Revere Karate Academy was founded on February 4, 1980 by Doreen DiRienzo Cogliandro. Mrs. C began her Martial Arts training in April of 1973, and she attained the rank of 1st Degree Black Belt in April of 1977. Currently Ms. Cogliandro holds the rank of 10th Degree Black Belt in Ed Parker’s American Kenpo Karate. She is the highest ranked female Ed Parker Black Belt, World Wide.
Mrs. C received her B.S. in Physical Educations from Northeastern University in June of 1979. Unable to find a teaching job she opened a small karate studio on Squire Road in Revere. The karate studio enrollment grew so rapidly that by the end of the first year, Revere Karate had to find a bigger home.
To date, Revere Karate Academy has taught over 25,000 students. Although Mrs. C is still actively teaching, her son Anthony Cogliandro is now taking over as the Head Instructor of Revere Karate Academy. Anthony began his Martial Arts Training in 1985 when he was just 2 1/2 years old. He currently holds the rank of 3rd Degree Black Belt and is currently in preparations to grade for his 4th Degree Black Belt during the 2013 Boston Internal Karate Championships.
The Revere Karate Academy has been servicing Revere and the surrounding communities for the past 33 years. Mrs. C has been dedicated to excellence and has maintained a high level of integrity in the Kenpo Karate curriculum throughout the years of educating martial arts students.
As Revere Karate Academy grows, Ms. DiRienzo will maintain the same level of commitment to her students, families and the community.
I was fortunate enough to meet with Doreen DiRienzo (Cogliandro) AKA Mrs C. while she was visiting California during the Long Beach Internationals. I asked her if she was available for breakfast on a Sunday morning, her response was, “Sure, What time”? I liked that about her, her willingness to talk to me, a complete stranger about my Black Belt Thesis, honoring women even though she’s always done her best to not be singled out as a women, but instead as a Martial Artist, teacher and mentor.
Mrs C is the highest ranking women black belt in Kenpo Karate at 9 Degrees and has traveled the world doing seminars. She also opened a studio inRevere,Massachusetts, Revere Karate Academy, over 30+ years ago that continues to grow today. Her kindness, knowledge, confidence in herself, and her ability to communicate with others makes it clear as to why she has gained the respect of the entire marital arts community.
At 7:00 am we met at a little restaurant in Long Beach, it was quiet and Mrs. C was able to talk freely and answer my questions, she was more than helpful, we would switch from her past and experiences to talking about my journey and how I got to where I am today, she wanted to know and took a genuine interest.
Opening up our conversation, I stated to Mrs. C that there are two women in the 1st Journey Book, you and Dian Tanaka, what are your thoughts on that?
“Sometimes I think about that, a lot of people will approach me in saying “you’re the highest ranking women black belt” but I have to say, I never think of myself as a women when I am training or teaching, I know that I am one, but I don’t walk out on the floor, and say that “I’m a woman, don’t do this, or I can’t do that, or I am excused from doing that” I would never have become as proficient or as confident as my men counterparts because that’s what was expected of them, so why shouldn’t that be expected of me.”
Her general consensus is there are no free passes for men or women, she was the only woman at her school, it was rough and tough, and she fought just as hard as the men and gained their respect.
Have there been any double standards that you have experienced in the world of Kenpo in terms of Gender?
She went on the explain the story of her nomination to her 7th Degree, there was a high ranking black belt that did not agree with her promotion and threatened to leave the association if she did get promoted. At that point there were no female 7th’s in the IKKA. In hindsight she felt that this person wanted to leave anyway, and was looking platform to exit.
She confronted the situation, his reasoning was because he had watched videos of her in seminars he felt that she wasn’t very proficient. But, as they had never met before, he did not understand her methods of teaching, and after it was explained, the conversation went to “Well you’re going to be the highest ranking women”. Mrs C was already the highest ranking women as a 6th degree at that time, when he said that though, it was then she realized that the issue was because she was a woman. She said that she doesn’t know how much more proficient a female practitioner can be, “not to say that I’m the best there is to offer, but i have a pretty decent handle of Kenpo”. Afterwards, she decided to withdraw from grading. Her students weren’t happy when she withdrew at all, they know what she’s capable of and what she has done. Her thought is: “What does rank really mean anyway? She learns something new, she practiced and got better, she studied, got more knowledge, she’s created things, set goals and achieved them, the stripes on her belt just means someone else thinks so.” She was ok to wait, but she wasn’t going to be a launch pad for this guy leaving. She did grade the following year, it wasn’t an honorary promotion, she tested for her 7th.
Do what you love, do it because you love it and that’s it. If you are there to meet guys, that becomes transparent, stay focused on your training and not flirting, recognize your limits and set boundaries that you create, not someone else. Don’t pass on anything because you are a woman. Don’t participate in inappropriate behavior or conversations with guys, set those limits and boundaries quickly, otherwise you won’t maintain respect with your fellow martial artists.
Do you ever feel that you’ve had to compensate for less physical strength as a women verses a man?
“Personally I will say that I’ve been blessed with a pretty decent sized body” though there were always guys who were larger, what she did was not over power them, but out technique them, hit in the right spot, right timing, right position, in those things you can become very proficient. “Self defense and fighting are two different things because if you can’t make your technique work, then you have to fight the person, anybody can take out anyone on any given day if the shot is to the right spot. You can equal strength with technique with timing and precision”.
Have women purposely gone to your school because you are a female instructor, studio owner? Have you promoted many women to Black Belt.
“That’s an great question, I laugh a little bit because I find that am harder on the women students, mostly because I expect them to become proficient practioners of Kenpo just as I do the men students, nothing more and definitely nothing less. Students don’t come to be because I am a women and the men don’t not come to me because I’m a women. Interestingly, one of my head instructors was a charming and sweet and man which actually seemed to attract more women than I did and me, I’m a mean old cuss when it comes to maintaining standards. I have a a lot of women students, who ultimately become very proficient black belts because of the standards they meet.”
Have you had any sexual harassment in Martial Arts?
She spoke in generalities and did not mention any names but went on to say that it impacted a lot of her feelings and how she dealt with things. She realizes now that she was an innocent, naive young girl that was taken advantage of.
“I am fascinated by Hillary Clinton, she is a brilliant woman, who has stepped outside the shadow of men and become her own person. She is respected not because she is Bill Clinton’s wife, it’s because of who she is and what she has accomplished.”
“Bill Belichick, the coach of the New England Patriots Footbal Team coaches situational football, meaning he creates possible plays with a variety of options. I believe that is what we do in Kenpo, we teach situational fighting, when people look at our system and say it’s the “end all, if all” I laugh because they don’t understand what it is, it’s a training system, it’s not a self defense system, there are situations that work in specific circumstances they are not full proof all of the time. If you really study Ed Parker’s Kenpo and understand that you are learning situational fighting and understand that he taught us how to change up, rearrange, insert, delete sufix, prefix, adjust, alter, you’ll understand what Bill Belichick means about Situational Play.”
I would like to say that my greatest mentor outside of karate is my Dad, he is someone who I admire, amazingly so, he built himself up from this street ornery kid from East Boston to become the Director of trade jurisdiction for the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers. He became a executive regional vice president who started with humble, meager beginnings, no college education, very determined, focused, willing to learn anything, he is someone who I always say, I want to be just like him when I grow up.
“As women, we get to look at things a little differently than men, women are more savvy to feelings and emotions. I use this posture, people ask “how did you become a leader in Kenpo? I say that I learned something a long time ago, I lead from the rear, I understand that I’m in a male dominated world and I don’t want to try to butt heads with these guys, because they won’t listen. So I go in through the back door, sit down and wait for them to say “you’re welcome here” instead of busting through the front door saying “I’m here, get out of my way”.
Towards the end of our conversation, Mrs C went on to talk about her visits abroad in very male dominated countries, where women are not treated the same, the cultures are different, and it’s a different way of life than it is here in the US. She earned the respect of her fellow International Kenpoists not through pulling rank or saying “I’m a Xth Degree” but by showing that she is an equal whether it be through techniques, fighting, running a ring, judging or teaching.
We talked about many things outside of my general questions. Mrs C. is a proud parent and grandparent. She has lost over 100 lbs over the last few years which is an amazing feat. She is an incredible, accomplished woman and I’m honored to have gotten to know her.
July 22, 2012