Twenty years ago, martial arts Master Chris Berlow met 8-year old Vinny Bellantoni and knew, “by the time he was a green belt,” that he was something special.
“After he fixed that back stance, it was smooth sailing from there,” Berlow said while sitting next to a now 28-year old Bellantoni, causing both to share a laugh.
Both now martial arts masters, Berlow and Bellantoni operate United Martial Arts Centers (UMAC) schools in Westchester County. Berlow is the master of the UMAC school in Briarcliff Manor. He gave Bellantoni the keys to the newest UMAC school, located at 15 Center Street, Ardsley, in September 2013.
The student literally became the master.
“Watching him (Bellantoni) grow has been the most rewarding experience of my martial arts career,” Berlow said. “He has raised the bar and set an unbelievable example for future aspiring martial artists.”
The feeling, of course, is mutual. Bellantoni said he knew he wanted to become a martial arts master ever since he became Berlow’s teaching assistant as a freshman in high school.
“I am completely honored to be here in Ardsley,” Bellantoni said. “Obviously, none of this happens without Master Berlow.”
When Berlow said watching Bellantoni's journey was the most rewarding experience of his own martial arts career, it wasn’t for a lack of options. As one of the four founding UMAC members, his Briarcliff school has won numerous national awards including, "School of the Year", by industry organizations. In 2012 he received the "Best in Westchester" award out of more than 150 Martial Arts schools in Westchester County. Other UMAC locations are based in Fishkill, Carmel, Warwick, Ridgefield, Conn. and New Jersey.
With all locations thriving, Bellantoni is aiming to bring that blueprint of UMAC tradition and culture to the Rivertowns.
“The way UMAC goes about teaching martial arts is what separates itself from other martial art centers,” Bellantoni said. “We pull our students along rather than push them.”
Berlow said the schools pride themselves on instilling martial art values into their students at a young age with the hope that they find their way into other aspects of their lives.
“Paralleling physical technique with character development is vital,” he said. “Not only do our students benefit physically from our classes, but more importantly, the characteristics of martial arts fuel other areas of their life.”
While 20 years is a long time for a teacher-student relationship, Berlow and Bellantoni have only seemed to grow closer. That’s because, these days, they can now learn from each other.
“Vinny has taught me that attitude is everything,” Berlow said. “For as long as I’ve known him, no matter what task I put in front of him, he approaches it with the same positive attitude – all the time.”
Bellantoni said he continues to learn from Berlow on a day-to-day basis.
“I don’t see him as much now as I did when I was his student, or when I helped teach lessons in Briarcliff,” he said. “But now we can kind of learn and work off each other.”
Residents can now find those martial arts lessons in one more location with UMAC Ardsley.
“Seeing what we’ve done in Briarcliff and being able to expand and bring it to another community like Ardsley has been tremendous,” Berlow said. “And I couldn’t be happier or prouder for who is helping that expansion become a reality. Master Bellantoni’s passion and commitment stands for what UMAC is all about.”
To read Master Chris Berlow’s Patch blog, click here.