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.
Licensed acupuncturist and herbalist Stan Baker draws from extensive experience in Eastern healing methods to adeptly perform numerous Eastern-medicine modalities. Baker's acupuncture and bodywork sessions help to stimulate the body's vital energy channels, working to alleviate such medical ailments as migraines and musculoskeletal pain. A Sun Do mountain yoga instructor with a black belt in aikido, Baker bolsters his understanding of the East by attending weekly chen-tai-chi classes and boycotting three out of four cardinal directions.
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."
When JoJo Guarin isn’t taking down expert fighters twice his size in invitation-only professional grappling tournaments, he’s designing the curriculum at East Coast United BJJ & MMA. A swimmer before he was a fighter, Guarin advocates the use of cross-training as the primary method of getting his students in shape. This leaves him and his instructors time to focus purely on technique in Braziliain jujitsu, kickboxing, and mixed-martial-arts classes. The team sets up the schedule to provide specific times for beginners to practice, welcoming men, women, children, and teenaged turtles of all skill levels into their training sessions. When the combative fire in students’ veins flickers out, exercisers can center themselves and increase their flexibility under the tutelage of certified YogaFit instructor Jessica Mondello.
It's not all kicking and punching. Although there is a lot of that, the instructors at The Charland Institute of Karate & Fitness use the classes and facility as a conduit for helping students deal with everyday challenges, de-stress, and build confidence. During strengthening and cardio-intensive classes, students kick their way through a curriculum that forges traditional and modern martial arts, aiming to teach self-defense, discipline, and how to effectively punt an assailant.
Tom Bacha’s fist and feet are like a force field made of whip-quick cobras. The martial artist holds a second-degree black belt in tae kwon do, an Expert Series instructor certification from Krav Maga Worldwide, and a Brazilian jujitsu teaching certification from Best Way Jiu-Jitsu. At Connecticut Krav Maga, he and five other certified instructors draw on their kick-punching prowess to pass on Imi Lichtenfeld’s legendary martial art, krav maga, used by the Israeli Defense Force and the US Marines. Designed around the instinctual ways people defend themselves, the method gets quick-learned into students’ muscle memory, teaching students to fend off surprise attacks or disarm opponents carrying knives, guns, or prosthetic limbs.
Western-style boxing. Thai boxing. Wrestling. These are just a few of the fighting techniques that make up krav maga, an Israeli self-defense system. At Alpha Krav Maga Connecticut, whose owner has been training in the martial arts for more than 30 years, instructors teach these skills and demonstrate how to use them in real-world situations. In addition to self-defense, krav maga can also help students lose weight and build muscle.