People Who Make a Difference in Our Community
Michael Sinaniev, sensei and owner of Gibor, a martial arts dojo geared towards frum families is a community member making a difference throughout the Jewish community of Queens.
QJL: How did you get your start in martial arts?
Michael Sinaniev: When I was younger, I was an unfortunate victim of being bullied in school. As a result, I had very low self-esteem and suffered from a poor self-image. People told me that I would amount to nothing. I became increasingly pessimistic and saw everything in my life through a negative lens. This affected my relationships with family members and friends. I was struggling emotionally and academically. Things were not looking good. The breaking point occurred on the day I turned 14. My sister and I were rollerblading outside, and a bully from my class confronted us. He proceeded to push me onto the ground. Feeling helpless, I just lied there not knowing my next step. Subsequently, the bully pushed my sister and made fun of her. At that moment, I felt a great surge of emotional pain well up. When I got home, my dad asked what I wanted to do for my birthday. Without any hesitation, I replied that I wanted to sign up for martial arts classes.
QJL: How has martial arts personally affected your life?
MS: Martial arts has had a remarkable effect on all areas of my life. I consider martial arts to have been a huge investment for me, and I am reaping the benefits of it on a daily basis. Besides the obvious physical benefits, martial arts have been incredibly important to my emotional, mental, and spiritual development. My self-confidence grew tremendously, as I am able to push myself and do things I never imagined possible. I am able to mentally challenge myself to be a better husband and father. The self-discipline and perseverance that were instilled in me from martial arts proved to also be very valuable in my spiritual and religious journey.
QJL: What benefits are there to an individual who incorporates martial arts in their life?
MS: We are all born with certain talents that can help us achieve our mission in the world. But not everyone is able to tap into or maximize their talents. I think that the one crucial component needed is discipline, which many people lack. Martial arts are definitely an optimal venue for discipline-building. Self-discipline really begins with mastery of one’s thoughts, which leads to mastery over one’s behaviors. Martial arts teach you not to always act based on how you feel but to do things in spite of these feelings. This requires a certain mental strength or toughness that one can acquire from martial arts. The program can also help change one’s frame of mind. Life becomes a series of opportunities and even setbacks become springboards for future success and growth. With martial arts, one is also able to manage and control their emotions more effectively. The exercises also promote character development and confidence in students.
QJL: Why should someone consider martial arts, as opposed to some other form of exercise, like hitting the gym?
MS: There are essentially three dimensions to a martial arts program that make it an optimal form of exercise: Participants have fun, see results, and build life skills. There is simply no other activity that provides all three components. The mental coaching that martial arts offers is unparalleled.
QJL: What inspired you to open up Gibor?
MS: I was a sensei at Tiger Schulmann’s when Covid struck. We had transitioned to online training and coaching. While working at home, I did some reflecting and praying. I will always be grateful to Tiger Schulmann’s for teaching me all I know about martial arts, but I knew it was not the environment where I wanted to remain. Their facilities had mixed-gender classes, loud, suggestive music, and they promoted a culture of tournaments and controlled fighting. This was an atmosphere where I was very uncomfortable. During these months at home, I prayed a lot and started to really talk to Hashem, unsure of my pathway in life. I was soon offered the opportunity to launch my own Tiger Schulmann’s branch in our Jewish community; however, I felt very conflicted since I would be required to adopt their model, protocols, and culture, and I did not want to implement these within the Queens Jewish community. After consulting with several prominent community rabbis, I was granted their green light and blessings to open a martial arts school specifically tailored for members of our religious community, and suddenly Gibor was born. Its name is inspired by the teachings in Pirkei Avot that denote a strong person is one who overcomes his inclinations.
QJL: What does Gibor have to offer that is unique from other martial arts programs?
MS: Gibor is the only school in the tri-state area that allows children in a martial arts program to be in a proper religious environment. For 3- and 4-year-olds, boys and girls are mixed. From 5-year-olds and above, the classes are separated. The women’s classes are given by my wife, who is trained in kickboxing. At Gibor, we also have another frum female certified conditioning coach who teaches nightly women classes. Additionally, in many martial art schools there is a very strict disciplinarian approach to the training. At Gibor, we emphasize building relationships with our students, while offering them a lot of encouragement and positive reinforcement. Another added benefit to our program is our holistic approach. In order for our students to excel in martial arts, they must also show growth and improvement in their home life and academic work. For example, I may have parents who explain that their child does not like to read. While enrolled at Gibor, I would approach the child and together we design a tailored program that would encourage the youth to read more often.
QJL: Can you share a Gibor success story?
MS: It is hard to choose a story of success, but I will relate what happened just this morning. My 7-year-old daughter, also a student at Gibor, has beautiful thick curly hair. We got in the car, as I needed to drive her to the bus stop. Suddenly, she broke down crying that she did not want to go to school since she did not have straight hair. After inquiring further, my daughter revealed that some of her classmates had made fun of her hair the previous day and were not willing to be her friend anymore. My daughter wanted straight hair like her classmates. I drove my daughter back home and told her that I would be driving her to school that day. I sat her down in the living room and explained that Hashem created her in a certain way that is unique, which should be a cause for celebration. I also taught my daughter how to respond to her classmates who were poking fun. “Look them in the eye,” I told her, “and say, ‘I love my hair, and if you do not like it, I do not want to be your friend.’” We sometimes forget that children have challenges at school that relate to their appearance, self-image, and social status. The self-confidence that martial arts instill in our children will go a long way in ensuring that they successfully overcome these challenges.
By Shalom Meirov