Nick Panebianco said he has dreamt of running his own martial arts studio since he was 15 years old. That dream came to bear fruit last week with the opening of VMA Long Island in East Setauket.
VMA Long Island focusses primarily on the arts of kempo and Brazillian jiu-jitsu. Kempo is a striking form, while Brazillian jiu-jitsu is the take-downs, grappling, and submission style that can be seen in the Ultimate Fighting Championships.
The Setauket studio is the fifth school under the VMA Long Island banner. Panebianco began training at the West Islip branch when he was 12 years old, and soon after started to dream big.
"I started saving half my paycheck wherever I worked," he said. "From McDonald's to the local school library, I just saved up."
Panebianco said both he and a silent partner each invested about $15,000 into the new studio, and said he would need about 100 students to keep the studio financially healthy. While he works towards that goal, he will teach at the other VMA Long Island schools.
Most of those students, he believes, will be children. From what said he has seen, kids are the base customer for most martial arts studios and credits parents for seeing the positive impact that the discipline can have for developing minds.
Panebianco has exploring different means of advertising, for instance by giving out fliers at local businesses.
"The thing that’s worked the most is those road signs," he said. "From the second I put them out the phone’s been ringing non-stop."
Three Village already has its fair share of martial arts studios of various styles, but some say there's still room for one more.
Sil Crino from Crino’s Martial Arts in Stony Brook doesn’t seem to think that the new school will take away from his business.
"I don't really have a problem with it," Crino said. "It's about four miles away, that’s far enough away from me. It’s more choices [for the community]."
Despite the tough economy, Panebianco believes his business will be recession proof.
"The economy is not a new thing, it’s been like this for a couple of years," he said. "Parents will find the money and pay for something ... if it means they can give [their children] something positive, give them a good skill, give them something they enjoy and really benefit from."