For the past three years, karate instructor Sensei Jay Servidio has opened his doors to his students. Literally.
The Jay Dojo, which operates out of the room above his garage in New Canaan, is aimed at students of all ages, backgrounds and experience levels, and Sensei Jay's classes are filled with diverse groups.
"What we do here is really not so much about punching and kicking and fighting. What we do in this room is we take a human being, we polish them and make them a better human being. We find a weakness, and we make it a strength," Servidio said. "We want to produce students that do well in life and eventually teach others. Your brain thinks that if I can do this, what else can I do with my life? It opens up doors that were shut."
Servidio is a recovering alcoholic, clean for 23 years, and he says he has karate to thank.
"In 1977, some friends of mine were going to check out karate school," Servidio said. "When I walked into the school and saw the class, I saw this Japanese instructor teaching the class, and the way the students behaved, how they stood at attention, nobody spoke, nobody moved unless he told them to move. They were all very intense, very strong people, and I immediately wanted to become like that, so I signed up."
Servidio's triumph over alcoholism has inspired him to help others win their battles, as several of his students also struggled with addiction at some point in their lives.
"I do volunteer work at a variety of rehab and detox centers in Fairfield County; I work with people in early sobriety," said Servidio, a third degree black belt and champion fighter in full contact Japanese Karate. "The ones who come here and train -- it's another toolbox to fight relapse."
Servidio believes that when students are learning karate, they feel better about themselves, thus taking away their need for substance abuse.
"This helps them stay on track. They get a form of discipline and structure, which for a recovering alcoholic, is exactly what they need," Servidio said. "And they feel better about themselves. You are less likely to do harm to yourself if you're feeling good about yourself."
According to several students, Sensei Jay runs an intense program, but there is also a feeling of accomplishment when a session is completed.
"I would say it's one of most demanding workouts I've done, and I've climbed mountains before. It's the extent of climbing a mountain in one class," Stamford's Steven Puffen said. "It's a nonstop workout, and when you're done with class you need to take a hot bath and relax."
"The first few weeks you do it, you're gasping for air basically," said Fairfield's Raymond Currytto who heard of the class from his friend, Puffen. "But you become acclimated to the workout. It's the hardest workout I've ever done. It would challenge anyone."
"It really opens you up because it ranges from kids that are 4 to adults that are in their 50s," Schnapp said. "Everyone has different background story but when they get into the room, that's put aside and everyone works together to get through the workout. There's partner stretching and everyone's pushing and encouraging each other."
Activities vary from class to class, but there are some activities that are always put into action.
"I switch things up, but every class they're going to do form, every class they're going to do basics, every class they're going to fight and every class they're going to have endurance pieces where they do squat thrusts, burpees, push-ups, sit-ups, leg raisers," Servidio said. "They jump-frog across the floors and they crawl on their belly just using their arms."
The Jay Dojo does not have air conditioning, so Sensei and students alike braved the summer heat waves, during which Servidio said the room got as hot as 101 degrees. At the end of a lesson, however, students are invited to jump into his pool to cool off.
"As long as you hydrate before class, 15 minutes into it you'll get used to it. You acclimate to it and you go," Servidio said. "There are karate schools all over South America where they train in that type of temperature all the time."
Servidio teaches classes six days a week, and his students range from 3 years old to in their 50s.
"There's really no age bracket. All the classes we do the basics, the forms and the fighting. We don't just fight, but we do pad work where they punch pads, kick pads and develop kicks and punches," Servidio said. "We do basics where they develop their combinations. Fighting in karate is always a series of combinations. You very rarely will drop someone with one shot."
Servidio teaches Kyokushin, a karate style founded by Mas Oyama. According to Servidio, Kyokushin is "the hardest, strongest style of karate."
"There's a continual question from within yourself of whether you can make it. You learn you can push yourself beyond where you thought you could go and you break mental blocks," Currytto said. "You engage in a fighting sport, but you come out as deeper friends."
"I think it's part of my life now, and its good for me as far as balancing my life out to a certain degree," Puffen said. "I kind of grew up a little rough, and this is a key element to push me in a good direction. If I can do this class, I can do anything."
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