By Paul Natinsky
Martial arts training and culture are alive and well in Southeast Michigan’s Chaldean community thanks to competitor/entrepreneurs like Sam Kas-Mikha, Jalal J. Dallo and David Garmo.
All three are competitive martial arts practitioners in various disciplines who have turned their passion into a profession and dedicated themselves to teaching their art to others.
Kas-Mikha, or “Master Kas” as he is known to fans and students has retired from competition as a title-winning kickboxer to run the Family Karate Academy in Shelby Township. Kas-Mikha says he was 37-0 as a kickboxer and won eight titles at several weight classes. Now in his late 40s, Kas-Mikha sees himself teaching his art “forever.” He earned a junior blackbelt as a teenager, and at 48, said he is one of the younger 10th degree practitioners in his discipline, a feat he accomplished in October.
Martial arts competition is tough, but so is building a business around teaching the art to others. Kas-Mikha bought his business while he was in high school after the instructors with whom he was training decided to close their facility. At first, he planned to simply change training venues, but soon discovered that at 17, he was a better fighter than the 25-year-old proprietor of the training facility he was considering.
A rude awakening ensued when Master Kas saw his student census drop from 62 to 22 almost immediately upon opening up. Today, he is still at it training students, ranging from a four-year-old child to “Grandma Pat,” a septuagenarian whom he trains privately.
Kas-Mikha takes on students for the first few weeks and won’t start charging them “until they love it,” which apparently has not been a problem. Permanent students get a free uniform and pay $89 per month for two classes to start with. Later, a kickboxing class is added on a third day for those who impress.
If Master Kas’ path to martial arts has been a focused, one-track journey, Jalal J. Dallo’s has been the merging of two-path route. Dallo is an immigration and defense attorney, a practitioner of weapons-heavy Filipino martial arts and an instructor in Boxe Francaise Savate (French kickboxing).
Dallo said he became an attorney because of his martial arts background. “A true martial artist believes in self-defense and the defending of others,” he said. Whether practicing criminal defense or immigration law, Dallo characterizes himself as his clients’ “sword and shield.”
Dallo made his commitment to teaching martial arts indelible in 2014 when he opened Dallo Martial Arts in Southfield. Training a student body of about 40, Dallo took matters into his own hands when he found he didn’t like the way his own instructor treated students. Dallo, 41, said he wants to be “a present and cultivating teacher” and run a facility centered around families.
“What sets us apart is my attention to detail. When you come into my school, you come into a boutique school that is very well maintained,” said Dallo.
Dallo’s love of martial arts began with a childhood obsession with Bruce Lee. When he was young, he watched some Bruce Lee movies on TV and decided he wanted to do be like the famous fighter/actor. “It was just a childhood thing that never went away,” said Dallo.
Dallo teaches classes in the evening from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. and plans to open a second location at the end of 2019, close to his law practice in Sterling Heights.
David Garmo, 28, has just signed the lease on his new business, Assembly Jiu Jitsu in Bloomfield Hills. Garmo is still in the prime of his competitive years and after spending the past year in Japan, capping off a 10-year competitive international run at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, he shows no sign of slowing down. Although, he does plan to slowly cut back his competition schedule to focus on teaching.
Garmo brought back more than just title belts from the orient. He plans to offer a tonier approach to martial arts than the standard “four walls and a mat” set up. A coffee bar, hand-painted murals and professional interior design will flavor Assembly, which is targeted for a March/April opening.
For $180 per month, Garmo will offer training on both days and evenings six days a week with a focus on beginner students. Garmo will bring the benefit of continuing his competition to his students. His plan includes competing alongside his students and organizing participation in events where that’s possible.
All of these martial arts professionals fell in love with their art at a very young age. But all also insist that no one is too old to benefit from the discipline, self-respect, confidence and fitness that stem from practicing martial arts, regardless of which of the vast variety of forms one chooses.