LAKEWOOD RANCH — Growing up, Michael Santoni was eager to try playing something other than baseball.
The 13-year-old bugged his father, Harry, practically every day to let him try martial arts, but it wasn’t until two years later that the Braden River Middle School seventh-grader had his first lesson.
The then-6-year-old began training and learning the art of Hwa Rang Do under Jessie Vi and immediately fell in love with the sport. He quit playing baseball shortly thereafter, focusing solely on his martial arts training.
Santoni’s hard work paid off earlier this year when he, along with fellow teammates Paige Oswald, Kelly Machuca, Andrew Winn and Elizabeth Lee, was named to the U.S. National Martial Arts Team.
Santoni will represent the U.S. at the World Martial Arts Games Sept. 17-19 in Las Vegas.
“I was very ecstatic,” Santoni said of the honor. “I’m very happy and proud to be able to go out and defend my country.”
After spending three years learning the art of Hwa Rang Do, Santoni switched to Ming Wu Martial Arts where he has been training with Vi ever since.
Santoni, now a second-degree black belt, spends every day at the school either practicing or teaching younger children the art form.
“I enjoy working with the little kids and teaching them something,” Santoni said. “It’s fun to see them get a smile on their face when they (learn) something new and then to see the smile on their parents face when they think, ‘Wow that’s my kid.’ It’s a sense of accomplishment, and it makes you feel good about it.”
Santoni trains every chance he can get, focusing on the core martial arts principles, including blocking, discipline, self-control, confidence and self-defense if needed. During each training session, Santoni works on his forms, specifically open, hand and weapons, which he plans to do at the U.S. Open in July.
Santoni will now spend the summer preparing for the U.S. Open and the World Martial Arts Games with the hopes of bringing a gold medal home to the United States. Eventually, Santoni, who plans to test for his third-degree black belt next year, would like to open his own martial arts school one day and teach the art form to other children.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Santoni said of martial arts. “It teaches a lot of respect and discipline, and you end up (gaining) a new family. We all became best friends because we did martial arts.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].
Santoni and the rest of the team need to each raise $5,000 to finance travel and tournament expenses. Those interested in contributing to Santoni can do so by visiting www.wix.com/sponsormichael/michael or www.usmateam.org/sponsorship.html.
Donations are also being accepted on behalf of the team at Ming Wu Martial Arts, 14409 S.R. 70, Unit 2, Bradenton.
For more information, call 758-8827.