Rather than spend his summer soaking up the sun, Frank Passanisi, 12, spends hours each week training indoors at Lynbrook Ultimate Martial Arts, where he honed his karate skills to become a national champion.
Frank, who will go for his black belt in September, put that know-how to the test at the U.S. Karate Nationals in Reno, Nev., July 10-15. He won a national championship, and qualified for the Pan-American Karate Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, next month.
“My ultimate goal is to keep trying to prove myself every day,” Frank said, “and to always work harder.”
He spends six days a week at the gym, training with Sensei Ibrahim Mamdouh, who praised his protégé’s work ethic. At the national championships, Frank won a gold medal for individual kumite — a type of freestyle fighting — to qualify for Brazil. He also shared a gold in team kumite and team kata, which is choreographed patterns of movements, and captured a bronze medal in individual kata.
“It’s extremely exciting, and I’m very proud of all he accomplished so far,” Mamdouh said. “It’s quite a journey he’s taken over the past few weeks, and he had a lot of competition and came out on top.”
Though he isn’t a black belt, Frank competed in the event at the elite level, which meant he had to face those who had black belts. He vied with 20 others in his division through six rounds of a single-elimination tournament. The top two competitors in each division punched their ticket to the Pan-Am championships.
The event was held under the umbrella of the U.S. National Karate Federation, which is the top-ranked organization in the country for martial arts and the only one working with the U.S. Olympic Committee. Through the federation, athletes qualify for the 2020 Olympics and the world championships. “This is as prestigious as it gets as an organization,” Mamdouh said. “He participated at an elite level.”
Frank turned 12 on June 12, and will enter seventh grade at East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School in the fall. But before that, he will rigorously prepare for Brazil, where he will compete for Team USA in a division for 12- and 13-year-olds weighing less than 40 kilograms. Mamdouh expressed confidence that the youngster has what it takes to succeed at an international level.
“The guy is very calm,” Mamdouh said. “He’s very smart and a very good listener to instructions. He knows how to drown out the crowd, and there was a big crowd at that high of a stage in Reno, and he’s very good. He’s a strategic fighter.”
Frank took up karate when he was 5. His parents, Frank Sr. and Laura Passanisi, were driving by a karate studio when he told them he wanted to try it. A few years later, he went to Lynbrook Ultimate Martial Arts, which his father said changed his son’s life. He has been training there for four years.
“I always knew he was an athlete,” Frank Sr. said. “He excels at every sport he does, but I never thought at 12 years old he’d be going to the Pan-Am games.”
Frank Jr. said he started practicing karate because he wanted to learn how to defend himself, and he wanted to develop a hobby. Since then, it has become almost a daily routine. He said he has been focusing on his agility and strength during training sessions, and added that he is staying optimistic heading into the competition.
He noted that he has a great rapport with Mamdouh, and that the two frequently go out to dinner to talk about karate and their ultimate goals. Mamdouh said that Frank has a strong support system, including his parents and his teammates, who also found success in Reno. In all, the Lynbrook team won 52 medals at the nationals — 27 gold, six silver and 19 bronze — competing in five different categories. Out of the 1,700 participants in the event, 24 came from Lynbrook Ultimate Martial Arts.
Frank was the lone competitor from the dojo to earn a trip to Brazil. Mamdouh said that the youngster’s success is attributable in part to his calm demeanor, his respect for his opponents, teammates and the officials, and his gratitude and discipline.
“We’re looking at a future world champion,” Mamdouh said. “This guy has got the material for it, he’s got the personality. He’s good for it. It’s just the beginning, and that’s where his mind is.”
Next month, Frank and his father will head to Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro for the competition, which is scheduled for Aug. 20-26.
“I have high expectations,” Frank Jr. said, “but it’s OK if I don’t win because I tried my hardest.”