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Norwood Martial Arts School Still Kicking After 30 Years

Charlie DiGirolamo (right) spars with student Leonidas Tsiavos, 55, at Northern Valley Martial Arts in Norwood.
Charlie DiGirolamo (right) spars with student Leonidas Tsiavos, 55, at Northern Valley Martial Arts in Norwood. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Leonidas Tsiavos (left) and James Cooke, both of Northvale, practice at Northern Valley Martial Arts in Norwood.
Leonidas Tsiavos (left) and James Cooke, both of Northvale, practice at Northern Valley Martial Arts in Norwood. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Master Charlie DiGirolamo, founder and teacher at Northern Valley Martial Arts.
Master Charlie DiGirolamo, founder and teacher at Northern Valley Martial Arts. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Katie McDermott, Closter mom, practices what to do if attacked on the street. The more you do it, she says, the more muscle memory your body builds up.
Katie McDermott, Closter mom, practices what to do if attacked on the street. The more you do it, she says, the more muscle memory your body builds up. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
A Thursday afternoon class just before the holidays at Northern Valley Martial Arts: (left to right) James Cooke, Katie McDermott, Master Charlie DiGirolamo, and Leonidas Tsiavos.
A Thursday afternoon class just before the holidays at Northern Valley Martial Arts: (left to right) James Cooke, Katie McDermott, Master Charlie DiGirolamo, and Leonidas Tsiavos. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
James Cooke of Northvale after a session at Northern Valley Martial Arts.
James Cooke of Northvale after a session at Northern Valley Martial Arts. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash

NORWOOD, N.J. — Master Charles DiGirolamo has a motto for his students at Northern Valley Martial Arts in Norwood : “A black belt is a white belt who never quit.”

That thought and his example have kept students coming to his school for years.

Sure, kids come. And they come back too — even after college.

Sometimes their parents sign up, too. Katie McDermott of Closter is a case in point.

“My daughters lasted a couple of years and went on to other things, but I stuck with it,” McDermott said. “It’s self-defense. It’s exercise, a fun cardio thing. I love it.”

Northern Valley Martial Arts, once the only Tae Kwon Do school in Norwood, is celebrating its 30th year in business and holding its own in an increasingly crowded market.

There are now seven Tae Kwon Do academies in a seven-mile radius of DiGirolamo’s Walnut Street facility.

With the influx of Korean immigrants into Bergen County in recent years have come many Korean-run martial arts schools.

DiGirolamo, of West Milford, earned his sixth-degree black belt under the revered Korean Grand Master Won Keun Bai.

Bai, who came to the U.S. in the 1970s, is founder of Bai’s Tae Kwon Do in Ramsey and the Pan American Tae Kwon Do Federation.

Northern Valley Martial Arts is a member of the federation and Bai still makes appearances there.

“We have integrity,” said DiGirolamo, who conducts all classes in English, removing a language barrier for non-Korean students.

“The progress of every single kid and adult in this school is important to me,” he added. “It’s a family here.”

DiGirolamo spars with his students all the time, wanting to make sure they are prepared for any situation they may encounter in life.

Northern Valley Martial Arts also offers Krav Maga, which is Israeli military self-defense.

“It’s for the real world,” said DiGirolamo, a Level 3 certified Krav Maga instructor.

“It’s all about being attacked and learning how to block, kick, strike, and flee safely,” he added. “We do knife defense, stick defense, gun disarming, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.”

Krav Maga appeals to those interested in martial arts and those who are not: a student doesn’t have to be an athlete to learn it.

Northern Valley Martial Arts, located at 55 Walnut St., is holding an open house Jan. 28.

For more information, call 201-784-2411 or CLICK HERE .

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