A journey that started nearly 10 years ago hit its pinnacle on Saturday, July 31, when Thomas Schiavoni earned his black belt at EPIC Martial Arts in Sag Harbor.
Schiavoni, 17, started taking karate classes when he was 8 years old because, he said, it was something his friends got him into.
“I fell in love with it pretty much,” he said. “A lot of the people who were with me in the beginning dropped out, except for Emily Glass and a couple of other people. It took a lot of determination and a lot of focus because it’s kind of hard to stay physically fit and remember all that stuff at the same time while trying to live a normal high school life.”
Sensei Michelle Del Giorno, who has owned and operated the Sag Harbor dojo for 11 years, said Schiavoni and Glass, who earned her black belt in April, were her first two students to earn their black belts at the Sag Harbor location.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “They’re such a wonderful family, the Schiavonis. They’re very, very supportive, and everything was just really wonderful.
“We went to the LTV studios in East Hampton for Emily because we had to spread it out due to the COVID restrictions at the time,” Del Giorno explained. “But we didn’t have to worry about that this time as the state has eased capacity restrictions. We were able to get everyone in the dojo. It was a much smaller attendance this time, but this was much nicer to be at home.”
Schiavoni explained that what kept him from dropping out of classes with a lot of his peers over the years was his dream of earning that black belt one day.
“I also just really wanted to improve my ability,” he said. “I saw I was pretty good at it, but that I could strive to do better. It was a lot easier because I had my partners with me along the way in John Broich, Emily Glass and Emily Nill.”
Del Giorno said that she was impressed by a few things. One was Schiavoni’s dedication. Schiavoni graduated early from Pierson High School this past June, so on top of being available for karate, he was doubling-up on classes, while also taking part in whatever extracurriculars he could.
“He always managed to still come to karate, and that’s the difference between Thomas and a lot of the other kids,” Del Giorno said. “A lot of kids quit from middle school going into high school, but Thomas always managed to make it in. He’s very independent and his parents let him run with it. They’ve always been around and supportive, but they never had to get involved in any way. Thomas was very self-motivated, which you don’t see often these days.”
The other thing Del Giorno was impressed with by Schiavoni was his endurance. One of Schiavoni’s extracurriculars included running on Pierson’s cross country team for four years, something he attributed to his increased endurance.
“Being a cross country runner definitely helped my heart develop as a muscle where I could exert a lot of energy,” he said.
“Thomas is very health-conscious. You can’t tire this kid out,” Del Giorno said. “We were moving very fast through the black belt test and my colleagues were asking, why are we going so fast? And it was because his endurance is through the roof. We might as well stay on pace — we were keeping Thomas’s pace. Other people would have needed way more breaks.”
Schiavoni is now set to start his college studies at SUNY Purchase, where he’ll study painting and drawing. He said he wants to continue to be active in his hometown dojo as much as he can going forward. It seems, given his track record, he’ll find a way to do just that.
“It took a lot of focus,” Schiavoni said of earning his black belt. “I didn’t really have a lot of time to do other stuff besides those things I was able to do, but don’t regret it. I’m better as a human being because of it and I’m glad I did what I did.”
For more information on EPIC Martial Arts, go to sagharborkarate.com.