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Fallston martial arts champ tries a new discipline: teaching

Opening a martial arts school is no easy task, not even for two-time national champion Ian Casale.

"I knew I was good in the ring and that I could fight, but I didn't know if I would be a good teacher," the 21-year-old Harford County resident said. "It was definitely the most challenging task of my career."

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Casale, a second-degree black belt, opened American Karate a year ago in Fallston, where between 5 and 6 p.m. every Monday and Thursday he teaches the mental and physical fundamentals of martial arts to students from 7 to 16 years old.

"I was nervous," Casale said of opening the studio. "I wasn't sure if the students I taught before would follow me, or how I was going to generate new students."

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On Oct. 19, Casale's studio competed in the 32nd Battle of Baltimore Martial Arts World Championships at Essex Community College for the first time and captured numerous awards.

Hayden Price, 8, Makai Watson, 11, and Michael Romeo, 14, each finished first in sparring for their respective genders and age groups. Orlando Romeo, 16, finished second and Kelsey Price, 9, finished third. Michael Romeo also finished first in forms.

Not a bad outcome for a studio making its first appearance in the annual tournament. Orlando Romeo, one of Casale's older students, called Casale a "great teacher." Kelsey Price, one of Casale's younger students, said martial arts helps her focus, protect herself and stay strong.

"He's very approachable," Romeo said. "If you have a question, he'll answer it very nicely. He gives respect to everyone, as he wants respect back from his students."

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Although this is the first time Casale has run his own martial arts school, he did have teaching experience before opening the studio in Fallston. After getting his black belt in ninth grade, he taught martial arts at the Emmorton Rec. Council while in high school at John Carroll. He also teaches a martial arts class at Harford Community College.

"Before my students competed in the [Battle of Baltimore], I started them on regimens and training their bodies, and more importantly, training their minds," he said. "That's what preps you for becoming a champion. And I think they all did that; they went in there and they rocked it out."

Casale certainly knows what it takes to become a champion. He won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010 at the Battle of Baltimore in the black belt division.

"I don't want to say I didn't think I could do it, but I was surprised with myself," Casale said. "At that point, I realized [martial arts] was something I would like to continue to do."

Master John Burdyck, who once taught Casale, is an adviser for the school. Casale was just 5 years old when he first took martial arts lessons with Burdyck.

Burdyck, who now lives in Florida, is also the owner of the Battle of Baltimore.

"He reminds me a lot of myself," Burdyck said of Casale. "He works hard, he does everything the right way and he is loyal."

Casale believes he has received more from martial arts than just personal accolades; it has also taught him discipline.

"If you have discipline in your life, you can pretty much do anything, and martial arts gave me that," Casale said. "It taught me how to do something, do it right and get it done. I apply that to all the rules of my life. ... Everybody thinks [martial arts] is about kicking and punching, but it's not. That's 50 percent of it.

"It's about creating a better life — a happier life — for your students and those you encounter, and making sure they live happy lives through martial arts, through discipline and through confidence."

Casale hopes that years from now, his students will come back to him and tell him that his teachings helped them live a better life.

"When I'm older, I'm not going to be fighting or competing," he said. "It'll be more about: 'Will I have done my duty as a teacher and as a good martial artist?''"

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