CESJDS English teacher takes on unique hobby: karate

Sophie Kaplan, Guest Writer

Students often imagine English teachers reading books with a cat in their lap; certainly, students do not imagine them as being a brown belt in karate. However, English teacher Melissa Fisanich breaks that stereotype.  

Fisanich has been taking karate since the summer of 2014 when she started competing and won multiple awards and trophies at various belt levels.

“When I was a blue belt, I won two events in my class against other blue, purple and green belts. I won sparing and I won a huge trophy and I got first place in one step sparring – which is a slightly different event – and I got a huge trophy,” Fisanich said. “And that was the competition where I got third place in form … That was one of my highlights.”  

After five years of practicing, Fisanich is now a first-degree brown belt, but hopes to advance to a black belt one day.

Fisanich began doing karate after observing an adult class while waiting for her son to finish up his lesson at Tompkins Karate Association.

“That is the way a lot of the adults get into martial arts – through their kids,” Fisanich said.

After learning that one only had to be 13 to be considered an adult, she brought Tabitha, her 13-year-old daughter, to class as well.

“She [Tabitha] sort of loved it and I really really loved it, and she sort of ended up falling in love with karate too, and she did it through her senior year and became a brown belt,” Fisanich said. “So after that, I stuck with it.”

The competition was fierce between the mother-daughter pair as they were always at the same belt level and often competed against each other.

“One time, we tied in one-step sparring [for second place], and when that happens for the bottom trophy, you get back up and do the event again … So I had to get up there and do my best … It was one of the most tense parental and martial arts moments of my life when I was just sitting there,” Fisanich said.

Fisanich watched her daughter compete and then took her turn, only to have to wait for the results.

“Then, sitting there hoping that they picked her [Tabitha] – but really truth be told hoping more that I won … I did end up winning, but it was really close,” Fisanich said.

When freshman Vanessa Mark found out about Fisanich’s hobby, she was not surprised because Fisanich is “already really interesting and really cool so, of course, of course, she would do karate.”

Jake Rosenhaft, Fisanich’s coach, knows he can always tell when one of his students is a teacher, as he coaches quite a few of them.

“I find that teachers tend to be very interested in how we teach and in the way we present information,” Rosehaft said. “They [teachers] ask different types of questions; the style of learning is different.”

Fisanich believes that taking karate has taught her a lot about teaching as well as the mindset of a student.

“It has taught me some things about resilience, and made me more sympathetic towards my students about being evaluated,” she said.