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Epic Martial Arts Projects and School Information

Abby’s Speech At Sag Harbor Elementary’s Morning Porgram

At Epic Martial Arts we learn and practice more than just karate, but also honesty, integrity, focus, concentration and perseverance (to keep trying and not to give up) similar to our school theme this year “Keep On Track”.  We are encouraged to follow these principles inside the dojo, at home, at school and in the community.
When you get to the intermediate and advanced belts starting at blue belt, all the way through black belt, part of the process to make progress is demonstrating those qualities to perform community service projects.  I have now completed 2 projects.  With both projects I focused on making others feel special because I know hat someone going out of their way to make me feel special makes me happy.

At first, I couldn’t think of an idea for my community service project.  I wanted to do something big, I kept coming to dead ends.  Then I realized that doing something small can have a big effect on someone else.  It was November and I thought  of the lonely seniors at the nursing home.  I thought back to the summer when my grandpa was in the nursing home.  I remember visiting him almost every day and seeing the same people in their wheelchairs in the lobby looking lonely and then I figured it would be really nice to make cards to cheer them up, especially around the holidays when they might be feeling their loneliest.  I organized making and delivering Thanksgiving cards for the residents.

Then I also started thinking about Christmas and getting excited about presents.  I realized I was lucky, there are children who might be hoping for, but would not be receiving gifts at Christmas.  I did a Toys for Tots drive.  We even had a movie night at the dojo when kids could wear pajamas and brought an unwrapped toy to make another child’s Christmas great.  I hope my efforts made the holidays special for others.  The purpose of Martial Arts is to build a better and more peaceful world.  All students can make a difference.

Abby H.
Green Belt
Age 10

Grappling For a Good Cause

By Annette Hinkle; Photography by Laurie Barone-Schaefer
If you think little people can’t make a big difference, you would have been wise to drop by Michelle Del Giorno’s dojo at Epic Martial Arts last Tuesday.
That was the day Sag Harbor brothers Erik and Joe Guanga-Soliz, ages 8 and 10 respectively, organized a fundraiser for Shihan Robert “Bob” Mauro, Del Giorno’s Jujitsu instructor and a mentor for 18 years.
Mauro, a seventh degree black-belt with 46 years of experience, is a pretty powerful guy and owner of the U.S. Karate Academy which has dojos in Island Park and Huntington.
But his Island Park dojo was no match for an even more powerful force last October — Superstorm Sandy.
Mauro notes he has been in the Island Park location for 30 years (as of this week), but had never seen anything come ashore like what he witnessed with Sandy.
“Water’s never come in before,” said Mauro. “It came close in Irene, but it was nothing like this.”
“Sandy wiped it out,” added Mauro of his dojo. “It had 47” of water in it and needed to be totally rebuilt.”
“We almost had to knock it down,” added Mauro placing his hand against the mirrored wall at Epic Martial Arts to indicate just how high 47” of water really is. “It was out of commission. One part of the school opened in seven weeks. The other part is still not done. I lost my tenants, my offices … I have kids in college.”
And this is where the young fundraisers come in. In recent weeks, Erik and Joe worked to recruit more than 20 pint-size fellow Jujitsu students to take part in a special grappling class led by Mauro. Admission to the class was a suggested donation of $35 and all the money raised went directly to Mauro and his efforts to rebuild his dojo.
So last Tuesday, dressed in their white gis with various colored belts around their waists indicating their respective level, the young Jujitsu students paid close attention as Mauro gave them tips on grappling techniques and set them up to work in pairs.
“Jujitsu is grappling,” began Mauro. “You have to work hard to get good. You can’t do it for 10 minutes and take a break. If you do the same stuff over and over, you get better and better.”
The goal in the first exercise was for one partner to flip the other using a collar hold and shoulder technique. Like the organizers of the fundraiser itself, as kids went flying across the mats, the scene offered a rather apt metaphor for how in Jujitsu — and life itself — size doesn’t matter. Skill, focus and determination do.
For Del Giorno, make a positive difference in the lives of others is an important ancillary aspect of advancing through the ranks at Epic Martial Arts. As her students progress, with the increase in skills, strength and knowledge comes responsibility. As a result, she instills in her young students not only a strong sense of self, but a sense of their role in the larger world.
“It’s a philosophy of respect, kindness and self control,” explains Del Giorno. “What they learn on the mat they apply to being good citizens. The more kindness there is the less problems there are with bullying.”
“I don’t want them to forget respect and kindness,” she adds.
And that is why, beginning at the intermediate level, Del Giorno’s students are required to complete their own leadership project. She notes the efforts range from cleaning up beaches to leading community service projects through local schools.
Joe and Erik are currently moving from green to purple belts and in order to encourage fellow students to take part in last Tuesday’s fundraiser, the brothers peddled around a sign-in sheet in the weeks before and even made a YouTube video describing the plight of Mauro and his dojo.
While Del Giorno encourages her students to find their own projects if they can, if they’re at a loss about what to do, she’s ready to offer suggestions and can tap into a larger martial arts network for ideas.
“I do get many of my curriculum ideas, such as project based leadership training, from an online martial arts business community called The 100,” explains Del Giorno. “It’s a martial arts business ‘think tank’ where business owners from all around the world share ideas. It is facilitated by Tom Callos, who is a well respected and often quite boisterous leader in the martial arts community.”
“He’s also a mentor and a personal friend of mine,” she adds.
In the case of last week’s event, however, it was Del Giorno’s close ties with Mauro that made the fundraiser for his dojo a no-brainer. It also brought home to the kids the reality of the devastation Superstorm Sandy wrought on communities west of here.
“When Sandy was approaching, we talked about preparing for a hurricane and compared it to a self-defense situation and what happens when people are not taking it seriously,” says Del Giorno. “Then we heard of Bob’s school and the damage.”
That’s when Erik and Joe got to work. Persuasion and a well-crafted online pitch brought in the students — and the money.
In the end, they raised $800 for Mauro.
Not bad for a couple kids.
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Teaching Self-Defense, Self-Confidence, and Kindness

“It makes kids feel good about themselves”
Michelle Del Giorno led her karate class, Storm (for a Select Team of Role Models), in a demonstration on Sag Harbor’s Long Wharf on Saturday during HarborFest.Carrie Ann Salvi

   Michelle Del Giorno is a world champion in karate, hooked since her first tournament at the age of 16, but she said on Monday that despite what some may think, self-defense is not all about kicking, punching, blocking, and throwing. At her dojo in Sag Harbor, Epic Martial Arts East, the curriculum teaches kindness, respect, tolerance, focus, discipline, confidence, and self-control.
    Her students earn stripes on their belts through group acts of kindness. Community service projects have included preparing care packages to be sent to troops overseas with Jordan’s Initiative, collecting gently used children’s clothing for the Retreat, and raising $6,000 for Team Tarlow and Hand, which donates money to Swim Across America’s cancer research efforts. Beach and park cleanups are considered a form of self-defense too, she said, because they help protect the environment, which we all depend on. Students’ projects are recorded in a portfolio for later use in job and college applications.
    “It makes kids feel good about themselves,” she said, adding that self-confidence helps kids deflect bullying and become leaders, not followers, things they learn from their sensai through role play, too. Along with improved behavior, many students also get better grades.
    “It’s about deflecting what is around you without being confrontational,” Del Giorno said. Her students become more physically fit, but they also learn how to take care of their health in other ways — good nutrition, for example.
    The dojo’s competition team, called Storm, or Select Team of Role Models, is comprised of students with orange belts or higher. “The kids love it,” she said of competing in tournaments. The group of 7 to 12-year-olds also performs demonstrations, such as the one on Saturday on Long Wharf during HarborFest.
    She encourages parents to stay in class to hear the messages she’s sharing with students, and they have been very supportive, she said. Her students hail from East Hampton and Southampton, as well as Sag Harbor, where she said she teaches practically the entire third grade.
    A parent of four boys, Del Giorno has taught martial arts for about 25 years. She offered kickboxing and karate classes at the Sag Harbor Gym for many years, until they grew too large and she knew it was time to open her own dojo, where she now teaches karate to children, teens, and adults, as well as jujitsu and tai chi. She has taught karate and kickboxing at the Ross School for eight years, and teaches horseback riding, too, at the school’s summer pony camp at the Topping Riding Club in Saga­ponack.
    Riding, like martial arts, has been a part of her life since childhood. Both are individual sports, which Del Giorno said she has always preferred. “I like to challenge myself.”


By Emily J. Weitz

As kids make out their lists for Santa Claus and tick through the many things they want to receive, it’s an opportunity to also teach them the value of giving. And not just in a material way – the value of giving of your efforts and your heart. This is the idea behind AOKs at Epic Martial Arts. AOKs – or Acts of Kindness – are incorporated into the curriculum as kids work towards their black belt. And no matter how well they can kick and punch, they won’t be considered advanced martial artists until they learn how to give of themselves.

The idea of practicing AOKs is “part of martial arts philosophy,” says Sensei Michelle Del Giorno, who runs Epic Martial Arts.

“When you’re a black belt, you’re a leader in the community. The philosophy of martial arts is all about respect, and perseverance. We try to use these core values and apply them to everyday life. We’re taking our teachings out of the dojo and into the world by showing our kids how to be kind to each other.”

This kind of teaching helps kids deal with issues that come up as they grow older.

“It transcends against bullying, helps with self defense,” Del Giorno said.

Every class, Sensei Michelle brings the kids together for mat chat.

“We talk about things that are happening and whatever we’re focusing on that week,” says Del Giorno. “Because of the holidays, our focus is these Acts of Kindness. Chats change month to month, but right now we’re talking about what we can give back to the community.”

Each year at this time, Epic Martial Arts engages students in leadership projects as a way to teach these principles. This year, Del Giorno decided to work with Alex’s Promise, a foundation close to her heart.

“Alex’s mom, Lisa, works at the desk at the karate school, so all the kids know her,” says Del Giorno. “And they are longtime family friends of mine.”

Alex Koehne, the foundation’s namesake, was a young Sag Harbor resident who lost his battle with a rare form of cancer a few years back.

“We were all shocked and saddened by Alex’s passing at such a young age,” says Del Giorno. “But we’ve found a great way to give back.”

Koehne, for her part, finds the kids’ spirit for giving back heartening.

“This means so much to me and my husband, and our girls,” she said. “It means so much that these kids care about other kids who don’t have what they have. It’s great to see.”

At this time of year, dealing with the devastating loss of her son is particularly hard, and when she sees the community coming together in his name, “It makes me feel good,” she says. “I want people to remember him. Sometimes people don’t know what to say, but for me it helps when people talk openly about the child I lost.”

Alex’s Promise raises money for scholarships for graduating seniors at Pierson as well as for cancer research through St. Jude’s Hospital.

“Alex always loved helping children,” says Del Giorno. “He was like a big brother to a lot of cousins and he comes from a big family. Being the oldest of four, he was always helping the kids, and the foundation honors Alex’s memory by continuing that legacy.”

This year, Del Giorno and the students at Epic are participating in Push-Ups for Pennies, where participants will do one push-up for every penny donated to the organization. Del Giorno kicked it off on Thanksgiving by doing 1000 push-ups throughout the day. She filmed herself in action so kids and donors could tune in to her web feed to see how she was committing herself.

“I kept going into the bedroom at my mom’s and doing push-ups,” says Del Giorno. “Every couple hundred I’d do another update. In the middle of one of my push-up sets my cousin came in and was like, ‘Michelle, dinner!’”

By 11:45 p.m., she had finished 1,000 push-ups, and now she’s asking the kids to join her. In sets of 25, even the four-year-olds are joining in.

“They all feel like they’re giving in some way,” says Del Giorno. “It’s exciting.”

And they are. Not only that, but they are loving it. When asked if they’d like to contribute to this article, the kids lined up to weigh in on why this is such an important cause.

Tori Markowski, Sara Schoen, and Lili Knibb, who are ages 8 and 9, wanted to share how good it makes them feel to help children in the hospital. Simone Batiste, age 9, feels strongly because of a personal connection to the cause.

“My friend had cancer and she was in 7th grade when she died,” she says, “and I like to help.”

Jhoziel and Erik Guanga, brothers, feel like they’re really making a difference.

Colin Harrison, age 8, says that “Each push up we do is worth a penny, and so far we’ve got $200. All that goes to St. Jude’s, which helps kids with cancer and other diseases.”

Carson Tompkins, age 8, really likes it “because it gets kids exercise and it’s for a good cause. You’re not just doing exercise,” he explains, “but you’re giving to kids who are less fortunate. My mom won’t give to Cheetah Serve or special fabric making companies, but she will give to St. Jude’s. This one is special.”

Johnny Nill, who just celebrated his 8th birthday, is Alex Koehne’s cousin. He was a toddler when he lost his older cousin, but he still remembers him.

“It’s a lot of work and it’s hard,” he says of the push-ups, “but I do it for Alex, and for the kids who are in the hospital. I remember Alex.”

To make a donation to Push-Ups for Pennies or Alex’s Promise, stop by Epic Martial Arts at 75 Main Street in Sag Harbor, or go to or


This was our first community project at Epic Martial Arts-EAST in November 2011. Students and parents helped collect items and prepare care packages for our troops.  This effort was part of Jordan’s Initiative in memory and honor of Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter from Sag Harbor, New York.

It is our mission at Epic Martial Arts-East to teach our young students how to be leaders in our community.  In order to accomplish strong leadership skills we will be continually engaging our students in community service programs that require them to practice leadership.

We are pleased to announce that our first group leadership project will be our work with “Jordan’s Initiative”, a non profit foundation honoring the life and sacrifice of Marine Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter of Sag Harbor, New York.  Jordan was tragically killed while serving our country in Iraq in April 2008.  He has been awarded the Navy Cross for his extraordinary heroism in saving the lives of 23 United States Marines and over 20 Iraqi Police.  

The Sag Harbor community has continued to honor our hero in many ways, including the Jordan Haerter Memorial Bridge, Community Spirit Awards to Pierson High School students, Wheels to Freedom project and Care Packages to our Troops projects.

At Epic Martial Arts-East, we are very excited to participate in the collection of supplies for the Care Package Project for our troops who are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We are encouraging our students to bring in supplies before November 18th and add them to the collection box.  On Saturday Nov.19th at 9 am our students will also volunteer to help organize the packages and prepare the supplies for shipment at the Sag Harbor Village Ambulance Barn.

Please visit for more information and to support their continued efforts to provide aid and support for military personnel, veterans and their families.


This is John’s first community leadership project to advance to the rank of green belt.  John is age 10 and currently a blue belt at Epic Martial Arts in Sag Harbor N.Y.

Waste kickers


My project is a beach clean up. With this project, I am trying to stop littering by removing waste and trash from Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett. I am trying to encourage others to be active in their community by discovering that cleaning up the beach can actually be an enjoyable experience. I am trying to influence friends and others to continually clean up their environment and remain active in their community.


My inspiration for this project was my love towards sea life and to prevent them from getting harmed. You hear many stories of sea animals dying because they end up eating trash. Turtles in most cases confuse plastic bags as jellyfishes and end up dying because they cant breath. Dolphins get stuck in nets and ropes that people throw in the ocean. These are few of the many animals out in the ocean that get harm because people don’t treat beaches with respect and don’t take their garbage with them.


So on Mothers day, May 13th 2012, my cousins Alex and Christian and I, along with Sensei Michelle and my big sister Johanna went to Indian Wells Beach to clean up for an hour. I didn’t realize how much garbage we picked up. Between my two younger cousins and I, we filled a big white bag full of plastic bags, balloons, cans, bottles, and diapers. I was surprised to see how much garbage we picked up in such short amount of time and we only cleaned a small part of the beach. I do have to admit that I had a great time along with my cousins picking up garbage. I plan to keep doing this type of things in the future along with my family and friends. 

 By John Saldana- Green belt candidate 5/18/12