“Feeling confident, strong, healthy, and happy makes it easier to feel happy for others and give back.”
--Andrea Sensei Muccini, owner of the Ultimate Self Defense & Performance Center
It all started with just one student, one instructor, one martial art discipline and an idea: to support and empower a community.
Andrea Sensei Muccini, before she was a Sensei and owner of the Ultimate Self Defense & Performance Center in Boston, MA, was training in Kenpo Karate 20 years ago when that school closed. When one of her fellow students asked her to help him finish his black belt training, the pair learned how to put up walls and built a dojo in an old basement space. Once it was built, Andrea Sensei recognized that kids in the community were struggling with drug addiction and suicide, and she thought she could offer them a different path.
We talked to Sensei about the dojo, the impact of martial arts on physical and psychological health, and the “Build-A-Ninja” program she started that gives less fortunate students the opportunity to train in this week’s Lovers & Fighters blog post…
YORK: You’re a 3rd degree black belt in Kenpo karate, 2nd Dan in Kodokan Judo, you have a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology, a Master’s degree in Physical Therapy and over 20 years in sports performance training. How did that progression happen?
Sensei: I started martial arts in the mid 1990’s with Kenpo Karate for something to do other than gym and basketball leagues. I immediately enjoyed the aspect of study, learning, and movement patterns for self defense. A few years into Kenpo, I also began studying judo will Bill Sensei Stevens at the L Street Rec Center, and 11 years ago I began to study Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with the Kimura BJJ Team. So, it’s safe to say I have been involved with learning, studying, and training in martial arts for over 20 years. My background as a physical therapist (my “real” job) and study in exercise science has fit perfectly with martial arts training.
YORK: What inspired you to open a dojo in South Boston?
Sensei: I actually wasn’t inspired at all-- I was asked by a teenage student, Gene Frechette Jr., where I was training Kenpo Karate. That school had closed and Gene asked me if I could help him finish his black belt training. I was working as a physical therapist on the 3rd floor of 416 West Broadway, so I spoke to the landlord and he let us use an old basement space. Gene, who was probably 14-15 years old at the time, and I gutted and literally built a dojo. I never knew how to put up walls, sheetrock, frame, etc... but I do now. We built it together step-by-step, inch-by-inch. By the time it was finished I thought to myself, we need to offer this to all the kids in Southie. At the time, many young people were struggling with drugs and suicide and wanted to do something positive for the community. I was a collegiate athlete in two sports, held a master’s degree, and had two amazing parents as role models. I figured I might be able to offer some of these kids a different path in life.
YORK: What do you think makes martial arts so special, especially when it comes to the impact that it can have on the mind & body?
Sensei: There are fundamental movement patterns that anybody can try and do, which result in practical self-defense and build confidence. Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu allow a smaller person to defeat a larger person just by managing angles, physics, and good technique. I am always learning and studying…as my mom puts it: “Make self-defense a lifetime sport. Self image and self confidence are vital for a good life.”
YORK: What is the most rewarding part about teaching martial arts to the community?
Sensei: You build “your team for life.” You see families and friends daily, see them grow, share in their ups and downs. Life-long connections. My first student Gene, I have known him since he was a teenager. Now he has a family, his own business, and brings his kids to the dojo. Maria Dhami has been in and out of the dojo since she was 8-years-old—now she’s 21 and is training to be an Olympian. Lenn, a 13-year-old from West Broadway Developments, is now 21-years-old and finishing up college. He still comes back on school breaks and teaches at the dojo. The stories are endless. Community breathes life into your body.
YORK: Can you talk about the Mixed Martial Arts Scholarship Fund and the “Build-A-Ninja” program you started at the dojo?
Sensei: I started the Mixed Martial Arts Scholarship Fund in 2008 because I was personally paying and donating my own money to kids to participate in tournaments, classes, and buying uniforms. I asked my friends to chip in, and they suggested a 501c so their donations could be used as a tax deduction. We have donated thousands of dollars over the years. The fund affords kids an opportunity to get off the streets and into an environment that fosters positive self-esteem while equipping them with skills that can benefit them for a lifetime. Anybody can donate at www.mixedmartialartsfund.com.
YORK: Who are some martial artists that inspire you?
Sensei: My students inspire me constantly, trying their best in sometimes the most difficult of times. And then my Sensei in Judo, Bill Sensei Stevens is amazing. He is well into his 60’s and still volunteers and teaches our Judo Program. He also built and runs “set your goal” projects for the kids, where the kids have to set goals and follow through. He always arrives with positive energy, makes me laugh, he’s smart (he’s an attorney and speaks Japanese), and has a judo foot sweep (ashi-waza, Japanese term) that would put you on your “arse” before you could say “foot sweep.”
YORK: Many martial art masters consider the mental discipline and spiritual aspects of martial arts to be as important as the physical conditioning and self-defense skills. Do you agree? And if yes, how do you incorporate this into training?
Sensei: I agree. The physical practice of martial arts is just a portion of training. Our classes always start with bow in and bow out. Standing up straight, or in judo class kneeling position, teaching control of the breath and mind. I am also relentless in making sure kids learn to respect one another, their opponent, and most importantly respect themselves and how they treat their body. Feeling confident, strong, healthy, and happy makes it easier to feel happy for others and give back.
Ultimate Self Defense is one of the longest running community dojos in Boston. They offer self-defense classes, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Judo, and Karate classes for both children and adults, as well as offering a host of free programs for youth within the community. Check out their programs and schedule and make a donation to the Mixed Martial Arts Scholarship Fund and help Build-A-Ninja today!