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Chester County Press

'It's about the progress'

03/28/2017 12:12PM ● By J. Chambless

Villari's Self Defense Center owner Paul Manili assists a young student with tying his belt.

By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

When Paul Manili was a high-school student in Reading, he was picked on by bullies.

Rather than just fold up and accept his fate, Manili spent his afternoons after school learning martial arts in a friend's garage, which also doubled as a martial arts studio that his friend's father worked out of.

Slowly, the teenager's confidence grew, and eventually, when the bullies would attempt to throw headlocks on him, Manili would use the moves he learned in the garage to get out of them, without hurting anyone. Revenge was not important. Respect was.

Manili started to take classes in karate. Soon, the bullies went away, and never returned.

Leopard Cubs classes are taught for children ages 4 to 6.

 Years later, when Manili became a father, he taught his two children the essentials of martial arts, and then began training again at the Villani’s Self Defense Centers in Elverson, where he achieved black belt status. When the teacher became ill and could no longer teach, Manili took over the studio. Three years ago, he began Villari’s Self Defense Centers Studio in Chester Springs, housed on two floors of the Shoppes at Pickering Mill. The life lessons he had begun to learn in class had begun to manifest themselves in Manili's life. He was able to walk the hallways of the school with a renewed sense of confidence, a stronger sense of himself. The education he was receiving in self-defense intensified, and by the time he reached college, Manili was conducting lessons in dormitory television rooms.

As a certified black belt instructor in the art of Shaolin Kempo Karate, and a role model for younger students, Manili believes that his mission is clear.

"When I first started at Villari's, I was very eager to learn how to fight," he said, "but my mentors taught me very quickly the difference between self-defense and aggression: Martial arts is for self-protection, not for fighting. That distinction made a lasting impact on the way I teach.

"In order to help shape our society for the better, we, as teachers, must help shape our children to become credible leaders and believers in a way of thinking and acting that promotes the general well-being of others."

Classes teach self-discipline and develop self-confidence.

 Villari's offers more than just self-defense instruction. Through classes, children develop confidence, discipline and focus, along with learning the principles of respect, self-discipline, and self-control in a fun, healthy atmosphere. Manili has devoted many years to working with children of all ages as a teacher, soccer coach, Scout leader, and now martial arts instructor. He aims to ensure that his passion and devotion is evident in his energetic teaching style.

"Our children's program is designed to instill in your child the tools and skills he or she needs to grow up confident and capable -- the tools he or she needs to face life with courage and strength," Manili said. "We accomplish this goal by focusing on bringing out your child's potential."

While effective fighting techniques and defensive strategies are taught, there is no military-like instruction, no firm regimen, and students leave with an encouraging nod or a friendly hug. Each instructor at the center is registered as black belt and trained in the art of Shaolin Kempo Karate, and each knows the names of his or her students, their strengths and areas for improvement, and tailors each class to the needs of each child.

Most importantly, Manili said, the classes are meant to be fun.

"The Villari system is unique in that Grandmaster took that mysterious karate and kung fu tempo and taught it in a way that everyone can understand it, while putting a fun spin on it," Manili said. "It's not about getting from one belt level to another, but what they do to get from one level to another. It's more about improvement than it is about belt color. It's building confidence in the lower ranks, so that when they get to the harder ranks, they have the discipline to persevere and not give up."

Youth classes at Villaris' Chester Springs location are offered in three different age groups. Leopard Cubs, for children ages 4 to 6, are designed to instill vital life skills in a fun atmosphere. The Juniors program, for children 7 to 11, furthers the mission of the Leopard Cub program; and the Teen program, for students from 12 to 16, helps young adults rise above peer pressure, and excel socially as well as academically.

Throughout the year, Manili and his staff also conduct several workshops and classes that complement the center's regular curriculum. They include:

The Colors of Character Program, created to balance a child's physical development with the concepts of self-discipline, respect and self-control. Through the use of a workbook, participants are asked to document how they have demonstrated each of these three character traits, both at home and in school.

The New Student Enrichment Program, a six-week program that focuses on developing balance, coordination and flexibility; as well as personal safety for bully prevention and conflict resolution.

The Advanced Training Program for students who are currently at the blue belt stage and wish to pursue black belt status and beyond. These sessions allow the instructor to focus on the student and his/her needs, and offers more focused time in the areas that the student needs the most attention in.

The Villari’s Leadership Program, designed to cultivate leadership skills by sharpening character development, boosting one's ability to motivate others and improving one's own ability to communicate. Students are taught public speaking, critical thinking, responsibility, conflict resolution, teaching others and being a good role model.

The center also partners its students with the Lead2Feed Student Leadership Program, which gives students opportunities to learn outside the classroom while working to meet a community need through project management, decision-making and teamwork.

Every October and November, Manili conducts "Done with Bullying,"a six-week program that helps children of all ages overcome the negative impact of bullying. It teaches students how they can identify predator behavior, how to avoid and stop bullying behavior, and ways to avoid being the target of bullying.

"When I was younger, there was no suspension for bullying people," Manili said. "Those who were picked on continued to be picked on, or they fought back. Now, you can't go into school and fight back and expect not to get into trouble. What we teach is simple self defense. There is no aggression to it. I teach people how to get out of a bullying situation without hurting another individual, without striking back."

With every young person who climbs the steps to the second floor of the Villari’s Self Defense Center, takes off his or her shoes, enters the studio and begins to become engaged in learning, there is an individual story of growth, Manili said, seen in the transformation of faces, personalities, bodies and postures. Recently, the grandmother of a young girl came in and told him that her granddaughter will not socialize. She told Manili that she wanted to sign the girl up for karate.

For weeks, the girl was a wallflower in a room of determined young wannabes, the smallest in the class. She was absorbing the lessons she was being taught, but there was no sign that she was enjoying the progress she was making. One night, however, everything changed.

At the end of every class, Manili conducts a no-contact sparring lesson in the center of the studio. "All of a sudden, here she comes, into the center of the class," Manili said. "She puts her guard up, and loses the first round. She comes in a second time, and she loses again, but earns a point. She comes in a third time, and all of her classmates are cheering her name. She got her second point, and the whole studio erupted in applause."

After the class, Manili saw a huge smile stretch across the young girl's face as she approached him. She asked him if she could take the test to elevate her from a white belt to a yellow belt. That's why I do this, Manili said to himself.

"It's never about the material here. It's about the progress," Manili said. "It's life skills that we are able to teach them. It's watching them grow as an individual. It's seeing a young person who is so shy in the beginning that she will not even look at me, begin to stand in the front of the class and lead the warm-up exercises.

"Through martial arts, these children will create the confidence that will enable them to achieve so much in their lives."

Villari’s Self Defense Centers is in the Shoppes at Pickering Mill (1600 Yellow Springs Road, Chester Springs). To learn more about classes and programs for children, visit, or call 484-985-9692.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail

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