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Darryn Melerine

"People are incorporating self-defense into their exercise regimens to give their workout a purpose beyond just fitness," says Darryn Melerine, fitness influencer, martial artist and owner of Zanshin Dojo in Mandeville, Louisiana. "They want to build effective skills that are useful and practical while they're working out."

Melerine teaches Japanese Jujitsu, a practical, not theatrical art, and is effective for people of all ages and skill levels, helping build physical and mental strength as well as self-defense skills.

"As students continue to develop their skill set within the discipline, they come to realize its techniques can be applied to every aspect of their daily activities and life," Melerine says.

Getting Started

Shortly following the COVID-19 mandate restrictions, Angelique Walgamotte, an attorney, started participating in a newly offered virtual program created by Melerine. When she started, she was about as new as you can get.

"I knew Darryn personally, and would often ask questions about his practice, so he invited me to come watch and see what it was all about," Walgamotte says. "I advise talking to your potential instructor so you have a full understanding of your practice before you get started."

Melerine recommends anyone looking for self-defense training should seek out highly rated martial-arts schools in their area.

"Read reviews from students and look at the school's social media to learn its personality and the instructors' teaching style," he says. "Every facility is different, and it's a good idea to shop around for your best fit."

Trying lessons online is another good way to satisfy your curiosity about martial arts and decide if you'd like to start formal training.

"I've been attending a virtual, combat-styled, HIIT Fitness class Darryn started offering during the pandemic and doing moves I've never done before," Walgamotte says. "Attending these online classes has made me confident about doing really physically intense moves like I've never done before."

These virtual workouts include cardio conditioning, full-body development (especially core), and striking techniques.

Darryn Melerine Brandon Keim (@bkeimrewind on Instagram)

When photographer, Christy Kotter, took her first self-defense class, it was simply to build her confidence when she was out walking on her own.

"I was really nervous, but I recommend not overthinking it and just go take that first class," Kotter says. "I've never been to a single gym where they didn't want me there. The instructors want you to succeed, improve and learn. And you create friendships with the people you train with—it's a community."

Six years after she started, Kotter now trains in a variety of martial arts and teaches some classes herself. And now, it's a family affair. Her husband and two daughters, ages 17 and 11 also train.

"I put my daughters in judo about five years ago and it has been such a confidence builder," she says. "It's a great social program, too. They learn to be kind and help build others up. It's a very family oriented style of fitness."

Self Defense for All

Melerine says anyone can start self-defense training at any age or level of strength and fitness.

"Nobody enters martial arts training as a black belt," he says. "Beginners are treated with just as much respect as those with advanced skills, which makes it easier for new students to move past their own self-consciousness and find passion for learning a new discipline."

In Melerine's classes, a cardio warm-up fitness session includes activities to help develop the jujitsu discipline.

Darryn Melerine Brandon Keim (@bkeimrewind on Instagram)

"People want to maximize the time they're setting aside for exercise," he says. "And you get a great conditioning workout along with developing self-defense skills, and training for a moment you hope never comes, but if it does, you're glad you've decided to learn this."

Learning self-defense is a way to challenge yourself mentally as well.

"It's the variety in martial arts that appeals to people," says Jack Garrett, Melerine's sensei. "You never get bored because you're stimulated mentally and spiritually—it's a way of life."

Garrett teaches judo, jujitsu and karate to everyone from kids with special needs to SWAT teams, adjusting his teaching to whatever level his students are at.

"We are seeing a wider variety of people choosing to learn self defense training," Garrett says. "If I'm teaching a disabled child, I know there are physical limitations, so I teach to the level of their ability," he says. "And when I'm teaching the Marines, I'm coaching them on how to survive so they can go home to see their wives and children."

At age 63, after decades of practicing, this variety of students keeps it fresh for Garrett, and drives him to be better in his own discipline.

"The confidence and self control you build in martial arts stays with you your whole life," he says.

Darryn Melerine Brandon Keim (@bkeimrewind on Instagram)

For women, learning self-defense can also provide a sense of security in an uncertain world. Walgamotte says she learned common-sense tips in addition to physical moves.

"Darryn teaches you to be aware of your surroundings at all times," she says. "It's about self control and knowing what's appropriate, when it's appropriate and when it's enough. And this self-discipline comes from practicing over and over. That's the biggest benefit mentally for me, and for my son, who takes judo."

Walgamotte's son started Zanshin Dojo at age six and has been training there for more than a year now, and she's already seeing the benefits in her son.

"The qualities and traits Darryn got from martial arts are ones I admire and want my child to learn," she says. "Learning self discipline is huge for an impulsive, active little boy. And the stamina and strength he is developing are going to allow him to keep up in any other sport."

David Kern is an IT Specialist and another student of Melerine's, and in the past couple of years, his son began training with him as well.

"My son is 13 and now has the skills of a full-grown man," Kern says. "Your fitness level is going to increase with Darryn. He has a very pragmatic approach to his training, but it can be a grueling workout."

Kotter says she feels stronger now than ever. "I've gotten in really good shape," she says. "I was very overweight when I began and have lost 45 pounds since I originally started six years ago. And it wasn't work—it's fun!

"The mentality in the martial arts world is so cool," she adds. "It's always welcoming and there to help people create their own journey."

To try Melerine's virtual class, DM him on Instagram @darryn_80 to request an invite, or visit Zanshin Dojo at or on Instagram @Zanshin_Dojo_MRJ.

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