Kick Start
At East Coast Karate Institute, students of all ages hone their martial-arts skills and gain lifelong tools needed to make a difference in the world
by Bill Donahue

“You changed my life” is perhaps the greatest compliment one person can pay to another. Master Michael DiPietro, founder of East Coast Karate Institute, must have heard those words countless times in his 32 years on this earth.

Since its inception in 1997, when East Coast Karate Institute opened its doors in Glen Mills, DiPietro has been playing a hand in improving the community and enriching the lives of his students. Although he was diagnosed with cancer in 2007 and ultimately lost his battle with the disease, his legacy continues to live on through the passion and philosophies  he instilled in the instructors he influenced, including his younger brother,  Steven DiPietro.

“My brother had such a good understanding of how to treat people and make a difference in their lives,” says Steven, who runs a second East Coast Karate Institute studio in Edgemont/Newtown Square. “He believed that if you focused on being a positive influence in our students’ lives in every way possible, then everything else would work itself out. To this day that philosophy is still the cornerstone that our studios are built around.”

Although breaking boards and fending off attackers might come to mind when some people hear the word “karate,” Steven DiPietro suggests that there is much more to karate than just improving strength and perfecting one’s techniques.

Contrary to popular belief, most parents do not bring their children to East Coast Karate to learn self-defense, although that is a huge benefit. Instead, they are looking to improve their children’s discipline, confidence and self-control. “We really try to improve our student’s character,” Steven DiPietro says, “not just teach them how to punch and kick.”

At both locations, East Coast Karate Institute offers an array of programs for students of all ages and skill levels, from the Little Dragons (ages 3 to 6) and Kid’s Karate (ages 7 to 13) to Adult Martial Arts. The institute teaches a Korean karate style known as Tang Soo Do, which is similar to Tae Kwan Do. This ancient style of martial arts, which uses empty hand, foot and weapons fighting for self-defense, is well suited to building each student into a well-rounded person by developing one’s character, mental strength and respect for others.

“We spend a lot of time trying to instill East Coast Karate’s core values,” says Steven DiPietro. They spend five minutes or so each class on a word of the week, focusing on a different word or phrase, like perseverance, respect or humility, to teach their students how these traits apply to all areas of their lives.

The 10 instructors staffed at the institute’s two locations, all of whom were guided and mentored by Master Michael DiPietro, abide by the founder’s enduring philosophies. Each instructor takes a keen interest in their students—from young beginners to experienced adults—with the goal of helping them become better versions of themselves in terms of positive mental and physical conditioning, enhanced coordination and improved self-confidence, among other benefits.

Steven DiPietro, for his part, started training under his brother at the age of 12 and began teaching at the institute four years later. He also followed his brother’s lead by opening the Edgemont studio; both did so exceptionally young—21 years old for Michael and 24 for Steven. Along with Edward Stumm and Jolene Westraad, who run the Glen Mills studio, he is continuing his brother’s legacy by leading a team of seasoned instructors who not only possess their third degree black belt but also have at least seven years of teaching experience and are certified to teach by the World Tang Soo Do Association. Furthermore, every instructor has been with East Coast Karate from the beginning of their karate career. They are all committed to ensuring that students learn in a safe, caring environment.

Above all, East Coast Karate Institute aims to inspire students through the teachings of its late founder and ensure they are better people for having walked through the door—much like Steven DiPietro.

“If I didn’t have my brother to take me in the direction he did, I don’t know where I would be today,” he says. “Without him, I never would have realized how much I love working with students and teaching children.

“Master DiPietro set the tone for the rest of us,” he continues, “and we’re still following the philosophies that he created because of their timeless value. He impacted the lives of each instructor here and we are committed to trying to make that same impact on each and every student.”

East Coast Karate Institute

 Two Area Locations
485 Baltimore Pike
Glen Mills, PA 19342

4833 West Chester Pike
Newtown Square, PA 19073

Photograph by Jody Robinson