By Karen Zautyk
Well, whaddya know? The pen really is mightier than the sword. Or the mugger.
I found this out from Grandmaster Vincent Marchetti when I visited his Kearny Martial Arts dojo at 67 Kearny Ave. the other day.
As I sat down to interview him and began taking notes about self-defense, he pointed to my pen and said, “That is one of the best weapons you can have.” Aside from jabbing an assailant in a vital spot or two, the pen can be used to mark the creep with ink, the better for cops to ID him when caught. Who knew?
And who knew that one of the world’s top practitioners of martial arts could be found right here, just across from West Hudson Park? The international martial arts community, that’s who.
I had been intrigued by a short article in The Observer a couple of weeks ago about Marchetti, a 10th degree Black Belt, being honored at an international conference in Orlando. Also attending that event was Joe Pung, a blackbelt Sensei and the school’s chief instructor.
I wanted to learn more about the (to me) mysterious martial arts, and the learning started as soon as I entered the dojo, which bears a sign reading: Police Tactics Instructors of America National Headquarters. Really? Really. Marchetti is the director of said group.
Marchetti is also 73 years old and of fairly slender build and middling height. But if he were pitted against the combined forces of the Incredible Hulk, Batman’s nemesis Bane and the entire N.Y. Giants team, my money would be on Marchetti.
The walls of the dojo are covered with awards (he holds 400+) attesting to his skills in Karate, Judo, Jujitsu and Michi Budo Ryu – the last being a martial arts system that combines the other three.
Marchetti developed it himself in 1992. A skill now offi cially certifi ed by 19 grandmasters, Michi Budo Ryu translates as the “Best of the Street Fighting.”
All four disciplines are taught at Kearny Martial Arts, which Marchetti founded 42 years ago and which moved to its present location from Midland Ave.
The Kearny resident proudly notes that his school is the oldest of its kind in America and one of the least costly in the Northeast. And there are “no phony or child Black Belts.”
There are, however, child students, who start training as early as age 5, not only in martial arts, but in history and Japanese vocabulary. “We are trying to improve the mind as well as the body,” Marchetti said, explaining that his program is not just about selfdefense, but also education.
And it is about instilling self-esteem, confi dence and, above all, respect. “For yourself, for your family and for all others.” The Grandmaster noted that, at the start of each children’s class, the youngsters are asked, “What did you do for your parents this week?”
While Marchetti should be commended for his devotion to his local students – children, teens and adults – it’s his devotion to this country, its law enforcement agencies and its military that is unparalleled.
Marchetti, an Army veteran himself, has trained – among others – Navy Seals, Green Berets, White House security offi cers, the U.S. Capitol police, U.S. Air Marshals and the Department of Defense (DOD) Swift Reaction Team, which is comparable to a police SWAT unit. Marchetti is assisted in the SRT courses by a buddy, Sgt. Jeffrey Graf, who is now second in command of the DOD’s counterterrorism unit and one of whose skills involves rappelling, head fi rst, out a window while fi ring an assault rifl e. (We saw the photos.)
When training members of the armed forces, Marchetti does it on his own dime. The Pentagon might provide lodging and transportation, but the Grandmaster accepts no payment for the classes. That’s because he refuses to follow Pentagon guidelines to specifi cally grade his students. “I won’t hurt anyone’s career,” he explained.
The military training is of the lethal variety: chokes, suffocation, strangulation, neck snaps, etc.
The more sensitive among you might find the above offensive. Too bad. The troops are being taught how to stay alive in combat, and personally, I have no problem with that.
For the past couple of years, Marchetti’s special classes have been devoted to the military, so he has less time for training police departments, but he used to be quite active in that. The police training, however, is not lethal. Rather, it focuses on how a cop can take down a suspect without using any weapons, such as a gun or a taser, while keeping himself or herself safe.
If Marchetti were not so constantly busy, he could write a best-selling autobiography, starting with growing up tough in Jersey City, where he began boxing at age 7. (His uncle was a pro fighter.)
So when did he get into martial arts? Around age 12, on the day he nearly ran down a Japanese gentleman with his bicycle, except that the potential victim “swept the front wheel out from under me,” Marchetti said.
“I jumped up and wanted to fight,” Marchetti said, recalling how he had assumed a boxing stance. But the man pointed around the corner and gestured toward a storefront with all the windows blacked out.
Little Vincent, suspecting nefarious intent, ran home to tell his uncle, who sprinted back to the storefront and banged on the door. When it was opened by the Japanese man, the uncle could see images on the wall depicting martial arts combatants.
“Hey, stupid,” he told his nephew. “This is Judo.” And he enrolled Vincent in the school. And the rest is history.
Evidence of that history now bedecks the walls of the Kearny dojo. Among the awards and photos is an oil painting of Marchetti, the original of which hangs in the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame in Chicago.
The Grandmaster is depicted in fighting stance, with a panther peering over his shoulder – the panther chosen by the Hall of Fame to represent Marchetti’s combat style: stealth. “You get as close as you can, and then you strike.”
On another wall is a simple framed plaque that reads: “If a student fails to learn, a teacher fails to teach. You never failed us!” And it’s signed, “Your devoted students.”
We’d bet that one means as much, or more to Marchetti, than all the others.
(For more info on Marchetti’s dojo, visit kearnymartialarts.com.)