excellent insurance. I wonder how people without insurance face these issues. There are many Americans that work and make too much to receive public medical assistance. They may be O.K. for the common cold office visit but something like what Donna faces could easily bankrupt a family that lacks insurance coverage. I felt very lucky. That is why now I am an advocate for cancer research and better medical coverage for all. There is no reason that in this country people will die from cancer when they could otherwise survive with proper treatment. Do not be fooled, many low income people die from cancer because they do not receive the same medical treatment people of means and/or insurance receive. In my opinion that is an unacceptable condition.

I will be running again in the local Suzan G. Komen Race for The Cure. If you are a runner find out where and when this is going on in your area. We can cure cancer and this is a way people who enjoy running and fitness can help. Last year I ran this race in honor of my wife and my mother who was also diagnosed with breast cancer in the spring of 2008. I will write more about that challenge. Again if we all ban together a cure can be found.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Something old and Something new

Well today I took a step back in time. I went to and competed in a tournament. It was the Bailey’s Copper City Championships in Rome NY. This tournament has been running for a long time. I competed in it coming up through the ranks. I remember going there and seeing some of the “senior” Black Belts from other schools with belts that looked old worn and tattered. Now I am one of those Black Belts. In fact my belt is older than some of the adult men Black Belts I was judging.
The tournament was run very well. Tournaments have come a long way. It used to be the event would start around 10:00 in the morning and would not be over until maybe 9 or 8 in the evening. Now everything is very organized and they keep all the rings occupied and moving. They also created a new scoring method for Kata. They divided the divisions into groups of four and/or 3 competitors within the division. We would watch each small group and then each judge would hold up a card signifying the order we thought that competitor should be placed within the group. Then each competitor is given a medal, gold for first, silver for second, and third, and fourth place are given a bronze medal. The competitor that receives the gold moves on to compete against the others within the divisions that won gold in their groups. The winner of the group of gold medal winners is awarded with a large trophy cup. This new method solves many problems inherent to scoring each competitor one at a time. Judges are not sitting for a long periods of time giving each a competitor a score. I always found that method tedious, flawed and time consuming. The biggest concern about individual scores concerns the number of competitors the judges might see. A judge may, in the beginning, give one competitor a fairly high score and then see a competitor they think is better than that person. The only way around this is to keep giving higher and higher scores. They would usually judge the first four competitors and not give them the scores until after the fourth person had performed their Kata. The idea is: to give the judges a baseline to work from. Many times, however, the first four would just happen to be either the best or worst of the bunch. Again in this case, many times, judges would end up painting themselves into a corner. The new method eliminates that aspect of individual scores. It also provides a reward for each competitor and further rewards the winners by giving them a chance to perform again and win the trophy. This system is a very positive way to run a tournament and gives each competitor (especially the children) a since of accomplishment. Sparring is done in similar manor with the gold medal winners competing for a cup.
I did well winning a silver medal. Many people thought I had the best Kata in my group. Too bad the judges didn’t see it that way. Mr. D. ended up taking the division. He won the gold in his group and definitely had the best Kata in our division. He decided not to compete for grand champion. I think he should have, he would have won. I was still very happy with my performance. Mr. D said he was very impressed with my Kata and I know he meant that. Hearing that meant more than any trophy I have in my collection.
I will go over some tournament stories good and bad soon. I have some really sad stories, funny stories, and many some may find interesting.

Friday, March 27, 2009

where it all began

I have been thinking lately of all my years training in the Martial Arts and what it has meant for me and done for me. I started in the “old days” before the movie “The Karate Kid”. I am not saying that the old days were necessarily better, just that the old days were different.
Let me explain the old days. Back then you learned to spar the hard way starting at white belt. Sparring class was all belts white to black. Everyone sparred with everyone. The advantage to this was: you learned how to spar/fight quickly and gained a vast amount skill over a very short amount of time. The disadvantage: most people didn’t stick around long enough to pick up the skill. We also learned very many self defense techniques per belt level and long complicated katas. Again, this created great skill levels but most people would become discouraged and drop out before they could really learn the skill.

Why go over the old days if everything today is better, or worse? The old days are history. Those days are my history. Those days brought me to where I am now. That is what I want to relay here. How the martial arts has changed my life and how the martial arts have changed, with me, along the way.

Since I was about twelve years old I had an interest in the martial arts. I loved the show “Kung Fu” with David Carradine. I also had a friend taking lessons at Tracy’s Kenpo Karate. I went and watched and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. These guys could really fight, these people had remarkable skill, and I wanted to learn. I begged my mother to allow me to take lessons. She wouldn’t have it. My parents were not familiar with the martial arts and only saw it as a violent sport.

I eventually went on to other things as most young people do. However I never entirely forgot about the martial arts, learning Karate was always in the back of my mind. I read about it, watched movies about it, and my friend who made it all the way to brown belt taught me some things. In fact my instructor, Rick, who is actually a little younger than I am, said he remembers my friend, Mike, as one of the top instructors. Rick said everyone wanted to be like him. Why Mike discontinued his journey in the martial arts is another story for another time.
Mike, along side with Steve Lavallee, taught group and private lessons for Lee Thompson who owned Tracy’s at that time. Steve Lavallee had been instructing since he was a blue belt and had been Mike’s instructor. Now if my memory is correct I believe Steve Lavallee was about 16 years old when Lee Thompson promoted him to Black Belt. “Lavallee’s USA Champions” website says that as of 2008, Mr. Lavallee has been a Black Belt for 35 years. That seems to match up with what I remember. I am including all this because; this influenced how I viewed the martial arts. I witnessed how my friend, Mike, grew in maturity and discipline. Although at the time I didn’t consciously know it, I needed discipline. I was wandering with no map for my future. Yes, I was involved in other sports. I was in wrestling and track but these sports did not develop the same level of discipline and character building demonstrated by people in Karate. Mike told me about the incredible skill Steve Lavallee and Lee Thompson possessed. Mike also described the incredible skill of other students at the school. The martial spark had been ignited in my soul even if it would be awhile before the flames started to burn.

My high school years began. I was involved in many school activities and was on the Varsity track team and wrestled. I ended up graduating high school and going to the local community college. I majored in Humanities. Humanities, for me anyway, was a catch all major for a person who had no idea where he was going. I finished with my associates degree and then went into the work world. I did not go further on in college since I thought marriage to my girlfriend was around the corner. Of course the marriage never happened; yes that’s another story too. My first full time job was with a company called Standard Office Supply. I worked there for a couple of years. The warehouse foreman left Standard Office Supply to work for Perry Office Products, a competitor across town. About a month after he left, he called me and offered me a job with his new employer. I accepted the offer.

At Perry Office Products I met my friend Al. Al was into, and still is, weight training. I did some weight training too, coming from my wrestling background. We soon began weight training together. As Al and I became friends we both discovered we had a connection to Tracy’s Karate. Al had trained there for awhile up to about Orange belt and quit. Al talked me into taking lessons. We had started our journey.

I couldn’t believe it I was about to begin my childhood dream. The old studio had a heavy pewter colored door, with a dragon molded into it. The semi oriental theme continued up the stairs. A small Buda statue sat on a side shelf that ran along the top of the staircase. The smell of sweat mixed with the smell of a pungent air freshener. Before you could see anyone, you could hear the Ki-ah of students on the floor. We had an appointment and Rick quickly met us. Rick was younger than us. Al and I were about 23 at the time and Rick would have been about 18. Some of the change that was about to take place in the Martial Arts business was in its infancy at this time. Rick gave Al and me our first lesson together, signed us up, gave us our Gis, our white belts, and we never looked back.

In those days there were no yellow belts. In fact the belts that I have are white (two tips your second tip would be equal to a modern day yellow belt) orange, purple, blue, green, brown 1st, 2nd , 3rd degrees. Red belts came about after I was promoted to black belt. Coming up through the system we were usually awarded our belts during class. You didn’t know you were testing until the end of class when the instructor would come out with a belt. You would go through the belt ceremony and you were promoted. Actual formal testing classes didn’t start until later. I don’t remember exactly when. Brown Belt always had a formal test and it may be the other belts started having formal tests sometime after I had my brown belt. I know each of my degrees of brown belt had a formal test. Formal testing is a good thing. It gives a student a goal to work towards. Students going through a system of formal testing also learn what is to accomplish conquering and reaching a goal. With that being said; the surprise of having a belt promotion after what you thought was just a really hard class was cool.

When I first started we were learning two katas per belt level and about 10 self defense moves. The old Tracy’s run by Lee Thompson taught 40 self defense techniques per belt level. I am not sure ho w many katas per belt level they taught. I am still in contact with Mike I will have to remember to ask him some day.

Al and I started learning our basics and our 1st kata which was short one. After we had short one down, we began learning long one. I met one of my most influential instructors, Mr. Rob V. I believe he runs a school in Florida now. Mr. Rob V. was a brown belt at that time and I learned more from him during my kyu ranks than any other instructor. Mr. V and I later became good friends although we are not really in contact anymore. I will have to change that at some point. I will talk more about Mr. V and our friendship later.

Al and I continued our journey up through the ranks. Orange belt saw us learn Short 2 and Long 2. Purple showed us Short 3 and Moi Fah. About this time belt requirements changed. We started learning just one kata per belt level. I don’t think self defense had changed at that point. I remember learning many defenses for holds and grabs, I still know them all. Later certain self defense moves were assigned for each belt level. I can’t remember the exact changes now. The names of the moves were no longer really referred to anymore. I know them now. There are too many to list here. Some examples are: Crossing talon (for cross over wrist grab), Seven Swords (for punch to the body). Tracy’s had/has many self defense moves all with names etc.

I should also mention some other things that created the atmosphere of the old school located above a hobby store and restaurant. The old school had banners in the window that read: Chinese Kick Boxing. The actual name of the school at this point was: Lavallee’s Sport Karate. Rick was fighting full contact in what was called the PKA or the Professional Kick Boxing Association. That was really big then. It also had an influence on the training focus in the school. The studio had a very Gym like atmosphere. The studio was also dull and dingy. If you have ever watched Rocky III think of the gym Apollo Creed takes Rocky into, except we had windows. This was different than Lee Thompson’s old school. Lee, I think, was more focused on the art in the Martial arts. When Steve Lavallee took over the focus was more on the sport. I am not saying that either is right or wrong or better or worse just a different focus on training. The student can create their own focus since the material and moves being taught are the same. So, I am not referring to material being taught, I am just referring to the atmosphere in which the learning is taking place. The PKA influence was everywhere from the PKA t-shirts for sale to the sparing that included hooks and upper cuts although blind techniques were discouraged i.e; spinning back-fists.

There was also a big focus on point fighting since a big part of training back then focused on tournaments. The School did have some amazing talent going to tournaments. That is why Lavallee’s was the winning school in every local tournament during that era. Ichi (Scott O.) was a young black belt that had amazing talent in both kata and fighting. Then there was Jeff I. Jeff was the most amazing talent I have ever experienced in the field of martial arts. Jeff was doing musical Katas long before it was the popular thing. Jeff really was a pioneer in this new Kata form. Jeff was Rick’s younger brother and another influence in my training and was also a friend. I will devote an entire blog to Jeff’s influence in my training in another separate Blog. R.I.P. Jeff. There where also many other talented Brown Belts and other lower belts that contributed to the School’s tournament success. Some of these same talents are running their own schools now, some under the Lavallee’s “umbrella”, some independently.

The sport focus also opened the door for the change in teaching philosophy. Under both Steve Lavallee and Lee Thompson the teaching focus was on Karate and Martial Arts skill. Lee Thompson was old school teaching skill to become good at the art. Steve Lavallee was teaching skill to become good at the sport. While there is a goal in learning the art, sport is much more goal orientated. When Steve Lavallee became involved in the EFC the EFC philosophy of goal setting etc. matched up perfectly with the sport atmosphere. Sport always has a goal: winning. While the goal to learning the art is less defined, the goal in art is to become very skilled. Karate however has another relationship to goals: the belt system. Each belt is a goal. Goal setting has always been a part of business as well. It is a perfect formula, sport, goals, and business all tied to Karate. Steve Lavallee began to change the whole focus of teaching the martial arts. He began to use the martial arts as a medium to teach life skills. Some would argue that the skill of Karate is lost with this teaching method. I am not going make these arguments now. I only include it since my training has been influenced by it. I am focusing on my martial arts experience here. I will say that teaching life skills along with martial arts does have value. How far that value goes I will address, maybe, someday.

I am going to return to the structure of the classes. When I first started White belts had their own class for Kata and self defense. Sparring class went from 2nd tip white belts to black belts. I think this changed about the same time I was promoted to purple belt. This was also when only one kata per belt level became the curriculum. I had already learned all of Short 3 and was learning Moi Fah when the curriculum was changed. I also met John C. about this time. He was already a purple belt and was learning Moi Fah. John was about 12 years older than I was and was one of the older people training at that time. I should also mention there were not a lot of children training when I started but this was rapidly changing during this time period. Also a heavy emphasis on goal setting was taking root. Now with only one Kata per belt level students began to move faster through the system. This was helping people realize their progress sooner than under the old system. Also the school was growing in membership very rapidly. The Karate Kid flood gates had opened. The timing was perfect for Mr. Lavallee. He was starting to realize, with the help of the EFC organization, how to run a financially successful martial arts school at exactly the same time the business was booming for all martial arts. With the number of students coming in the class structure had to change. White Belts now had their own class and no longer sparred. Yellow belts were introduced into the system and a yellow orange belt or novice level was created. Purple, blue and green belts were put into their own class and this was called the intermediate level. Brown and above was considered the advanced class. This would remain the class structure going forward. What the class structures are now, at Lavallee’s USA Black Belt Champions, I don’t know since I have been training with Rick I. since about 1991. Also at this time classes were very crowded. The number of students had outgrown the size of the studio. It wouldn’t be long before Mr. Steve Lavallee opened a 2nd location in Cicero. I am not sure exactly when that was expect that it was about the same time I had been promoted to second degree brown belt which was about 1986.

Mr. Jeff I. was the 1st head instructor at the Cicero location. I believe that soon after it opened Mr. Rob V. became the program director there. Mr. Jeff I. had been heading the Liverpool location for sometime by this point. Mr. Rick I. had been the program director and pretty much running everything else as well. Mr. Steve Lavallee was just kind of overseeing everything and also focusing more on the new location in Cicero. During this time the S.W.A.T. team program was beginning. I had been assisting in teaching for awhile and was one of the only brown belts doing so at the time. Soon after my friend Al began assisting too. John C. also started putting some time in assisting with classes. I loved teaching and found it was also increasing my skill. One Friday night Rick I. requested I go to the Cicero school for class. It was a very tough class almost like a test but I wasn’t up for testing and all tests at this time were scheduled so I had no Idea what was up. At the end of class Rob V. told me to come to the front row with the third degree brown belts. There they presented me with a Red Gi top the same the instructors used at that time. Mr. V. told me welcome to the S.W.A.T. team. I was the first S.W.A.T. team member. Soon after, I was joined by Al and John. Many others would join after that. Eventually it became a requirement for Black Belt to on the S.W.A.T. Team. Third Degree brown belts going for Black Belt were required to help with at least three classes a week.

Now my training was beginning to be geared towards Black Belt. By this time weapons Kata’s had all been moved up to black belt level. I was a little disappointed in this since I had looked forward to learning the Kenpo Bo form. I did learn all of the Old Logar before it was pared down to its current form. Of course Rick I. doesn’t teach it at all now. I also learned all of Sil Lum 6 before it was deleted. That was a great help since I never forgot it. I ended up needing it for my 2nd degree Black Belt with Rick I. That was one less Kata I had to learn for that promotion. Also having started when I did I was able to pick up many self defense techniques most others after me have never had a chance to learn. Also being on the S.W.A.T. team in the early years included special classes where more of the old Kenpo moves were taught by Mr. Lavallee.
My Black Belt training was on the cusp of the old way and the new way. Prior Black belt tests had at the most 2 or three people testing at a time. Of course prior to that, it was usually only one person at a time. The only test I remember being just one person was Mr. Rob V. Mr. V’s Black Belt test was the last of the old school tests with just one person testing and the testing was totally brutal. Not that tests now or after that was easy, the old school way was just totally brutal. If people now were to watch the old school black belt test they would run out the door saying, not me, not me. After that black belt tests started having more people, reflecting the increase in student numbers that had been taking place over the years. At first it was two and three people. If I am not mistaken Mrs. K.C. may have had only two other people testing with her. She was the first female in the school to be promoted to black belt too.
The black belt tests kept growing in the number of people and number of tests. By the time I actually tested we had twelve people testing. Mrs. K.C. Lavallee tested for her 2nd degree on my test along with Mr. Jeff I for his 3rd degree. Now let me see if I can remember all the others. The Neiss brothers tested for their 2nd degrees on this test too. The first degrees were: Karen W., John S., John and Paul W., Tony D., Mark E. (who still teaches and works for Lavallee’s now), Dennis R., and me. On December 3rd, 1988 we were all promoted. At that time this was the largest number of people who had ever tested at once. It was the second test held in a local school gym outside the studio. These were the beginning of what Lavallee’s schools now call “Black Belt Spectaculars”.

Now for the people who helped get me to black belt. Early on Mr. Rob V. instilled his dynamic Kata performances into how I performed my katas. Mr. Rick I. was always there giving the best coaching tips of anyone. In fact he still does that for me. Mr. Jeff I. taught me how to have spirit and detail in my Martial Arts. Of course Mr. Steve Lavallee was there too. His positive outlook always pushed us.

After Black Belt I continued to teach and work on the S.W.A.T. team. About a week after my Black Belt test I started working at a new job that was on the night shift. This gave me an opportunity to work more with teaching. I poured all my spare time into teaching and working out. Soon Mr. Lavallee took me into the office and said he wanted to make me an instructor. He said he would pay off the remaining balance on my contract and if I did well they would hire me as an employee. This became my opportunity to be in the inner workings of what was now a large organization, a business. The old dingy school was gone and a new fancy school was opened downstairs were the restaurant had been located. At the time, I believe, this was largest school in the area in both number of students and square footage.

I also began to go to the instructors classes during the day on Fridays. These were mostly led by either Rick I. or Mr. Lavallee. This training really improved my skill and brought me to another level. I had a chance to learn new techniques and obtain the best coaching tips from all the top black belts at the school during that time. There was a problem though. I was burning the candle at both ends. I would work my night job which was 10:00 P. M. to 6:30 A.M. I would get home by about 7:30 A.M. and be in bed by 8:00 A.M. I would be up by 2:00 P.M. to be at the instructors meeting. Also my week end for the night job was Friday morning so to attend the instructors’ class I would end up staying up for more than 24 hours. I would attend the instructors’ class then do some training on my own until the Instructors’ meeting at 3:00. I would then teach until the last class that night. Testing for queue ranks was done on Friday nights and those nights we would usually not be done sometimes until 10:00 or so. I also was on the Demo team at that time. There were a couple of Demo’s prior to tests that didn’t go well for me, guess I was not up to performing well at times when I had been up for almost thirty hours. That being said, I learned more during this time than I learned in almost all my prior years of training.

Soon this schedule took its toll on me and my training and skill began to suffer. I lost too much weight and lost energy too. Mr. Rick I. and I came to an agreement and my official instructor days were over except to fill in for other instructors for vacations etc. About this time I met my wife. Of course this changed everything.

I was still working nights but had backed off teaching quite a bit. I wanted to focus on my training as it was time to be looking at second degree Black Belt. This was about 1990. The issue was the requirement to do S.W.A.T. 3 times a week. I was then also planning a wedding and moving in with my wife to be. I simply did not have time to train and S.W.A.T. This was the one thing that had held back my friend Al from Black Belt. He had a family and with two young children at home it was simply too much time to do the required S.W.A.T. work and train. I was sometimes critical of him for this but now I understood. This all has nothing to do with being positive or negative. It is what it is there is only so much time. Adults with families and work are beyond challenged with a requirement to help three hours a week and put in time to train.
About this time Rick I. was also planning his wedding. Rick married Julie in August of 1990. I am not sure of the details but I do believe Rick I’s. and Mr. Steve Lavallee’s relationship began to be strained at this time. I am not about to go into that I just mention it since it created some the circumstances that lead to my future training in Karate. I was beginning to get ready for my second degree Black Belt as I mentioned before but I was becoming discouraged since I was being requested to put in more S.W.A.T. time. Mr. Steve G. was the program director and spent much time calling me when I missed class and S.W.A.T. Just prior to this Rick I. left and started a fitness Gym. I joined his gym and went there every day to work out. I honed my skills and saw great improvement. I was training hard for my second degree test. I would go to Rick’s gym in the morning after work and then class at night. The only thing holding me back was my S.W.A.T. time. Also by this time I was married and spending two to three hours in the morning training and then spending an hour away at night was not going over well with my new wife. So we can see were the demand for S.W.A.T. was not going to fit in.

In the beginning Rick had promised not to teach Karate at his new Gym. I have no idea what his real agreement was with Mr. Lavallee I just knew he wasn’t teaching martial arts at this point. However, every day there were people asking Rick to start teaching martial arts. Soon he couldn’t ignore the business opportunity he had. Rick had been instrumental to the business success of Mr. Lavallee’s schools. None of the success enjoyed by the Lavallee’s organization would have been realized without Rick. At this time Mr. Jeff I was still working for Mr. Steve Lavallee. I have no first hand knowledge of this but apparently Mr. Lavallee asked Mr. Jeff I. to choose his loyalty: his brother or the Lavallee organization. Jeff immediately began working for his brother. Jeff I. told me about this himself. Now I have never heard Mr. Lavallee’s side to this. I would defiantly side with Mr. Jeff I on this, but that being said no matter how flat you make a pancake there is always two sides.

Now at this same time I was having my own conflicts with S.W.A.T. time etc. Mr. Lavallee had just reviewed my pretest performance with me. He had been very impressed with my performance and told me I just needed to work on my current material. Good news until Mr. Steve G. began to badger me about S.W.A.T. I finally just stopped going. I was still training on my own and my wife and I were now renting a house where I had room for a heavy bag and room to train. In fact Al would come and train with me too. We would spar etc. In this way I forgot nothing and in fact improved my skills. Still I realized I wanted more training. I went to Rick and began training with him. Mr. Jeff I. was running classes there at this time. This was good for me since while, I was instructing at the Cicero school Mr. Jeff I. had been my instructor and he knew what I was good at and what I needed to work on. Of course I needed to begin to fulfill my requirements for 2nd degree all over again which was fine. I was very happy to be training with Rick and Jeff I. They allowed me to just train and never asked me to provide free labor.

Unfortunately I was going to have to abandon my formal training for awhile. The plant I had been working at was closing. I finally was faced with my past lapse in not continuing school. Part of the severance package offered was schooling. I still had to work, and decided to go to school full time as well so I would be ready for new work when the plant did close. There was no way I could keep up with going to Karate classes work full time and go to school full time. I still worked out maybe one half hour a day when I could just to stay healthy. Also I was starting to notice something about my body. I was gaining weight which had never been a problem for me before.

I finished my degree in three years and the plant closed and I found new work with my new career. I was now about 20 lbs heavier than I had ever been before. I decided now was the time to go back to training. I needed to loose weight and I really missed training. Again I had to start all over again with my 2nd degree requirements on top of getting back into shape. Now the interesting thing was Mr. Rob D. was now the head instructor for Rick. Rob D. had been one of my students when I was teaching. He was now a 3rd degree black belt and he is very talented. It was great to see someone I had influenced become so good. Rob D. is about 15 years younger than I am and was about 12 years old when I received my Black Belt and had been instructing him. His parents had been dissatisfied with Lavallee’s for their own reasons and brought him to train at Rick’s school very early on. He quickly became Rick’s top student. Rob is still the head instructor with Iannuzzo’s Black Belt Academy, Rick’s current school.

I was on my road to 2nd degree. It was now 1998. It had been 10 years since I had received my Black Belt. Amazingly although I was rusty I had forgotten nothing. Rick was now teaching the old Bo Form which I had learned with Mr. Jeff I when I first came back to training at Rick’s prior to going back to school. They also required 40 Beats which I already knew and had not forgotten. Rick also brought back Silum 6. I also remembered this Kata. All the time I had been out of formal training I still practiced all my material. I did need to learn a new kata which was a two man bo form. Rick had also brought in some brand new lower belt Kata’s and I easily learned them. The new Kata’s were called universal Kata’s and were all Rick’s own creations. Eventually Rick would replace the old lower belt Kata’s with his new universal Kata’s. Universal 1-5 are now part of Rick’s system. I however, still know and practice the old Katas – Short 1, Long 1, Short 2, Long 2, Short 3, Book-set, Mass Attacks, Kenpo Two Man, Lo gar shin. One Kata that was added after I was promoted to black belt was Ki-Chung a Kata taken from Ernie Reyes’ system. Rick brought this Kata into his system as a Red Belt requirement. I knew this Kata being part the original class at Lavallee’s when Ernie Reyes Jr. introduced it to us.
I eventually took another job working nights doing data processing for my old employer who had closed the manufacturing plant but still had data processing located here in Syracuse. Working nights gave me the opportunity to train directly with Mr. Rick I. Rick was holding day classes early enough to where I could feasibly train. I had gone back to my roots training with Rick. I spent the next two years training with Rick and finally achieved my 2nd degree December 21st 2000. Unfortunately my employer was again dropping jobs. All the data processing jobs were sent to India. I quickly found new work except the hours were midday and kept me from attending day classes and the job also went into the evening hours preventing me from attending those classes. I was training on my own again.

I eventually drifted further away from my training and gained much weight over the next several years. I found a new career with my present employer. At first I was working 10 hour days which continued to keep me from training. I finally was able to be promoted at work and was again working normal Mon-Fri day hours. I thought about returning to training but it had been so long, seven years, I was reluctant to return in my fat and happy condition. Things health wise were getting bad for me too. I had high blood pressure, I was depressed overweight and had moved so far from my former fit self I just couldn’t believe it was me anymore.
I had traveled up to my parents camp for a vacation and thinking of taking this time to start getting back in shape by running and going through all my old Katas. To my surprise I remembered everything. I guess over the years of practicing and teaching these forms over and over they were ingrained in me forever. This is when I heard the news. A former Karate instructor had been killed in a trucking accident. I was shocked when the picture on the news cast was Mr. Jeff I.

I went home and attended the calling hours. Thousands of people were there. These people had all been touched by Jeff just as I had. I saw many of the “old crew” there. Scott “Ichi” O. was there, Mark E., Jeff B., (A black belt from another school who always trained with us and has his own school now), Keith C., a black belt and former instructor, and host of others all connected through the Martial Arts. No one could believe that this strong dynamic person was gone.
After this I really began to think about what the martial arts had meant to me. It had given me the discipline I needed to attend school and work full time. The martial arts had taught me never to give up and to persevere regardless of the obstacles life placed before me. I had gone through 3 layoffs but kept going, always finding work right away. The positive attitude instilled in me through the martial arts had given me the tools to succeed in life. Although I had wandered away at times I always eventually returned to my martial arts training. Karate became part of what I am, had I not ever developed an interest in it and never started training my life would not be the same.

After the passing of Jeff I. I realized I needed to return to training to save myself. I was now grossly over weight out of shape, and was beginning to a have health problems. I needed the martial arts discipline to get my body back into shape and to fill the void I had been missing since I had stopped training. I called Rick and told him I would be returning.
When I came to see him at the new School building another one of the “old crew” was there. Chuck B. Chuck B. was promoted to Black Belt on the test just after my promotion. We had trained together through the years Chuck being about my age. Chuck, Rick and I spent about an hour talking about Jeff and the old days it was a wonderful reunion and again the martial flame was burning within me. Chuck and I started training together learning all the new Katas and getting ourselves back in shape. It has been almost two years since I have gone back. Chuck has a few injuries but I am sure he will be back. In the mean time I have lost most of my extra weight and my conditioning is very good, considering I am now less than a year from 50.
I am on the road back and plan to start getting ready to train for my 3rd degree black belt. I am even going to a tournament. While I have a way to go to get back into prime shape I am certainly on the way. I have been running and even ran in a 5K race. Amazingly I still remembered all my Katas, although many of them are no longer taught at Rick’s school (Iannuzzo’s Black Belt Academy). Mr. Rob D. is now a 5th degree black belt and a great coach I am glad to be back with the best school in our area. Much is new but much is the same. Rick has managed to keep the old flame burning while keeping everything fresh and new. Since we all know if you don’t keep going forward you eventually start going backward. From now on I am going forward in the Martial Arts – Oss.