A martial artist is defined by how
 they face challenges in their lives...
 not how they spend their spare time.

The program emphasizes how techniques work, not just how to perform them. Rather than fight a strawman, students will cross-train in the foundations of fighting systems they're likely to confront. Students will also flatten their own learning curve by helping teach others.

By combining how-it-works, learn-by-teaching and cross-training, students rapidly develop confidence in their new skills and the ability to improvise when faced with a situation they haven't been trained to address.

At all stages, confrontation management is emphasized in addition to physical skills. The goal is to extract yourself from the situation soon as possible to minimize injuries and potential legal issues.


Students learn skills that are foundational for later study and cross-applicable to many athletic activities. They will also learn to navigate confrontations with bullies and potentially suspicious adults, develop attention-to-detail by diagnosing what others are doing wrong, and gain communication skills and self-confidence by taking on mentoring responsibility.

Tweens & Teens

Students are introduced to the adult curriculum and will learn to navigate situations relevant to their age and gender. A byproduct is to enhance communication, problem-solving, lateral- and critical-thinking skills. Finally, many in this group are disrespectful of others while ironically accepting what they hear at face value. Since implicit trust can be a safety liability, one goal is to flip this perspective: Respect should be given, but trust must be earned.


Most aggressors will disengage once they realize they're facing an opponent rather than a victim, but the force needed to convince them varies widely. Choking an attacker unconscious might be the right defense in a home invasion, but probably not against a wedding guest who's had too much to drink.

At this level, the focus is on de-escalation techniques which don't inflict serious injury, but persuasive enough to enable disengagement and escape. There's also an introduction to techniques which cause specific injuries that can end the fight instantly, minimize exposure to legal action, and create a baseline should further escalation be unavoidable.


Once students demonstrate their ability to remain level-headed under stress and control the force applied, more advanced techniques are introduced. Techniques are covered which can easily sprain or dislocate a joint, or temporarily disable an opponent by attacking the nervous and cardio-pulmonary systems.


The techniques in this level are advanced due to their potential to inflict serious injury, or due to the proficiency needed (acquired through practice at lower levels) to execute them. Students will be asked to take on teaching roles, which is critical to developing the proficiency needed to use what they know in a real confrontation. Study of academic topics like martial strategy and sciences (anatomy, physiology, physics, etc) is also required at this level.

Not a Kid Anymore

Two of my instructors taught well into old age, adapting their skills to their diminishing physical abilities. I’ve had plenty of personal experience adapting to orthopedic injuries, and have come back from years effectively disabled by back pain.

I have extensive experience teaching students with arthritis, back issues and limitations from previous orthopedic surgeries. Everyone can learn, often to a degree that surprises both of us.

The goal at this level is to develop confidence that you don't need to concede without a fight. The skills covered will be developed on a case-by-case basis as we learn what students' limits are.

I'm John Festa and Reflex Fighting Arts is the product of over 40 years studying martial arts ... 25 of those teaching kids, adults, seniors and handicapped. I've taught in the U.S. and Europe at seminars attended by school owners, law enforcement and military. One of my students successfully used nonlethal techniques I taught him against a pair of armed attackers, subduing them prior to arrival of the police.

I earned certificates in jiujitsu, escrima and kempo from internationally renowned instructors. I cross-trained in judo, boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, taekwondo and multiple systems of both jiujitsu & escrima. I've also competed in full-contact Filipino stick fighting and in taekwondo in the black belt category.

I earned an engineering masters' from Rutgers. Engineering applies science to solve problems. I used it dissect, improve, and re-engineer the techniques I was taught.

These are the main influences on the program I teach:

Yoshitsune JiuJitsu

I was a direct student of Shihan Michael DePasquale (1925-2006), who inherited this fusion of judo and five other jiujitsu systems from it's samurai founder, Shihan Junji Saito (1884-1988). Sensei DePasquale, a veteran of WWII military intelligence and lifelong counter-terrorism expert, was among the first to teach jiujitsu to law enforcement in the United States and was instrumental in formulating the official U.S. Marshals self-defense program.

Sensei DePasquale's focus on self-defense rather than sport, emphasis on genuine respect rather than shallow displays of formality, and conviction that teaching is a necessary part of the learning process are all integral to my teaching style. Finally, my use of martial arts as a vehicle to teach problem solving and lateral thinking is the result of his in-class exercises which had us pick apart techniques and invent as many variations as we could.

Modern Arnis

I trained under the founder, Grandmaster Remy Presas (1936–2001), who grew up watching his family teach close quarters combat to the Philippinne military. A literal martial arts legend, he earned his reputation in the Philippinnes through challenge matches and a lifelong dedication to reviving popular interest in their indigenous fighting systems.

His disruptive training style rapidly alternated right and left hand, with and without a weapon. This cultivated both ambidextrous ability and the mindset of using the same technique regardless of what you have in your hands. His explosive fighing style ended fights quickly by integrating weapon, empty hand, striking and grappling all within a single technique.

Small Circle JiuJitsu

Professor Wally Jay (1917–2011), famous for having taught Bruce Lee to grapple, developed this system by integrating aspects of eastern and western fighting systems with non-martial subjects such as reflex physiology and strength kinesiology. One of the first martial systems to emphasize principles over techniques, it has influenced the development of self-defense and law enforcement programs around the globe.

Of all the principles I learned from Professor Jay, his innovation of "attack the golgi tendon" led me to down a path that resulted in the development of an array of new techniques which trigger reflexes of the sympathetic nervous system.

Ryukyu Kempo

The first to expose karate's hidden applications to the world, Okinawan master Hohan Soken (1889-1982) gave a set of cryptic notes to George Dillman, a nationally ranked tournament fighter at the time. Master Dillman's "bull in a china shop" promotion of what he learned from those notes would make him the focus of internet martial arts controversy, but in the process he changed Western understanding of Eastern martial arts.

In a nutshell, the blocking, kicking, chopping and punching we associate with karate are not blunt force pummelling techniques, but surgically precise grappling/striking combinations intended to stop an attack by causing joint dislocations, unconsciousness or death by triggering neurophysiological reflexes. The tight integration of grappling and striking, combined with the need to understand anatomy, neurophysiology and physics to correctly apply, was to me a treasure chest of new skills just waiting to be unlocked.

Newark - 1992: Professor Jay and Sensei DePasquale.
Italy - 2015: World Kyusho Summit

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