With an emphasis on real-life situations and real-life training, former NYPD Sgt. Phil Messina has taken martial arts from the 15th century to the 21st century in only 29 years, teaching myriad people to defend themselves and giving back to the community along the way.
In business since 1981 and at his multi-roomed, indoor/outdoor Lindenhurst location since 1987, his school is a renowned martial arts center that trains those who need defense training most: police officers, military personnel and victims or potential victims of violent crimes.
Teaching the self-created Bo Fung Do – meaning in Cantonese, “the way of the sudden storm” and adapted and extended from the ancient art of Wing Chun - Modern Warrior offers a no-holds-barred take on martial arts training, and when you go there to train, you wear your street clothes, your everyday shoes and, most importantly, your self-awareness.
“Everything starts with self-awareness,” explained Messina. “If you look self-aware, you will be less likely to become a victim. If you don’t give the impression that you are the weakest animal, they - the predators - will go after somebody else.”
With that in mind, Messina trains survivors of violent crimes for free with the help of a scholarship fund he has in place. Since 1986 he’s also taught rape prevention, and taught approximately 10,000 women how to defend themselves in bad situations.
He feels strongly about teaching women not to defend themselves like men, but like women because of the way he saw women being taught defense when he was with the NYPD. It left them feeling defeated, he said.
“Here we teach them how to fight like women, using their agility and natural abilities,” he explained.
For instance, women have traditionally been taught to stand at shoulder distance apart, like a man does. While that works for a man, whose shoulders are wider than his hips, this technique makes a woman off-balance and vulnerable.
“Instead of trying to teach everything and everyone the same way, you teach people how to accomplish the same goal in a different way,” he said.
Thus, Messina’s more recent program called Silverbacks instructs older people how to defend themselves and take advantage of their perceived disadvantages.
He also trains countless national and international police academy and military instructors how to teach their units to protect themselves in such dangerous situations as fighting multiple attackers at once.
“We find that if you are trained realistically, you have better retention…your mind goes back to, ‘Oh this happened before,’” he noted.
So he does what he calls dynamic training, “stressing out” his students with simulation rooms that feature sensory overloads, including: dense fog, bright lights, loud noises, booby traps flying off the walls, “armed” dummy gunmen coming at you from above and the side, and high-wind fans and rain machines that will cause the floor to fill with water and make your fighting situation slick and unwieldy.
This teaches students to perform on an instinctual and elevated level, according to Messina..
In addition to the programs for victims, women and older people, the former NYPD sergeant started the Trinity Fund for family members who’ve lost someone in the line of duty. It’s funded through the book he’s written: Warrior 101: A Handbook for the Modern Warrior. For every book sold, $1 goes to the fund.
He’s even demonstrated his techniques on Law Enforcement TV, Fox News and Channel 11 News.
But with everything Messina’s done for the community, it all comes back to what his mother told him: “You don’t have to be better than your opponent, just better than they think you are.” Words to live by.