Paul Mormando is a martial arts expert who was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. As a child, Paul was small and timid, which made him the target of neighborhood bullies. Paul’s desire to protect himself led him to karate school, where he thrived due to the strength of his dedication. Trained in Tae Kwon Do by traditional Korean instructors, Paul eventually branched out on his own. In 1990, when Paul was 20-years-old, he became certificated to teach Cha Ki Do, which subsequently made him the youngest “Grand Master” in all the world and martial arts history.
In the 1990s, Paul opened karate schools in Brooklyn. He helped train both NYPD officers and school children in the art of self-defense. In July of 1993 at Shea Stadium, Paul broke the world record for board-breaking when he shattered 56 boards in 58 seconds. The feat was broadcast on television to millions of people. Sadly, a few days after that astonishing achievement, Paul was nearly killed in a car accident that severely damaged his body. Paul went through years of intense physical therapy and battled depression after the accident, which resulted in the closure of his martial arts schools. Finally, in 1999, he regained enough health to open new schools in Brooklyn and Staten Island. In 2003, Paul was inducted into the Hall of Fame at Madison Square Garden. Recently, Paul Mormando discussed his career and his hopes for the future.
Meagan Meehan (MM): You became a martial artist after facing bullying as a child. Do many of your students report similar experiences?
Paul Mormando (PM): Yes, bullying was my only reason for starting my martial arts training as a child. Of course, I later learned it had a lot more to offer. Not a week goes by that I don’t hear of a student dealing with some sought of bullying issue. The biggest problem now is technology. When I was a kid if you were getting bullied in school after dismissal or on the weekends, you had some time away from the bully to collect yourself. Nowadays, with the advent of social media, it follows you everywhere and there is no escaping it. So, it has gotten a lot harder for a child to escape his or her problem even for a little while. It’s very sad.
MM: You credit the martial arts with saving your life from your bullying ordeal. Can you elaborate?
PM: When I was a child, I was very small in stature and extremely shy and timid. The other students saw that I was different and took it as a sign of weakness. So, between my small size and my laid-back demeanor, I was a perfect target for the bullies in my school. My father was an ex-police sergeant and a boxer in the military, so he was just a tough dude, he had no tolerance for weakness. I was taught very early on that if you don’t hit back and defend yourself, then when you get home, you’ll get it even worse. After many encounters of being mostly verbally bullied with the occasional beating, I decided there must be a way to feel no pain and also not disappoint my father, I contemplated killing myself numerous times tried to figure out the easiest and most painless way of doing it. Thank God I was to chicken to follow through, although I came close to it once or twice! Then one day, as I was sitting on my couch, I watched this little Chinese man beat the crap out of guys that were twice his size. Even though it was just a movie, it gave me hope. I found out his name was Bruce Lee, and what he was doing was called Kung Fu. I quickly felt like this was the answer to all my problems and became extremely obsessed with training and learning to defend myself and that is what truly saved my life. As I started to feel more confident, things didn’t bother me as much and I learned to carry myself in a better way. Learning to fight made me feel empowered and gave me the hope I needed to carry on. I owe my whole life to the martial arts; they were my equalizer!
MM: What were the hardest aspects of the craft to master?
PM: The sparring aspect, which is combat against another practitioner. As I said earlier, I came to the martial arts strictly for self-defense, so hitting someone and having them hit me back was essential, and having a very shy introverted demeanor made it difficult to learn at first.
MM: When did you know that you wanted to start teaching this practice?
PM: As I was training and getting confident in my abilities, I liked the idea of helping others deal with the same issues I did and the thought of being a leader for the first time in my life made me resonate to the role of Sensei.
MM: You broke a world record at Shea Stadium! What was that like? How did you even manage to book that amazing venue?
PM: I had never been in a school play, but when I watched the old martial arts shows that my old friend Grandmaster Aaron Banks used to put on, I was sold. I loved to perform! So, when I started to excel in the martial arts that was my vehicle to express myself as a performer. Being media savvy, I asked the Mets Press agent Jim Plumber about doing a pregame demo and, on top of that, put on a breaking demonstration that would showcase my art. At the last minute, I decided to break a world record! The media had come, and it was broadcast live on the Mets pregame show. It was one of the greatest feelings and performances of my life! It was in front of close to 20,000 people live and broadcast nationally on TV, a great time!
MM: You were in a serious car accident. What was the toughest part of recovery?
PM: Well, the first thing I asked the doctor was when could I get back to work — which meant teaching and performing martial arts. I will never forget it. There were two doctors in the room with a nurse and they paused and said, “Let start by walking.” That was the first time I had thought, “Wow this could really be over.” The toughest part of recovery was keeping a positive outlook and hoping the doctors were wrong and that I would be able to do what I loved.
MM: How did you get through all the tough times in your life?
PM: I was going in for rehab and I came across a child who had a serious neurological disease and was wheelchair bound. He had never walked and I realized that no matter how badly I was suffering, I only had some injuries while that young child had never taken a step or ran or was not able to do anything mobile his whole life. That changed my outlook and it also turned me onto reading Tony Robbins books. His philosophy was an inspiration that changed my whole mindset.
MM: You currently operate martial arts schools. What kinds of classes do you offer? What are the age ranges and rates?
PM: I teach a system of Martial Arts called Cha Ki Do which is an original MMA, or Mixed Martial Arts System. It combines boxing, wrestling, karate, Muy Thai, Bjj, and the Filipino martial arts. I teach people from as young as 3 to as old as 73!
MM: What are the most challenging—and rewarding—aspects of running the schools?
PM: The most challenging part is to keep the students motivated. The martial arts are difficult and repetitive. With today’s generation not following through, setting goals has been an issue. The most rewarding part is when the student progresses and accomplishes their goal. Whether the goal is to get a Black Belt, defend themselves, or lose weight, the joy of seeing the way martial arts changed their lives like it did mine is just priceless.
MM: You have also appeared on well-known TV shows and movies. What most appeals to you about acting?
PM: I love bringing a character to life and getting to express that in an art form is amazing. My idols are Bruce lee and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Anytime I can use media as a medium to promote the martial arts I do so.
MM: What would be your “dream role”?
PM: Great question! I would have loved to play Ralph Macchio’s role in The Karate Kid, but my dream role now would be to play a vigilante type role like Charles Bronson in Death Wish.
MM: What advice would you give to a person who is striving to be a martial artist and/or actor?
PM: Practice, and when you are done with that, practice some more. Whether you want to be an actor or just a Black Belt, it takes time and discipline. Without determination and desire, you won’t accomplish anything.
MM: What are your current projects?
PM: I just wrapped up Bound by Debt and did a TV pilot called Up On Sugar Hill, which was produced by my friend John Thomas. We are working on a web-series next so I can give something back to my fans on a bi-weekly basis. I am also going to be co-starring alongside my Bound by Debt cast-mate, Troy Burbank, who will star in and direct the new comedy Gone for the Weekend. I will be playing a character named Shut Eyes and production begins in May.
[Feature Image by Paul Mormando]