By Seth Daniel
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been ones where skill and restraint have been stressed.
They haven’t really been the kind of wars where soldiers could shoot first and ask questions later. Those that have done so – in some cases – have found themselves being prosecuted and jailed.
Now, to prevent such deadly and questionable conflicts, the U.S. Marines are turning to martial arts training, and one Revere native has been handpicked to help Marines learn the art of non-deadly self-defense tactics.
It’s the first time the Marines have hired civilians to help with their training.
Man of Many Hats
Revere native John Salvitti, whose parents still live on Tuttle Street across from St. Anthony’s, has been many things in his life.
He’s been a Revere High graduate, a Hall of Fame martial artist, a recurring villain in movies from the early Hong Kong martial arts movie industry, and a noted stunt/martial arts choreographer for major motion pictures in Hollywood.
He’s even been a dad.
One thing he hasn’t ever been, though, is a trainer for the U.S. Marines.
You can now add that to his long resume, because for the past year or so, he and a small group of experienced martial artists have been teaching Marines the fine art of hand-to-hand defense tactics at the Marines’ training compound in Twentynine Palms, Calif..
“[The Marines] aren’t just having soldiers going around shooting their guns at just anybody,” he said. “That actually happened and it wasn’t good for the image of the United States. We need to get these soldiers the training to diffuse hostile situations using the marital arts…I think it’s great because we don’t need them shooting civilians and kids when they can easily learn some techniques to help fight in these situations.”
Salvitti told the Journal that he and the other trainers watched several hours of actual combat video footage from Iraq and used that to formulate a training program.
“What they needed were things we could get from mixed martial arts – basic levels of fighting that could help them diffuse situations without shooting,” he said. “If there were a situation where someone grabbed a soldier’s arm, we showed them how to move that person into submission. We’re constantly trying to teach these guys the basic law enforcement approaches and it’s working. We keep in touch with all of the Marines we teach, and so far, it’s been a success.”
Salvitti said this is the first time the Marines have ever used an outside contractor to help them in their training – especially at a very high risk training facility such as Twentynine Palms.
He said the change of procedure came through one colonel at the facility who knew several martial artists who were officers in the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). He recognized that their techniques could help Marines in Iraq defend themselves without getting into trouble.
“The Marine Corps would never hire civilian help,” said Salvitti. “This guy saw they needed to utilize some new techniques and realized how bad it looked for our Marines to be shooting and killing innocent people. He realized that civilian martial artists with 30 years or more in the industry have something to offer our troops. We really broke ground. He said that this wasn’t getting done in the Marine Corps and they needed to bring in people from outside.”
Salvitti, who has trained as a martial artist since the early 1980s, has made more of a name for himself in the movies over the years than in training troops for war. However, through some connections he had in the LAPD, he was asked to join the team of trainers.
“I was recognized by some people I train with through the Los Angeles Police Department,” he said. “They realized I had a lot of years in the arts and a long resume and thought I would be the right person to help them teach these hand-to-hand defenses.”
He said it has also given his own martial arts training a new sense of purpose.
“Supporting the troops has been an honor, and for me as a martial artist, I was just happy to be there,” he said.
Not only has martial arts taken Salvitti to the hallowed training grounds of the U.S. Marine Corps, but it has also recently taken him into the Hall of Fame.
The Revere native who grew up training in Revere, Lynn and Boston was inducted into the Martial Arts Masters Hall of Fame last fall in California, where he now lives.
He received the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Among many of his martial arts credentials, he holds a fifth degree black belt in East Coast Combined Martial Arts.
Additionally, he has appeared in numerous martial arts movies from the old, Hong Kong movie industry, and more recently in big-time Hollywood productions, one of which was “Hero,” featuring Jet Li.
Salvitti, who is married and has one young daughter, recently decided to start from the beginning and train in the grappling arts, known also as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
“You learn humility especially in the beginning when you put the white belt back on and start all over from the bottom,” he said. “I had a hole in my martial arts and I had to fill it. Jiu-Jitsu has done that, but I’ve paid my dues. I have a broken toe now and some broken bones, too. The benefit is tremendous, though.”
Salvitti was inducted into the Hall of Fame with Richard Brandon, with whom he has trained since he was a teen-ager. Brandon owns and operates a successful martial arts studio in California.
They both started at the East Coast Karate Academy in Lynn (now in Swampscott) with long-time sensei, Lou Hopkins.
His parents are Peter and Louise Salvetti of Tuttle Street. His father is a retired Revere firefighter.