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When I first walked into Excel Martial Arts’ new Larchmont studio, I was struck that the mood of the place felt more like a soothing Japanese-style tea house than a karate school.
With pale-colored walls, open spaces and hand-painted doors depicting bonsai in bloom, I, as a martial arts novice, couldn’t help but wonder how the setting meshed with learning how to fight?
But as Master Joseph Rivera, the man behind Excel (there are also studios in Brooklyn and the Bronx), tells it, the design of the studio has everything to do with promoting his philosophy of martial arts, the benefits it brings to students and creating a place that promotes physical and mental well-being for people of various needs and interests.
“What we’re trying to bring about is a culture of community,” says Rivera, a master instructor with 25 years experience.
What that means in concrete terms is that Excel is more than just a martial arts studio. A large, loft-like yoga studio on the building’s second floor serves as an arena for other kinds of classes, from yoga to women’s self defense, that appeal to locals with other interest.
It also means that the space is created to flow, so that kids, parents and individuals there for different fitness-related goals share the tenets of community and those promoted in martial arts training: integrity, perseverance and honesty, Rivera says.
“We stress personal achievement skills,” Rivera says. “What we’re trying to get across is the effort is the key.”
“One of our philosophies is they don’t have to be the best athlete or the smartest kid in the class but they always have to be the hardest working,” he says.
In doing so, Rivera says his goal is promoting real-life skills that can help kids in times that can shake their self-esteem, like bullying.
He and his instructors use martial arts skills to build confidence, so kids know they have the skills to ward off problems should they encounter them. Rivera’s wife, China, is also an instructor; they try to have a man and woman lead classes.
But it’s also about promoting a mindset, says Rivera, who hosts anti-bullying workshops in schools around Westchester and New York. The more confidence and self-respect kids have, the less likely they are to wane through school, he says. In fact, 100% of kids who stick with Excel’s program in the Bronx, where there’s a high dropout rate, graduate from high school, he says.
And given the statistics that don’t bode well for kids on either side of the bullying issue – 25% of kids admit to being bullied, and 60% of kids who are bullies themselves are arrested once by age 21 – kids today have to be more centered than ever.
“We use the environment here to try to influence the right relationships,” Rivera says.
“If we could have the same principals and core values, we can manifest success in all areas of life,” Rivera says.
Excel Martial Arts is located at 2097 Palmer Ave., Larchmont. The phone number is 834-1540. For more information visit the school’s website at www.larchmontkarate.com. New classes are being added on an ongoing basis.