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Karate On Merrick

Punching, And Then Some

The American Black Belt Academy is a thriving 20-year-old institution born out of one man’s love of the martial arts sits nestled between restaurants, doctor’s offices, and clothing stores in the middle of Massapequa Park.

Tom LoVarco, Senior Instructor and owner of the American Black Belt Academy, said that he didn’t discover his true passion and fighting style of choice - Kempo Karate - until he was an adult.                                                                                                                                          

“I didn’t study martial arts as a kid, because there weren’t really any Karate schools back then,” he said. “There were some Judo schools, but Karate wasn’t really popular yet.”

According to LoVarco, martial arts can be taken up at any age. He added that the oldest current student at the Academy is 65 years old.

Having only started his training at age 35, LoVarco, 58, is close to achieving his eighth-degree black belt.

“I first started training just to get into better shape, but then the whole self-defense aspect came into it,” he said. “I became completely addicted. It consumed me and took over my whole life. I think what attracted me was the mystery behind it. I was really interested in the science and the mechanics of it.”

Kempo Karate, said LoVarco, isn’t a traditional combat style; it is an Americanized art which is a more fluid and complex than most other styles. Recently, The American Black Belt Academy has expanded its curriculum to include other disciplines.

“We’ve added a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu program, a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) program, weapons training, kickboxing and a women’s fitness program,” said LoVarco. “We still teach traditional Kempo, but we’ve added a lot of different programs to the mix as well.”

After mastering the art of Kempo, LoVarco said that the next step for him was to start sharing that knowledge with others.

“There was a Karate school on this block in the early 90’s,” said LoVarco. “I took over that spot where they were, including the students. There weren’t many, but there were enough to get a business started.”

Not only did his fledgling dojo succeed, but it continued to grow as well.

In the nearly 20 years of the American Black Belt Academy’s history, the business has occupied four different locations, all of them located on Merrick Road.

Each move represented the Academy’s continued growth, and the current location is the biggest and best yet, said LoVarco.

“In the beginning, we almost couldn’t handle all the built up very quickly,” said LoVarco. “Enrollment kept growing, and we needed more and more space.”

The American Black Belt Academy is a completely family-run business. LoVarco and his son Chris handle teaching students. His daughter Danielle runs a women’s fitness program, and his wife Loraine manages the office duties.

A popular addition to the American Black Belt Academy is an after-school program, in which LoVarco said kids do their homework, learn self-defense, and get exercise. The students also participate in specialized programs such as anti-bullying classes where verbal techniques are used to defuse potentially hostile situations.

“I call it verbal Judo,” said LoVarco. “We teach the kids certain responses to different situations. These responses are used to de-escalate a physical confrontation, and we’ve had a lot of success with that.”

This is not just a punching and kicking program, said LoVarco.

“It’s a whole character-building program as well,” he said. “Here, you not only get into shape and learn to defend yourself, but you become a better person at the same time.”