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How Asah Shark arrived on the same island as Jaws

By Rochelle E. Brenner

MARTHA’S VINEYARD – The Action Karate logo has been a shark since its founding in 1994, so it seemed all the more fitting to be part of Vineyard life.

You can search every island, and you will not find someone more dedicated to what she believes in than Vineyard resident Ms. Lisa. To have her as part of Action Karate is one of the biggest coups of my career. She’s a big shark.

Lisa Belcastro was interviewed by Laurel Whitaker on The Vineyard Current on MVY radio in February 2023 and told the story of how Action Karate ended up on Martha’s Vineyard. Here is a summary of the interview, almost verbatim, with just a few edits for clarity and readability. The radio interview was so good, I am sharing it here so that you can read the origin and inspiration of a small business with big dreams - Action Karate Martha’s Vineyard.

Laurel called it, “a martial arts program that may inspire you to try something new.”

Laurel: Action Karate martial arts is a black belt school building character and in June opened a branch on Martha’s Vineyard. We've all heard about the benefits of martial arts for our body, mind and spirit but perhaps never got around to trying it – intimidated by imagined prerequisites or something else. Lisa Belcastro runs the Vineyard school and explains how they got started here. And her own Black Belt journey.

Lisa: Rochelle and I have been friends for decades. She would come to visit a lot. She’d say, ‘I want to open a karate studio here. I was like, ‘Great when are you moving here?’ She would say, ‘That’s not gonna happen.' Then last spring she said, 'you’re going to do it.' I said, ‘Nope,’ but over time she did convince me.

Laurel: She broke you down.

Lisa: She did. We started to do some training and I went down to Philly for certification. My big thing was I didn’t want to be a teacher if I wasn’t ready and I didn’t want to do this if I didn’t know it. In June 2022, we opened the studio. But it was probably a year in the works – for Rochelle longer. It really has been a slow evolution of karate development on Martha’s Vineyard for me. But super super fun and very exciting and another way to help people be the best they can be and live their best lives.

Laurel: What’s your background in martial arts?

Lisa: I earned my white belt in June 2021 when Rochelle started training me. I’m testing for my black belt almost two years to the day this June, which is very scary. It’s a 4-hour test.

Laurel: You came a long way in a short period of time

Lisa: Yes I’ve had some serious intensive training. There were days where it was 6 hours of sweat and energy. It took a little bit of juggling. It’s like anything if you want it you’ll make room for it in your life and I did. And it’s been super fun. More fun than I expected. I expected the physical and mental challenge of it, which is part of what drew me to it, but the fun aspect, that surprised me.

Laurel: That’s kind of always been your nature. You’re all in with everything you’ve chosen to do and that’s part of the reason why this community has benefitted so much by who you are. You wear a lot of hats in this community. What populations are you serving?

Lisa: Our students range in ages from 3 to 75.

Laurel: That’s another very cool thing to hear because you’re affecting all ages here. I mean 3 years old to 75. That’s also something good for people to hear because it doesn’t matter what age you are. It’s a practice you can pick up at any stage in your life and it can improve it.

Lisa: 100 percent and one of the great things about karate and one of the things I love about it coming at it from an athletic point of view and a mental point of view, it’s a bilateral sport. Most sports aren’t. In karate it’s bilateral; you work both sides of the body. You do all the kicks, all the self defenses on both sides of the body. And so it uses your brain and your body in a way that is so healthy and productive which is why it’s great as people get older because it keeps your brain more stimulated and your body more balanced and more active. That’s a huge component. When you start kids younger in karate, then they grow up with that. It’s a great sport to improve your overall health: your mental health, your physical health, and your brainpower– your actual thinking ability.

Laurel: This is coming from someone with great experience with NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness). That’s really good street cred right there when it comes to the benefits of karate.

Lisa: They’re using karate a lot now with people with Parkinson’s or balance issues and early stages of memory (loss) because it is very very helpful because of the bilateral nature of the sport. It is great for all ages. There is not an age karate is not good for.

Laurel: What if you have been sedentary, not stretching the way you used to? Do you have to go in with physicality intact or can you achieve that?

Lisa: You can achieve that one hundred percent. One student who came in the door, an adult, his goal was to get in shape because he had been pretty sedentary in his adult life. He’s seeing huge benefits in strength, coordination, and confidence. (Rochelle’s note: He's also lost 30 pounds) He’s been in classes for 7 or 8 months now and he’s seen huge changes in his fitness. It's another good benefit of karate as a sport. Because you can do it at your level. When you look in a class there are people of all levels. A white belt, yellow belt, green belt, purple belt and everyone is working and performing at their level. Everyone’s kicks, punches, katas, and self-defense skills will be different. They’re based on where they’re at right now. You don’t have to be fit or be able to run 10 miles to be able to do karate. You make the class fit to your fitness level. Your fitness level obviously increases as you continue in the sport. All shapes and sizes do karate and all abilities. We have a special needs class. It really is great for everyone. It’s one of the reasons I was attracted to Rochelle’s proposal to have the karate school on the island because it’s so wide-reaching and the potential number of people that could be positively impacted on the island made me say, ‘ok I’ll do this with you.’ And we’re seeing that.

Laurel: Is it just you or another instructor?

Lisa: It’s myself and Brad Barth, a double black belt who's been doing martial arts for 20 years. He has black belts in Kenpo Karate and Kung Fu. He is amazing, he’s 31 years old, just a fabulous instructor. The two of us are teaching in-person classes 5 days/week, some Zoom classes online, and some on demand classes online so if people are traveling or someone’s sick or for some reason they can’t get into the studio, they really can do karate 7 days a week if they like. At least 15 classes per week at the studio.

Laurel: How do people join?

Lisa: We have different levels of membership. Most people start off with the intro special: 3 lessons for $59 and you get a gi uniform. Once they join, they can come to any class they want at their age level. They don’t need to reserve a spot. We rented the 3rd floor of Airport Fitness.

One thing we stress with our students is karate's history, especially Kenpo Karate – it’s all about self defense. We never attack. What we are learning is for physical, mental, and emotional fitness. The self-defense moves are taught if we’re ever in a situation where we need to defend ourselves.

We have a student creed we recite at the beginning of every class - ‘To build true confidence, I must have: knowledge in the mind, honesty in the heart, and strength in the body. Winners never quit. Quitters never win. I choose to be a black belt.’

Every single lesson we teach includes a black belt characteristic. Earning a belt is one thing. But having kindness and respect and self control and perseverance and grit and honesty and integrity, those are all qualities of a black belt. Choosing to be a black belt isn’t just doing the physical stuff and earning a belt. It’s choosing to be the best person you can be and the