“Suck your belly into your spine and hold—five, four, three, two, one. Great session, see you next week!” It’s 1:15 p.m. Time to clock out. As I collected my things and place my name tag in its designated spot, a tiny freshmen employee approaches me, energy radiating from her every appendage. Even her kinky, curly hair seems energized with life and positivity. She eagerly introduces herself from behind her thick royal blue square-framed glasses, with a strong handshake that communicated confidence and poise beyond her years. She cradles a heavy pile of files and fitness textbooks in her arms below at her chest, careful not to disturb her name tag pinned below the University of Richmond Spider and “Weinstein Recreation and Wellness Center” logo on the left side of her royal blue employee polo. Her freshmen innocence and respect for seniority is endearing, as she questions me about my work as a trainer.
Laura DelPrato of Cranberry, NJ works as a fitness assistant at the U of R gym, helping trainers, clients, and staff in anyway she can. She is responsible for maintaining the training schedule, knowing the location and uses of workout equipment, working on the website, and any other odd jobs her boss, Seth Hickerson, may have for her that day. But, there is much more to this little American jumping bean than compliance and congeniality.
“I took a Kappa Wara class last night,” she said, leading me into her enigmatical life. “It’s a Brazilian martial arts class. I loved it, even though I have my black belt is Okinawan Kempo. I am thinking about joining the martial arts club…” DelPrato began to enthusiastically rant.
Without suggesting an ounce of ferocity or aggression, how can this tiny, petite, barely 5-foot-tall freshman blondie be a black belt martial artist? She sat up slightly taller in her chair and laughed at my reaction of shock and disbelief.
Okinawan Kempo (or Kenpo) is a newer breed of martial arts, which has been heavily influenced by some of the oldest traditions of both Chinese and Japanese culture and karate styles. It’s based on the philosophy that Okinawan Kempo is not just a sport to practice, but is a unified way of life. It focuses on deep breathing and mental concentration during and after exercise, and teaches advanced forms of self-defense to protect from any type of attack, even with guns, knives, and other weapons.
DelPrato started practicing Okinawan Kempo when she was 7-years-old, but took time off until her freshmen year of high school. She decided she wanted to earn her black belt by the time she graduated, and with the guidance of Master Everson, she accomplished her goal in a total of five years.
In the dojo, the traditional name for the martial arts studio, she learned the basic moves like the round-house kick, the butterfly kick, and various punches. She learned to spear one-on-one with other fighters, bare handed or with weaponry. She also learn self-defense moves like how to free her neck from a choke hold or block a powerful uppercut.
“I haven’t had to use it outside of the dojo,” DelPrato giggled. “Oh! Except at the Roadmap Pre-Orientation, I took a class called ‘I Know Kung Fu’ and I got to break a board in front of the other freshmen in my group!”
“I’ve broken boards so many times before,” she continued, her excited tone changed to nonchalance, like breaking wooden boards with a bare knuckled punch isn’t novel. “But, it was so fun to show off in front of the class!”
Hickerson, her boss, passed by and overheard our interview.
“Of course [I knew she was a black belt], that’s why I hired her!” Hickerson chimed in. “I needed a body-guard for all of the people who complain to me about their classes and working out. I just call for Laura, she kicks down my office door, and lays a Chuck Norris slap across their face!”
DelPrato enjoys challenging herself and her body to go beyond their limitations, but admitted that learning how to fall after someone flips her or throws her on the ground is the hardest, and scariest part.
At each practice, Master Everson engrained in her the life lessons of perseverance and confidence, two qualities you could almost feel reaching out from her inner spirit. Okinawan Kempo inspired her to start working towards her personal training certification, so she can learn about the body and teach other to stay in peak physical and mental condition.
“Many of my friends ask me to train them, and it fits with my energetic personality… dontchya think?” DelPrato said, framing her angelic face and bright smile with her hands.
DelPrato loves the University of Richmond and its friendly environment where she feels comfortable and safe, like she can let her guard down and not always be on the defense. DelPrato continues to practice martial arts and maintains her east-meets-west mentality in all areas of her life. With the lessons from the dojo, she is able to maintain a happy balance between her academics, work, and social life. She vents out any negative emotions through songs she composes on her acoustic guitar. She hopes to pursue an integrated major by combining physics and photography, and fulfill her passions in science and art.