Fancy Pants

Time-honored traditions in self-defense.

by Heleigh Bostwick

martialway1212David Quinlan’s interest in martial arts was sparked when he was in college, and six years later, he entered the field as a teacher. Now the founder and owner of Martial Way Self Defense Center, with locations in Milton, St. Albans, and Colchester, Quinlan is training new generations in the martial arts.

David Quinlan’s life is sort of like the martial arts he teaches: ever moving, ever strategizing. Quinlan is the owner and founder of Martial Way Self Defense Center in Milton, with branches in Colchester and St. Albans.

He was introduced to martial arts as a student at Boston University, where he spent a year after graduating from high school in 1977. “There was a Japanese student who had a black belt and ran a judo club,” he recalls. “That was how I started dabbling in the different martial arts.”

Quinlan was studying communications at BU, but quickly realized that it wasn’t what he wanted to do. He took a year off and volunteered with the National Park Service at Olympic National Park in Washington state. Deciding to study the natural sciences, he transferred to the University of Vermont and, in 1982, earned two degrees: in environmental studies and geography.

After graduating, Quinlan spent a couple of years as a seasonal employee at Yosemite National Park and Cape Cod National Seashore. Unable to find permanent work, he took various jobs in the off season.

Recalling his interest in martial arts, Quinlan found a part-time teaching job that evolved into full-time employment in 1984.

“I was spending more and more time in the dojo and pretty soon they asked if I was interested in teaching,” says Quinlan. “There was an opening in Amsterdam, N.Y., and I started there, but eventually transferred to a studio in Lindenhurst, N.Y., on Long Island.”

In 1985 he hooked up with a fellow martial arts buddy and opened Karate Fitness Center, a chain of three studios in Long Island that they ran for the next two years.

“We grew very quickly and were very successful,” he says. “I was lucky in that I came in right about the time the first Karate Kid movie came out. There was a huge influx of kids and adults into martial arts schools at that time.”

But Quinlan says he made the classic business mistake of growing too big too quickly. “We had two studios and opened a third. I wanted to teach more, but found myself dealing with office and payroll. I didn’t enjoy it at all so I sold my share of the business.”

He relocated to Vermont where he felt the lifestyle suited him better and opened his own martial arts school, Professional Self Defense Institute, associated with a studio of the same name owned by his former instructor. in 1988. In ’96, inspired by Forrest Morgan’s book Living the Martial Way, he changed the name to Martial Way.

This time around, he says, it took him 20 years to open the three studios that now make up Martial Way.

Martial Way’s main studio is in Milton. He bought the building in 2009 from a landscaper who stored his equipment there. Most of the 2,000-square-foot space is devoted to the training floor, which is covered in thick blue mats. There’s a front desk and a cramped office where Quinlan spends a few hours every day checking emails, returning phone calls, and handling other administrative activities as they arise. “One of the most difficult things about running this business has been making the transition from martial artist to businessman and to fulfill both roles successfully,” he says.

He opened the St. Albans branch at the Collins Perley Sports Center in 2005 and the Colchester branch in 2010.

Quinlan has black belts in four martial arts styles: kempo, which is Japanese for a style that was originally Chinese but developed in Hawaii; a Filipino weapon-style martial art called arnis demano; Brazilian jiujitsu; and judo, which is Japanese.

Students are taught six types at Martial Way: mixed martial arts, kempo, jiujitsu, arnis demano, Wing Chun kung fu, and bushintai-do, an arts style developed by Quinlan that means “the way of the warrior in mind and body.”

Quinlan runs most of the classes in Colchester, but says he has a lot of part-time instructors who help him out on an “exchange basis.” He explains that even though the instructors are black belts, they need the additional experience that teaching provides them in order to move to levels above the basic black belt.

“Carl Ennis, one of my first students, who started when he was 5 or 6 years old, runs most of the classes at the Milton location and handles inventory and scheduling,” says Quinlan.

Michael Brosnan, a retired Coast Guard officer, runs most of the classes in St. Albans, and Drew Bloom, teaches advanced adult kempo, a diverse martial arts style that combines various techniques.

Bloom has been a full-time police officer in Vermont for 22 years, and is the use-of-force defensive tactics instructor at the Vermont Police Academy. He had run a school part time in Winooski for several years when he met Quinlan in the late 1980s. “We cross-trained together, and I ended up working for David part time after ending the program in Winooski in the mid 1990s,” he says.

“Most martial arts use only one technique,” Quinlan explains. “For example in judo, you use throws. Other types of martial arts use strikes, but kempo uses both. It’s the primary martial art we teach here.

“Drew is my teaching partner in kempo and helped to develop the curriculum that we teach here,” he continues. “His martial arts background is very similar to mine, but is different enough that he’s been able to add certain skills that I don’t have to our program — especially because of his law enforcement experience.”

Quinlan and his wife, Kelly Rybicki, a chiropractor who owns Onion River Chiropractor in Winooski, live in Milton with their two children. Evelyn, 6, prefers dance class to martial arts, but Liam, 14, has shown an interest and takes classes at the studio. Says Quinlan, “I can oversee his training but don’t have to teach him, so he has the benefit of training with a lot of other experts.”

Quinlan met Rybicki in 1988. “When I first opened the school she was working for a local newspaper selling ads,” he recalls. “We were friends for a while, but then she moved out of state to go to chiropractor school. She moved back in 1994 and we got married in 1995.”

Quinlan is home most week nights between 7:30 and 9:30 and reserves weekends for time with his family. “My wife breeds and shows horses, so now I raise horses, too,” he says with a laugh. “We try to grow as much of our own food as we can and we raise chickens for meat and eggs.”

He teaches martial arts to students in after-school programs in Colchester and Winooski and has contracts in Winooski, Colchester, and Georgia to teach bushintai-do. Quinlan explains that, unlike most martial arts styles, in bushintai-do there’s no punching or kicking, throwing or arm twisting. “I took out dangerous offensive techniques and developed my own katas (choreographed routines or sequences of movements) to enable someone to escape from a hold and run away,” he says.

Nancy Keller, a seventh- and eighth-grade math and science teacher at Winooski Middle School, has worked with Quinlan for the last 10 years. “One of the things we do is to offer martial arts classes to some of our middle school students here in Winooski,” she says. “It’s been highly successful and a great learning experience for me and my students.”

She is enthusiastic about Quinlan’s jiujitsu and judo classes for after-school programs at Winooski. “It’s been a really positive connection with our kids and a really great program,” she says. “He is an outstanding educator and has done a tremendous job in helping out students.”

“I do a lot of corporate presentations on self-defense, too,” says Quinlan. “Women would approach me and ask me to do a quick self-defense program, two weeks or one month long, but it’s difficult to sell and never quite worked out.” In response, he developed the Thinksafe program.

Focusing on physical self-defense techniques, Thinksafe stresses tactical prevention strategies in case of attack. It’s designed primarily for women who work in professions whose work circumstances might put them in danger — home care nurses for example, or real estate agents who have to show vacant homes to prospective buyers. Quinlan uses these techniques to teach children in abduction prevention programs in Colchester, Milton, and St Albans.

Louise Andrews, human resource specialist at Vermont Energy Investment Corp. in Burlington, has offered the Thinksafe program several times a year for the last six years to employees at VEIC. “We began using this program because our employees make a lot of house visits,” she says. “We wanted to make sure that women, especially, felt safe when entering people’s homes.”

As for what lies ahead, Quinlan, who is 53, says there’s just not enough time in the day to teach any more classes, but he wants to find a way to get his martial art bushintai-do out to more people.

“My next move is to develop a Web-based training system in bushintai-do for physical education teachers and even other martial arts teachers to use,” he says. “I’m meeting with educators, tech people, and my lawyer now.”

Ever moving, ever strategizing.