THORNWOOD, N.Y. – Mount Pleasant natives Michael DeBiase and Steve Kardian are tied together in many ways.
They are both from the same town. DeBiase dated and is now married to Kardian’s daughter. And they are united in their love for the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu style of martial arts.
The two men, along with a third business partner, Tony Gioffre, teach students ages 4 to 80 at Thornwood MMA in the Rose Hill Shopping Center. DeBiase has trained for four-and-a-half years and is a brown belt in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and is on the cusp of receiving a black belt. Kardian, a retired Mount Pleasant police officer who taught defensive tactics, began studying martial arts in 1977.
DeBiase said he, at first, did not want to participate in the martial arts. But his then-girlfriend and current wife introduced him to it because it was a major part of her family life.
“I basically just did it to check it out. I didn’t really want to do it at first,” DeBiase said. “And then once I started getting interested in it, actually, it was fun.”
Helio Gracie developed Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, a style that focuses on self-defense and emphasizes counters to holds and grapples rather than punching and kicking. Students learn to bring opponents to the ground to subdue them rather than injure them.
DeBiase said he receives great satisfaction in teaching and watching his students grow, particularly when they can put the lessons into practice.
“A lot of guys come back and are like, ‘Oh, I had to use this in a situation at work’ or ‘I had to use this in a situation out at the bar,’” he said. “It’s good when they get to apply it, and they’re like, ‘Yeah, this saved my life, basically.’”
The two men opened their business, one of the first Gracie Jiu-Jitsu academies on the East Coast, at a different location in Thornwood in 1994 but moved to their current location last year. They teach Muay Thai kickboxing, mixed martial arts for children, Russian Kettlebells and Navy SEAL TRX in addition to Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. They also run a women’s empowerment program and law enforcement classes in which they teach police officers and FBI members.
For Kardian, much like for DeBiase, the teaching is the most fulfilling aspect of the job.
“I like to empower knowledge that I have onto others that don’t have the same knowledge. So it’s very gratifying that I’m able to do that,” he said.
Kardian said the connections between the two men will never sever.
“The bond there is lifelong,” he said.