My first contact with Martial Arts was relatively late, I was in fact 19 years old. I was in one of those phases (just left by my girlfriend of that time) in which we realize that the time has come to catalyze all the energies into something constructive, since at the time I was studying (little) and my afternoons and evenings had no specific purpose.
On a hot afternoon in 1999, I found a flyer in a bar in my town promoting an interesting Personal Defense system. I still remember well that yellow flyer with a man with a bare chest (I discovered after being Sifu Cuciuffo) who struck his assistant in a plastic pose that fascinated me immediately.
So I called the number on the flyer and someone who would soon become my first Sihing answered: Andrea Vismara. During the phone call, with great disappointment, I discovered that the closest course was in Savona (more than 40Km from where I lived), but I also discovered that the following Saturday there would be a demonstration of this school right in my city.
Out of shyness and to have a more “authoritative” opinion of mine, I was accompanied to this demonstration by a friend of mine who was already an Aikido and Jeet Kune Do practitioner.
I remember that demonstration very well, the Sihing and the students who were present, and I must say that I was very disappointed by the type of practice I saw (in hindsight I can say I did not understand what was being shown and this is one of the reasons that still make me think that demonstrations of that type create more damage than anything else to our Art). For this reason I had absolutely no intention of going almost 200km a week to practice “this thing” that I didn’t even like, but my friend insisted on going and so we took advantage of the free introductory lessons that the instructor offered.
But by practicing this discipline, which at the beginning I did not like, for about a month it began to make its way in my heart as it highlighted my limitations and my weaknesses.
As a funny note I can say that my friend stopped the practices after the first weeks leaving me alone in these trips to Savona. With my first instructor I bonded immediately and from the beginning I began to integrate normal lessons with weekly private lessons.
My Instructor at the time was in the EWTO, but he did not make me register in that association because there was a big change in the air – in fact his teacher (Sifu Massimo Giammarinaro) would soon follow his Sifu (Emin Boztepe) in the his newly founded association. For this reason my first card was EBMAS.
I followed all the lessons with my Sihing and all the stages and instructor courses by Sifu Emin and with many of the exponents of that association, among which I remember precisely Sifu Massimo Giammarinaro, Sifu Rosario Alessio, Sifu Davide Laringi, Sifu Yasin Mengulluoglu and others.
It is during my stay in EBMAS that I also begin to practice Escrima (Philippine Martial Art) under the guidance of Sifu Emin and GM Renè Latosa.
After several years (we are talking about 2010) I had the opportunity to complete this learning path directly with Master Renè. A good relationship was born with him and it’s still going on today – although today I teach this discipline only privately and with themed seminars.
After about 2 years of course attendance in Savona, my Instructor asked me to assist him in opening a new course in my town, and I accepted willingly because in this way I could double my amount of practice hours!
The difficulties in this project were huge (also because at the time I didn’t have the faintest idea of how to make a Kung Fu course work well and it was difficult to take off). During those years we changed several gyms that hosted us in their fitness rooms and the amount of new students always fluctuated between 1 and 10. As my Instructor could not often be present at the lessons due to his father’s health conditions, I remember spending evenings waiting for someone to show up for the course, often ending up going home disappointed.
Things got even harder when my Sihing decided to retire from teaching to be able to stay closer to his father and I “inherited” his course in Loano. It was difficult to find a space where one could teach at a reasonable cost and it was really frustrating to find myself alone hoping someone would show up. Whole days of leaflet distribution that seemed to yield nothing!
Today, years later, I see those moments with nostalgia and I think it was precisely in that period that the desire to “do it with Kung Fu!” Sprouted in me.
Having lost my guide and my teacher I decided to follow in his footsteps thus becoming a pupil of Sifu Massimo Giammarinaro going to Livorno every 15 days to review what I learned from the beginning again and progress in my learning. Traveling to Livorno to learn Wing Tjun was really a long journey for me; it was in fact 600 km round trip! (now I smile thinking that now there are 20,000 kilometers to go to learn).
I had an intense year like this until May 2006 when I received the qualification of Instructor from Sifu Emin Boztepe: my first goal!
About a year passed and I made an important decision for the first time: change school.
I had the feeling that from a technical point of view my progress was slow and (mistakenly) I attributed this to the fact that my teachers saw my referent and myth (Emin Boztepe) only a couple of times a year and on the occasion of public seminars. For me, learning a system meant something else.
For this reason, at the end of 2007, I resigned in EBMAS and I started looking for a technical reference point capable of carrying on my journey by focusing every effort in learning and in transmitting to my students (at that time I could count them on the fingers of one hand).
At this stage I came into contact with Sifu Michael Fries who at the time was teaching only by private lessons he gave at his home. I met him and I was immediately fascinated by his approach to teaching Wing Tjun free from patterns and settings as I had learned up to that point. Study with him for exactly two years accumulating more than 350 hours of private lessons with him.
I am grateful for every teaching I received from every single Master I have had in my career, but I owe a particular mention to Sifu Fries for how he put the “seed” of reasoning outside the box in me which then gave me the courage and the “madness” to act as I did.
At that time I experimented with various “ways” that I knew and I did some lessons with Sifu Nunzio Nastasi in Sicily; I also tried to attend the Savona EWTO course held by Sifu Maurizio Corti for a month, but my mind was stuck on a video that I found on the internet of a young Master who lived in Holland who moved like nobody: Sifu Sergio Iadarola.
In my crazy wandering from Master to Master I tried to contact him, but in addition to receiving a late reply (we are talking about months), I was disappointed to discover that I could not receive lessons directly from him unless I enrolled in his classes in Amsterdam.
So I started looking for someone who knew the entire system of GM Leung Ting with him (at the time I thought this was THE Wing Tjun) and I heard about Sifu Franco Giannone from Novara. I met him on a Wednesday morning and immediately made a nice impression of the “low-profile provincial master” who was just teaching for passion.
This way I saw one of my dreams crowned: the Sifu Sergio Iadarola System.
Thus began a really intense year: I left on Tuesday morning at 6am from my house to go to Novara (300Km) and be there at 9am to follow his lessons until 12, then I came back and ran to work at 3pm, and did the same thing the next day.
I did this for a whole year: rain, snow, fog, ice, sultry heat, but so I had the opportunity to study the whole program of the Leung Ting Wing Tsun (source Iadarola) (weapons not included).
In August 2009 I decided to fulfill one of my dreams: my first trip to Hong Kong!
It was an incredible experience that projected me into a reality that was like Disneyland for me!
The goal of that first trip was to find a (possibly old) Chinese teacher of Wing Tjun. I visited and took lessons from a lot of Masters including: Ip Chun, Ip Chin, Sam Lau, Siu Yuk Man just to mention a few, but in none of these schools did I find the Wing Tjun that “I was looking for”.
It was almost by chance (his school is next to that of Sifu Leung Ting) that I entered the school of Wan Kam Leung and knew him personally as he gave me the introductory lesson.
I was literally amazed by the skills of this Master who were the best I had seen up to that day and this pushed me to become his student by attending all the lessons and taking an intensive week of private lessons with him.
It is precisely during this stay in Hong Kong that I noticed a Facebook post by Sifu Sergio Iadarola (who still lived in Amsterdam) who was about to arrive in Hong Kong. So, with a bit of a cheeky face and courage, I asked him if it was possible to meet him – and that happened.
From that moment on, every certainty, point of reference and conviction was swept away making me discover a truly wide and complete panorama in Wing Tjun – not to mention an unparalleled technical and application capacity!
At that moment I decided who would be my SIFU for life (with whom I made the Bai Si – tea ceremony – in 2012).
It was definetly not easy to become his apprentice since at that time his commitments limited him a lot in teaching privately (a condition that I absolutely wanted) and to succeed in this, just one week after my return to Italy, I went to Amsterdam to meet him and “stress” him again.
In August 2009 in Hong Kong, in addition to taking this important step for my Wing Tjun, another important event happened: I started studying Taiji (Yang family) and Qi Gong with Master Cheng. At the beginning I took this practice very lightly, which I saw only from a health and complementary point of view in my practice for the development of softness, but subsequently it proved really important to have these bases.
Once returned from this trip I decided that my life would have been entirely dedicated to the study, practice and teaching of Kung Fu.
In 2011, after studying under the guidance of Sifu Sergio and his mentors in the management of the professional schools of Kung Fu, I decided to open my first Academy entirely dedicated to Wing Tjun in Loano. Since Loano is a not very large town (12,000 inhabitants) in the province of Savona, when I started talking about my project with friends and acquaintances (both from the sector and not) I did not find much moral support in this “enterprise”, and it was obvious. If I had not been strongly convinced of the success of this project, I would have perceived everything as impossible too.
In addition to the small size of the city, there were already numerous Martial Arts and Combat Sports courses in the area (2 for Karate, 4 for Kick Boxing, 1 for Jeet Kune Do, 2 for Krav Maga, 1 from WuShu, 1 from Wing Chun, 1 from Jiu Jitsu, 1 from Aikido among the main ones) that were operating in the area since several years. Another factor that seemed to be a huge obstacle for the project was the economic one: I found myself taking on a rent and an important initial investment – unlike the other courses that mainly used municipal structures with evident lower management costs – and this would have inevitably positioned me (giving a completely different service) on a higher monthly fee band compared to those who were already operating. All of this in an economic moment that turned out to be the beginning one of the worst crises of recent times.
It is natural that the criticisms of my project were strong, especially from the people close to me, but I believed in it, I knew it could be done and being strongly convinced of that, I felt the duty to do it.
The day I officially opened the Academy I had 7 members and I must confess that I didn’t sleep for a few months. I did everything – really everything- to promote what I was trying to start with an immense effort and sacrifice. In the end, as for all the things that are in our heart to be achieved, at the end of the first season the Academy had 130 members. It was an incredible satisfaction that made me truly happy and pushed me to take a further step: I started to train a staff of very good people who could help me carry on this dream.
Today this Academy is still active, although I’m not teaching there anymore (just the courses dedicated to instructors) and it is now managed by some collaborators of mine.
In that period I started an intense and demanding path with Sifu Sergio – that is still going on – which made me accumulate about 2,000 hours of private lessons not to mention all the courses and seminars done with him. He also took me to his home home in Hong Kong where I regularly stay for long periods.
In this path I review (if I can use this term because in reality I should say “I see”) the complete Leung Ting System and start studying several linear Wing Tjun including Tang Yick Wing Chun, Gu Lao Wing Chun, Yuen Kai San Wing Chun , Wai Yan Weng Chun, etc …
I studied again all the student programs from scratch (for the 5th time in my life) and I achieved the 5th PG (Master Degree) in the IWKA System in 2012.
Sifu Sergio’s desire to discover the origins of Wing Tjun and its ancestors pushed me to follow him from 2010 in the study of ancestor systems such as the White Crane, which with no doubt helped me to really understand what I was doing.
Having never abandoned my studies of the so-called “Internal Arts” I was fortunate to start studying under the guidance of Sifu Sergio also the Taiji of Master Haung Shen Shyan and of the Family of Master Tien Shao Lin for the Yang lineage. In November 2015 I became the first IWKA Taiji Quan Certified Teacher and from that moment I began to transmit this Art to preserve its aspects, concepts and practice.
This study and practice were the basis for understanding and practicing internal Wing Chun of the 1700 lineage Yik Kam correctly.
This particular lineage has preserved the “Big Bang” of Wing Chun, the moment of the merger of White Crane with Emei 12 Zhuang in the Siu Lin Tao form.
Studying and practicing this lineage has truly revolutionized my practice and made me understand even more the “strength of the interior”. This represents my basic daily training today.
Seeing some of the moments I experienced in the first place to be able to ignore teaching these disciplines fills my heart with pride and I perceive in them the same sufferings, difficulties, doubts and expectations that I had when I was in their place. In the courses that I do I put at their disposal all my experience that I have accumulated in these years hoping to help them in not making the same mistakes that I did, so they will have the opportunity to make their own 😉
In 2016 a further ambitious new project was born: the Eastern School of Savona, a center for the practice of Wing Tjun, Taiji and Qi Gong directed by me and by my Staff. A new challenge for the dissemination and teaching of quality Martial Arts and Oriental Disciplines!
In September 2017, during the International Summercamp, I surprisingly received the 7th Master Degree, an important recognition that does nothing but further stimulate my desire to grow while keeping the mind of the “eternal student”.
I married the IWKA (Internal Wisdom and Knowledge Association) project in the dissemination and sharing of this knowledge, which leads me to always being traveling in Italy and in Europe to teach in seminars and do training courses for instructors, but still today I have that spirit and that desire that I had back when I foud myself alone in the gym, without students and saying to me: “You will have to do it with Kung Fu!!!”