At Steve DeMasco's Shaolin Studios, Grandmaster DeMasco and his staff of instructors illuminate students of all ages in the nuances of Martial Arts. Himself a vastly experienced practitioner of Martial Arts, DeMasco specializes in kung fu and teaches his pupils not only the fundamentals of the sport, but also the importance of self-respect, discipline, and not just learning from old kung fu movies. Each instructor here also brings their own high level of cred to their classes. As practitioners of Shaolin martial arts?the ancient predecessor of all martial arts?they're all internationally certified by the Shaolin Temple in China.
At Connecticut Martial Arts, classically trained martial artist and fifth-degree tae kwon do black belt Master Steven Doyon leads a team of instructors who teach both the physical techniques and the philosophy of martial arts. Fitness-kickboxing classes teach participants to punch and kick as they shed weight. Muay thai kickboxing classes focus on the martial art's core techniques in intense lessons. Kids' martial-arts lessons teach youngsters to defend themselves against bullies as they acquire discipline and focus.
Candlewood Fencing Center's 6,000-square-foot facility gives fledgling fencers and seasoned pros the tools they need to develop their skill with sabers, foils, and épées. Seventeen lunge workout stations allow students to hone attacks, and three electronic speed stations train reflexes to parry an incoming thrust or jury summons. The center is equipped with solid wood floors that are built with bounce, making lessons and sparring practice easy on students' joints.
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."
Military personnel, police officers and detectives have something in common besides high-risk jobs: Dennis Hill. The chief instructor at Aiki Academy of Self Defense, armed with a black belt in judo and a brown belt in Brazilian jujitsu, has trained members of all three professions in the art of hand-to-hand combat. He also teaches civilians at his 4,000-square-foot dojo, voted New Haven’s best martial-arts studio in 2012 by CT.com readers.
Hill and his team helm more than 50 classes per week. Sessions traffic in styles that range from kickboxing-focused combat hapkido and muay thai to krav maga, a fighting style that readies people for no-rules brawls, such as street fights or bare-knuckle-boxing matches held on cruise ships once maritime law kicks in. Fitness classes from kettlebell workouts to flexibility-enhancing yoga complement the self-defense courses, as do amenities such as an onsite playroom and free coffee in the spacious waiting room.