Years before he would teach hand-to-hand combat to Special Forces candidates or have his studio voted the best of 2011 and 2012 by CT.com, Andrew Scala was stuck in traffic. As he inched down a clogged I-95 on his way back from New York and his job as a sales representative, he made a decision that changed his life. The next day, he quit his job, sold his car, and bought a plane ticket to Japan, where a friend was studying martial arts. He arrived three days later, beginning an eight-year stay in Hokkaido, where he eventually trained daily beneath the great-grandson of a samurai. At one point, he and two of his colleagues were invited to demonstrate their skills in front of more than 300 high-ranking Japanese military officials. Andrew not only mastered styles such as aikido, karate, and iaido, but also immersed himself in Japanese culture and learned to speak fluently, opening the door for the lifelong bond he shares with his teacher. Today, Andrew runs Darien Martial Arts Academy based on a philosophy that values integrity, honor, and self-discipline alongside physical skill. He lavishes his rich depth of knowledge upon students, teaching them the basics of Japanese with each lesson. As they grow curious, he relates the modern practice of martial arts to tales about the "truly intelligent and also fierce" nature of the samurai, erasing misconceptions along the way. "All those things are useful tools for helping children get motivated, not just for martial arts, but to become good students, good musicians, good athletes, good people," Andrew said, noting that as they train their minds with martial arts, the benefits spill into other aspects of life. His students bring in their report cards to show him their successes—and they also know that "if a student is good [at the academy] but he's starting to be disrespectful at home, he comes here and he pays for it here." He trains all ages of students, who typically begin with karate and then train in other styles or master weapons—the long and short staff, sword, and chain. He periodically brings his best students on trips to train at his old dojo in Japan, watching them develop a lifelong love of Japanese culture as they see him integrate easily into his old home. But though he takes martial arts seriously, Andrew makes classes fun and encourages each of his students. He's known for telling jokes and keeping the sessions lighthearted. "You don't have to be mean to be strong," he said. "The strongest guys I know are also the funniest guys I know."
The supportive staff of personal trainers, boot-camp instructors, and nutrition coaches at Infinity Fitness may be quick to give clients technical tips regarding exercise, but they’re even quicker to give words of encouragement. This kind of engagement helps exercisers get the most out of the gym’s offerings, which include boot-camp workouts as well as private and semiprivate personal-training sessions that track results five different ways. As noted on the website, staff members view clients as “walking billboards” for their programs' effectiveness. In return, the staff asks only that clients work hard and stand for weeks at a time by the highway.
Raised in England and Ireland respectively, Rebecca Binks and Lisa McMullan founded Rhubarb Kitchen to share their nostalgic love for homestyle British cuisine. Meeting in Rebecca's home kitchen, the duo's cooking demonstrations teach 16–20 students how to create some of Great Britain's most iconic dishes. Options include beer-battered fish ‘n’ chips, raspberry and sherry trifles, and house-made jam with scones. In addition to sampling the cuisine afterward, attendees can also savor a complimentary glass of Pimm’s, sparkling wine, or tea, or ask their hosts for practice pronouncing "color" with an extra "u."
Many consider scuba diving a hobby or fun activity to do on vacation, but for Capt. Saam, it has become a lifestyle. He learned to scuba-dive more than 35 years ago and has gone on to not only establish his namesake scuba school but also obtain a US Coast Guard master license, teach scuba diving in Hawaii, and make regular tropical-dive trips. All of his scuba-diving and maritime experiences have pooled into a vast reservoir of knowledge which he passes on to his scuba-school crew—all of whom are NAUI- and PADI-certified instructors and dive masters. Together they immerse students in aquatic classes––both group and private––modeled after those practiced by police and fire-department scuba teams. They keep group lessons small—no more than seven students per session—to ensure personalized instruction and each student's safety.
Students develop their passion and ability to explore subaquatic terrains while also learning survival skills. They learn procedures to calmly handle accidents during first aid and safety courses, train to become lifeguards, or master the art of prying a friend out of a whale’s baleen. Those looking to clock in more hours exploring the ocean can opt for a local dive charter, which ferries 18-25 scuba divers and snorkelers aboard Capt. Saam's 34-foot Thompson Trawler as it sets sail to a variety of diving locations, from Smith's Reef and Sheffield Island to Gwendolyn Steers Wreck.
Though Capt. Saam's is a scuba school first and foremost, the center also offers equipment rentals and tank fills at its full retail dive shop, tropical-dive trips to the Caribbean, and a ground aviation-training course that teaches students the basics of flight.
At Sportsplex, lines of gleaming strength and conditioning machines stand ready to help exercisers transform their bodies. When clients aren't lifting dumbbells and bars or swimming in a pool that uses the chlorine-free SaltPure system, they can work out with personal trainers or in small-group Group Jamz sessions, or play squash on the on-site courts.