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Tags:   Skills,   Sports,   Martial Arts

By Mila Camilleri   -  March 21, 2015

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Photo credit:  Ray Attard

SWAG caught up with 42-year old MARK SPITERI, founder and kung fu instructor at Malta Self Defence Academy. We got to know how and when he got his start in the martial arts world, all about the Academy, along with what it’s got to offer.



“My first recollection of martial arts is watching old Asian movies on the Italian Mediaset channels in the late ‘80s,” Mark told SWAG. “I remember being fascinated by the perfectly executed moves … which almost looked like a dance routine. A few years down the line, while in my late teens in 1991, I joined a local Kung Fu club a few blocks away from my parents’ house.


“On my way home from school, I used to pass by a local martial arts school, and it always tempted me to have a go. One day I ventured inside for my first lesson. From there onwards I never looked back. Kung Fu is my favourite discipline – it amazes me how this Chinese discipline merges the hard and soft style in one.”


He began to appreciate the various styles that martial arts offers, as he feels they “all have their own different way of reaching the same goal. What’s important is that training is done in a disciplined manner, which respects the participants."


Mark began training regularly for quite a few years and eventually made his way up the ranks, achieving a Black belt in 2003. “Although many think that attaining a black belt is the end, I realised that this was just the start. At this point I started exploring the concept of teaching and sharing my knowledge. I started by taking care of junior students and as years went by I eventually became a Kung fu teacher, or Sifu in Chinese.”


We asked Mark if there are any martial arts masters who have inspired him.


“During my years of training, I was inspired by my teacher, Charles Gaffiero, who apart from teaching me what I know today, was always there to share priceless advice with all his students. 


On a wider perspective, I’m also inspired by the Shoalin monks, who are very modest and an example to many, even though they are highly proficient in their art. I believe Westerners can learn a lot from these Masters, who dedicate their lives to something they truly believe in.


"I recently travelled on a short trip to China and saw them training live, which was an inspiration.”


SWAG was curious to learn more about the Malta Self Defence Academy (MSDA).


“The MSDA was established officially in 2006 by myself and my then-partner – two like-minded, experienced black belts who were looking for an innovative way to teach Self Defence techniques. Initially, the academy focused entirely on Self Defence courses, which proved to be very successful with beginners.


“Throughout the years, the other founder had to step down due to other commitments, and I decided to continue running this orgnisation single-handedly.


“Apart from Self Defence courses, we also offer Kung Fu classes on a weekly basis. We also offer specialised kids classes that are proving to be very successful.


"By joining our Academy, people can learn how to defend themselves in a fun and professional manner, where we strive to provide personal attention to all students.


“Our academy also offers various customised classes, which cater for different parties. For example, various Girl Guide and Boy Scout groups have attended our personalised self-defence classes.”


What’s the difference between Kung fu and Self Defence classes?


“The difference between enrolling for martial arts training and a self-defence class is that the former is a long-term commitment where one could become proficient in the art. The student therefore becomes more knowledgeable in the art; there’s more time to perfect one’s strikes and blocks while learning different techniques. There’s also more practice with other students; induce speed, strength and hit on the right points.


“A basic self defence class focuses on learning the basic blocks and strikes; a few stances and different self defence situations. It’s like a musician learning the basic notes, but it’s such basic notes that make beautiful pieces of music!"


SWAG asked Mark why it’s important that people should learn to defend themselves, and he explained: “When someone joins a martial arts class, they learn how to defend themselves and their family when the need arises. Incidents can happen any time and anywhere, when least expected. A trained individual can react to awkward situations with more confidence and responsibility…in the sense that they can avoid getting hurt and even can avoid hurting the other person.


“Regular meditation and breathing exercises helps people to become calmer and increasingly confident about themselves. In the moment of truth, such a trained person would make less senseless mistakes than an untrained one, thus avoiding injuring themselves.”


How many members does the MSDA have on average?


"Typically, a class would not have more than 20 students, which makes it easier to manage and enables the instructors to provide personal guidance during the class. As I mentioned before, kids can attend our specialised classes which are conducted in a more fun and informal manner.


“On the other hand, adult classes are attended by a wide range of students. We have professionals, students, housewives and a number of foreigners too. Ages range greatly, as some students are in their late 50s.


“I would say people decide to join us for a number of reasons. For some it’s a hobby, for others it's to relieve stress after a days work, while others decided to join a martial arts class after passing through a bad personal experience. Unfortunately, a recent surge in bullying and domestic violence has been a driving force for people to join.


“On a positive note, I’m very happy to mention that in recent years I’ve seen a good number of ladies joining our classes, which is surely a great news for martial arts.”


Mark was happy to share that following the success of classes that were held last year for a group of persons with disabilities, the MSDA should be holding a number of similar lessons later on this year. They have once again teamed up with a local NGO, Breaking Limits, to organise an Adaptive Martial Arts class for people with disabilities. It’s being held in April and later on this year, the MSDA is also planning to offer a similar class to members in Gozo.”


SWAG likes to end interviews on a fun note, so we posed the question – If you had to choose, would you be: Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris?


“That’s a good one! I would say, I would take a bit from the three of them…. Bruce Lee has impeccable style, Jackie Chan is innovative when it comes to finding a niche by designing his own style, and Chuck Norris has incredible charisma. At 75 years of age, the guy is still highly popular and also finds time to run various charitable organisations!


“I would like to quote Jackie Chan who recently said “I never wanted to be the next Bruce Lee, I wanted to be the first Jackie Chan”, which basically sums up my thoughts about this question. One has to always strive to be himself either in life or in Martial Arts. It’s perfectly okay to be inspired by others, but one has to develop his own style of training or teaching.”



Find out more about the Malta Self Defence Academy through their Facebook page or the Youtube channel. Check out some of their videos and photographs below.

Self Defence Demonstration

Adaptive Self-Defence Class

Benefits of Self-Defence Classes (especially for women)


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