There's always something going on at
Whether it's youngsters practicing their kung fu moves during a martial arts class, moms giving the air a cathartic one-two punch during a kickboxing class or a long, relaxing stretch during an evening yoga workshop after a busy day at work, the academy serves as one of the vibrant hearts of East Haven's local fitness activity.
Heart of the Academy
And the heart of Shaolin Kempo itself beats in double time: Ross and Michele Antisdel.
The husband and wife team are the academy's owners. And they are involved in every aspect of the business, from managing its day-to-day financial operations to teaching several of the classes themselves.
"How many guys can tell their wives: 'I'm sorry, honey, I have to do push-ups now.' And she understands," Ross said with a laugh.
The 5th Degree
Ross has been an integral part of the academy since he first began taking classes there in 1984 when he was 15. Eventually, the East Haven native began teaching classes himself a few years later in 1989.
After becoming a chief instructor in the mid-1990s, and finding himself drawn more and more to his work there, Ross decided to take the plunge and purchase the academy himself from former owner Joe Amarone in 1999.
"I just think that it's more important to do something that you love than just think about your paycheck," Ross said.
And his passion for martial artistry has shown.
Over the years, Ross has demonstrated his enthusiasm and discipline for his passion by earning a 5th-degree black belt in kempo and a 3rd-degree black sash in kung fu.
"If was independently wealthy, I'd still be doing this," he said.
From Kempo to Zumba
Not only has Ross been involved in the academy and martial arts most of his life, it is also how he and Michele first were introduced to one another.
Michele was attending kickboxing classes at Shaolin Kempo when the two met, began dating — and eventually married in 2003.
And Michele's marital arts and fitness repertoire is equally impressive: 2nd-dgree black belt in kempo, 1st-degree black sash in kung fu, certified yoga instructor, certifed kickboxing instructor — and most recently, a as well.
"Michele has also won 40 first place trophies in kickboxing," Ross said with a smile.
But just as impressive as their martial artistry is the couple's community involvement.
Whether as individuals or through their work at the acacemy, the two have worked with:
- Local Girl and Boy Scout troops
- East Haven Schools, as well as other area students
- Local PTOs and PTAs
- Town of East Haven's Recreation Department
- East Haven Animal Shelter
- East Haven Teen Center
"Anything that anybody may need. They can just give us a call and ask us to do it. And if we can — we'll do it," Ross said.
As part of their community engagement, Michele and Ross will soon be offering a full scholarship to an youth who may want to attend classes at the center but lacks the financial resources to do so.
Although the final details as far application requirements are still being ironed out, one certainty is that the student must honor and exemplify qualities of "good citizenship," Ross said.
"They must be active and willing to give back to the community," he said.
East Haven Base
Last September, the academy moved from its previous long-standing location on Main Street to its new spot along Frontage Road.
Ross said when considering the move, both he and Michele felt it was important to remain in East Haven.
"I wanted this school here. I grew up here," he explained. "And you have a bond here, and a sense of community here."
The relocation allowed the Antisdels to expand its programming, offering additional classes, as well as hire more staff.
"We now have families who train together: the parents will be in an adult fitness class and at the same time their children will be taking martial arts or tumbling," Michele said.
And that family-friendly aspect has come to serve as an integral part of the academy, not just for Michele and Ross, but for their students, too.
"We have students who took classes as kids, and now they are bringing their kids in here," Ross said.
He added the academy's oldest student recently retired from martial arts at the tender age of 79, after beginning to take classes at 55.
"And now, his grandchildren are training here, too," Ross said with a smile.