A quiet, lethal art


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Both men and women, including the chief instructors’ daughter, hone their skills at UWS Kenshikai Karate


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  • Matthew Fremon, lead instructor and co-owner at Upper West Side Kenshikai Karate and his daughter, Maya, recently started their new YouTube Series after being featured on LegLocker. Photo courtesy of Upper West Side Kenshikai Karate




  • Unlike some other dojos and gyms, Upper West Side Kenshikai Karate boasts an equal number of men and women among its ranks. “I will have classes where there are more women than men,” said chief instructor Matthew Fremon, at left. His wife and co-chief instructor, Jennifer, is third from left. Photo courtesy of Upper West Side Kenshikai Karate




Legs move in rhythmic motions. Punches are thrown and released. But there are no loud thuds — noise is kept to a bare minimum at this Upper West Side dojo.

A woman pushes the door open and storms towards the desk, “Hi! I would like to find out about ...” The response from behind the desk is a finger raised to the lips; a signal in sync with the decorum of the ongoing sparring class.

Matthew Fremon, lead instructor and co-owner, with his wife, at Upper West Side Kenshikai Karate on Columbus Avenue near 106th Street, recalls an occasion about 10 years ago, shortly after his daughter was born, that helped cultivate the quiet atmosphere.

“One of our first black belts who started here, Amy, she always tells this story of how there was a fighting class going on (when she first came in) while Maya was asleep in the corner in her bassinet,” Fremon, 40, said. “She was like ‘What?’ and I was like, “there is a baby asleep right there,” and Maya was asleep in a bassinet during a sparring class,”

Unlike most other dojos and gyms, Kenshikai, on Columbus Avenue near 106th Street, boasts an equal number of men and women who train there. And part of the reason could be his daughter, Maya, now 10 and a black belt in karate. His wife, Jennifer Fremon, is one of four with purple belts, the highest rank in Brazilian jujitsu that the dojo has produced.

Jennifer, also a co-owner and a fifth-degree black belt in karate, teaches karate to the younger kids and continued to do so until the day she went into labor. “So Maya has been in the dojo since her negative days” said Matthew Fremon. Matthew and Maya recently started a YouTube Series after being featured on LegLocker, an Instagram page that claims to be the “largest leglock community on Earth,” with about 58,600 followers.

“A friend of mine who owns another school in Brooklyn; he posted a video that was a leg-locking video and kind of as a joke, I posted a counter video,” Fremon said. But after taking into consideration a friend’s suggestion, Matthew decided to let Maya be the one performing all the leg-locking stunts instead.

“I am a fan of Maya and Matthew because they’re uniquely wholesome,” said Hector Casagrande, 27, the LegLocker page’s administrator. “At her young age, she’s already a dynamic instructor. We need more strong and confident role models like her.”

Casagrande has been training in Brazillian jujitsu for over four years and focuses primarily on leg locks — his natural disposition, he said. He believes that Maya and Matthew have created a culture that lead to a gender balance among the students.

“People need leaders. If we want more women in jujitsu, then we need more people like Maya. Confident women with a contagious passion. We are inspired by greatness. So, let’s celebrate it whenever see it,” Casagrande said.

Matthew Fremon said it’s not unusual to hold classes where there are more women than men. “That’s super rare! In the more sports-based places or the more competition-based places, you’ll see a class photo at the end and it will be like nine men to every one woman.”

He claims that his dojo runs the only fully Brazilian jujitsu program on the Upper West Side. It has produced four purple belts, two men and two women.

In early December last year, Kristopher Zylinski, originally from the Bronx, but who now lives in Ponte Vedra, Florida, shared a great number of posts on Facebook claiming that women do not stand a chance against men in mixed martial arts fights.

“99% of women are too weak and lack the reflexes to do enough damage to stop 99% of men. Even if they knew (Brazilian jujitsu) they just don’t have the size or strength to use the holds. It’s dangerous to teach any woman to try and strike or fight a man,” Zylinski wrote.

Mcdojolife, a Facebook page run by Robert Ingram that has about 70,000 followers, tried to setting up a match between a man and woman. Tara LaRosa, a mixed martial arts fighter, was chosen to fight against Zylinkski after he claimed he could easily beat a trained woman.

“Plenty of people on this planet have their own thoughts and opinions on the subject,” Ingram, 33, said. “I did not agree with the statement because I have been doing this for a long time and felt there are a lot more important factors in a fight than simply someone being male or female.”

The match garnered a lot of attention but was eventually cancelled after the Florida State Athletic Commission intervened.

The match was finally treated as a sparring match, held at an indoor venue, recorded and showcased live on Mcdojolife’s Facebook page. Zylinski’s loss was every woman’s win.

“Jujitsu is designed for people who are smaller to take on un-trained people who are larger,” Matthew Fremon said. Unlike some dojos and gyms around the city, Fremon does not conduct all-women classes because “that promotes the idea of martial arts being a man’s only world,” he said.

Occasionally, Fremon gets female students who are victims of assault. “I pair them up with females first and my female students happily take the responsibility,” he said. Then eventually I pair them up with a calmer and more composed man and so and so forth.”

In a recent training class, Maya easily overpowered her training partner, Izaac, who, at 12, is not just older but twice her size.

“Everyone’s fist tastes the same when it’s buried in your face,” said Ingram, who readily admits to having lost to women during sparring sessions. “You don’t have time to discriminate on the mats.”





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