5 Questions with Sensei Michael DeGiso

1. When and where did you start training in martial arts?

I think I was 7 or 8 at the time and that would have been around 1965. The first classes that I attended were in Braintree, MA with my 4 brothers. The instructors at the time were Carmine DiRamio and Forrest Sanborn in the Uechi Ryu System. Then when I was around 11 or 12 we found out that Mattson Academy had started a school in my home town of Brockton and my family (all 5 boys and my father) joined that dojo. The original instructor at that school was Arthur Rebesa but we did not join until Sada and Taka from Japan took over the school. They were very dynamic instructors and were the first to make me fall in love with karate. When they decided to go home to Japan in the early 70’s, Jack Summers took over the school and has had a huge influence on my life.

2. What was an influential experience that helped shape you as an instructor?

Jack Summers was one of the greatest influences of my life in karate and in my other life’s endeavors as well. He allowed me to draw from my own life’s experiences to express myself freely with the art. He always told me to keep the good and throw away the bad. He would remind me that I could learn from anyone including white belts. I have learned to think in concepts and that I can apply my karate training to all aspects of my life. As an instructor, I have learned not to try to make duplicates of myself but to cultivate the strengths of each student and allow them to grow in their own direction. I also believe that you can draw from the other martial arts to help shape your karate style.

3. How has Karate impacted your life?

Karate has had a huge impact on my life. Karate was the first martial art that I focused on and then wrestling came along which was a great compliment to karate. I have been cross training for several years now in BJJ, Maui Thai, wrestling and boxing, but my roots will always be karate. Karate helped me to focus academically, professionally and also as a father and husband. It instilled discipline in my life. The first adversary every day that I have to face is myself and complacency. Karate helps me stay grounded and calm under adverse conditions that I have to face on a daily basis in life.

4. What aspect of Karate are you currently focusing on?

I tend to lean towards the sparring and self-defense side of karate but I know you are not going to believe this but I truly love kata. I am also trying to focus more on breathing. If you learn how to master breathing correctly it will help you remain calm during conflicts. As I get older I am also more interested in the lineage of our system from Pangai-noon and earlier.

5. What advice would you give a new student?

Be patient!!! From the outside Uechi Ryu seems very basic but it is truly a very deep system and takes years to master. It is a life time endeavor but it can truly transform your life.

5 Questions with Sensei Bill Giovannucci

1. When and where did you start training in martial arts?

In 1984, with Jack Summers and George Bosworth at this dojo in Quincy. It was around the time when Forrest Sanborn and Carmine DiRamio had recently stopped teaching for health reasons. Jack and George were running the classes in Quincy to keep the dojo together.

Adult martial arts class with a couple of legit combat veterans was an eye opener for a 14 year old. My father served in the Marines and had seen Jack teaching security guards at Carney Hospital. Jack’s wife Claire worked at the hospital with my dad and so Jack was a natural choice to send me to. The dojo didn’t usually teach kids back then that I ever saw. Expectations were that the teenagers who signed up had to hang in with the adults.

Jack was a very serious instructor on the floor. For a decade I thought he didn’t even like me. That was his way though, always serious about the material and the work. He was less concerned about being social and his time was always offered only to help improve you. You had to respond or he would find you in the room with that eagle eye and you were always called out.

Of course, I was mostly wrong about him liking me or anyone. He loved teaching people but didn’t like to waste any time about it. Mainly, I expect he just saw me as kid. I barely belonged on the floor and always felt I had to push to prove myself in those early classes.

2. What was an early influential experience that helped shape you as an instructor?

Jack finally calling me by my first name when I was about 23 …no just kidding.

I think I figured out early that these guys we call “Sensei “ really cared about us. We went to a weekend seminar sponsored by a bunch of JJ guys. You’d know the names, but Wally Jay was there and a couple of Bruce Lee students I think as well. They were all senior compared to me, some very old. Jack told us who he thought we could learn something from and nudged in front of those specific sessions during the seminar. His advice was to make sure I took home the “nuggets”. And, to leave all the other (expletive) behind.

At the end of the thing, the guy running it called Jack up to the front with all the other guest instructors. He made a pretty big deal about including Jack among them, and lauded Jack for his decades of leadership and teaching. All those guys knew him from way back. I guess never really know how respected he was in the MA community until then. I think that is when and why started paying close attention to other people’s material and what made it work, or not work.

You share what you know, study what others can show you and try to map out the common denominators that help make anyone better. When we can recognize and articulate principals to yourself, then ego and window dressings fall away. You know exactly what of the physical world you are trying to utilize in your art, in the daily fights of life. Principals don’t change.

Jack’s lifetime of work showing people this path was obviously something all these old MA guys valued. It was so simple. Take the gold nuggets others can give and find common denominators within what you know already. Leave the other (expletive) behind.

3. How has Karate impacted your life?

It has become an all around healthier way of life. Not the exercise, which can be great. We all need to do more of that and time is something we must balance. It is so important to find something grounding and humbling to put life perspective though. The dojo is good people who embrace that type of purpose in self discovery and improvement. It builds personal character through perseverance.

We’re way less of the jerks that we can all sometimes be in the monkey world when we spend a lot of time with others striving for such things and testing ourselves. This used to be called a warrior code …honor, etc… Overplayed and sometimes hollow words now except in very particular places. None of us is perfect of course, but such a philosophy is the heart of a good dojo. Dojo means learning place, right?

We teach and study the kata. With kata we use our body as a medium to express physical form. Form has meaning and mind and body each actually changes with the other. It is moving meditation in that sense as well, because the mind is completely focused on the body’s motion, so much so that it trips to autopilot. Mind – No Mind. Everything in the head gets pushed aside by the automation of the body. Paying close attention to every interaction between your body and the physical world, weight, space, distances and timing serves as great stress and creative relief.

It is quite humbling therefore to realize how little conscious control most of us exercise in everything we do. Habits of communication and muscle memory are patterns we follow to make every day interactions of life less work. Breaking those down and recreating them is a tool to improve everything. Sure it’s a lot of work. That’s kind of what we are here for though. In the real world, everything works to sustain itself and perpetuate existence to preserve the progress. Stagnation is a death sentence. Active participation is creativity and continues life energy.

4. What aspect of Karate are you currently focusing on?

That’s easy …all the personal stuff each of us has always must watch for in ourselves, plus being a better teacher. It’s a responsibility to remain relevant and actually helpful to others. Martial artists teach mostly because they get good enough at the material to share. Older students give back to the newer students. That’s what a dojo is …People. It is fairly rare however (both in martial arts and in life) for people to seek out really good advice on how to improve as a communicator and leader. Ego can get in the way and blinders are easy to fit into. Most MA instructors are not taught instruction skills, they are just good at what they do and try to pass that on.

These oral traditions we study and practice are rooted in principals of physics and the history of human behavior. Public speaking, nonverbal communication, tone and inflection tools …articulation practice is not something we always consciously critique in ourselves. Natural communicators can get by of course, but there is so much more that can be done if one knows how to message effectively. This is especially so when you truly have the goal of helping people become the life warrior they can be. This stuff is really about teaching oneself. That is “The Way”, right?

5. What advice would you give a new student?

Someone smart once advised me to make class three things. Exercise, Learning and Fun. I am sure I don’t always hit on all cylinders all the time, but that is the goal. So, I would say be inquisitive and hard working. When you think about …working hard to do your best should get you all three.

Take home one concept that made sense in a given class and hang onto it until the next class. Make it yours and continue to build on that. And, have an open mind for sure. Don’t be too surprised if everything you thought you knew is presented as just a little (or sometimes a lot) different than what you believed was true. Roll with new knowledge. It makes you better and stronger.