Two area martial artists earn black belts

Mary Hallett 3rd Degree Black and Matt Van Nostrand Black Belt (Shodan) display their new certificates of rank while standing with members of the International Panel. (Photo submitted)

JOHNSTOWN — Pazzaglia’s Kenpo Karate has been up and running for nearly 18 years and in that time only one person has achieved the rank of black belt or higher and it’s not for a lack of people trying,

Until now. Matt Van Nostrand has been training under owner and chief instructor Joe Pazzaglia at Pazzaglia’s Kenpo Karate, which is located at 81 Briggs St., continuously for seven years. On Nov. 3, VanNostrand and another student of Pazzaglia’s, Mary Hallett, stood in front of an International Testing Board that consisted of nine judges in Union City, N.J.

The judges travelled from Canada, Boston, Philadelphia, England and South America to witness the test.

“There are a lot of reasons for these students to go in front of a certified panel,” Pazzaglia said in a new release. “First and foremost it removes any and all bias which lends far more credibility to the individual’s testing. This is especially the case in a small community where some may be so inclined to assume it’s a given simply because they are my students. The panel makes the final call. Secondly, it solidifies not only their rank, but also their place within the organization on an international level and leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that is was certainly earned and not given, which also happens to be our motto at Pazzaglia’s Kenpo Karate.”

Van Nostrand’s journey in the martial arts began a long time ago, when like so many other young teens he was being bullied verbally and physically. It was what initially got him started in the martial arts said, but over the years his reasons for training changed.

At left: Matt Van Nostrand and Mary Hallett stand in front of an International test board as they prepare for their respective Black Belt and Third degree Black belt test. (Photo submitted)

Van Nostrand currently is a full-time student in his second year of college and has spent the past year training daily to prepare for this test. Far too often in today’s society rank is not held to the same standards it was years ago and as a result many people don’t appreciate or understand the significance of black belt anymore and what it represents.

Years ago Black belt was it and meant everything.

“Here at Pazzaglia’s Kenpo Karate we still honor and respect that,” Pazzaglia said in the release. “We place a tremendous emphasis on Black belt, what it represents, its significance and as a result our black belt test are downright grueling. These tests are designed and structured to challenge those who take it mentally, physically and even spiritually. In many ways a black belt test can be far more difficult than the ones for higher rank and with good reason. The test lasted two hours with only a couple of one-minute breaks throughout.”

During the test, they were required to demonstrate their ability to perform hand and kicking combinations that are practical, forms, self defense against empty hand attacks, joint locks and throws, defensive tactics against gun, knives, clubs, ground attacks and even mass attacks. Almost 80 percent of this test is completely unknown to the individual testing.

“They have no idea who will be attacking, how many attackers there will be and or what the attacks are. It is a tremendous amount of pressure and one’s ability to manage their emotions and skill set under these conditions is absolutely paramount,” Pazzaglia said in the release. “Once they have completed all of this they are now required fight several rounds, lasting several minutes with varied scenarios. It’s the last things they do on the test and its not by coincidence, but rather design. The fighting may be against two opponents at the same time, or prevent the individual testing from using kicks, face fresh attackers every 30 seconds, weapons, Its very intense.”

Matt Van Nostrand and Mary Hallett bow as they are officially recognized by the International Panel having successfully completed and passed their test. (Photo submitted)

“All of this occurs when we know the tank is already empty, the individual testing has reached a point of complete exhaustion and there is an overwhelming urge to throw in the towel and that’s precisely what were looking for. Do they have what it takes, the understanding, the spirit, intestinal fortitude to not surrender, and realize quitting is simply not an option, and doing so in the street could be catastrophic. Not everyone can relate to being attacked and or know what that feels like. As a result, they learn to become more efficient and effective in what they do and manage these conditions over time and years of training.”

“Many people will look at our curriculum and say its to hard and he has only produced two black belts in 18 years and equate that at somehow being a bad thing. However, if you’re the one who made it for Matt and Mary its just the opposite, rightfully so. At Pazzaglia’s Kenpo Karate we make it abundantly clear to all our members both children and adults, that self-preservation is our number one priority and we take it serious. Martial arts is not for everyone, and it wasn’t always meant to be fun. It’s a tremendous amount of work and sacrifice and people sometimes lose sight of its original purpose.”

Hallett has been training for nearly 23 years and is a long time student of Pazzaglia’s. She first began her training with Steve Holden at Sabi Katei in Gloversville and over the years has also sought instruction from several other Instructors.

Hallett reached out to Pazzaglia and respectfully requested that he prepare her for her third-degree black belt test some time ago.

“Things are always evolving, and there were many things Ms. Hallett had to learn for the first time and other material she had to reacquaint herself with in order to prove successful,” Pazzaglia said in the release. “Mary’s test was also in front of the same International panel, and consisted of much of the same. Due to her rank and time the standards are set even higher and the expectations are even greater. Both of these students have a driven spirit and passion for the martial arts and it certainly showed in there training and on their test.”

As a result of their efforts and successful completion of their respective tests, both are now Internationally recognized in the Vigoroux Kenpo Karate International and its black belt lineage. The organization is highly recognized throughout Europe, South America, Mexico and Canada and boast thousands of members worldwide.

“It has truly been an honor and a pleasure seeing these two individuals through,” Pazzaglia said in the release. “We have more students coming up through the ranks, and they aren’t far behind. We look forward to the days ahead and couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Visit Pazzaglia’s Kenpo/Karate/Aikido at its new location 81 Briggs St. in Johnstown or on Facebook.

For more information, call (518) 775-0695.