Gus Bottazzi said many people walking along Heights Road would stop in front of Darien Krav Maga & Conditioning, a martial arts studio he opened on Aug. 1, and peek through the window while he was instructing a class. Some came in, took a flyer, and left.
"I'm okay with that," Bottazzi said. "Krav Maga is not a household name, so a lot of people call me up and say, `I've heard of this. Can you tell me more about it?'"
Krav Maga prepares individuals to defend against an attacker in a life-threatening situation, using techniques drawn from Israeli military drills. Bottazzi, 45 and a third-degree black belt in Japanese Kenpo, trains students against aggressive acts that range from a punch to an armed assault.
The studio offers regular one hour-and-fifteen minute Krav Maga classes, as well as a separate class for women, and hour-long Core Strength and Flexibility Training classes. Class times are listed on their website, www.darienkrav.com. Bottazzi also does private sessions.
"The first class is always free," he said. "They come in, try it, and decide if they want group classes or private."
Students choose to pay $159 per month for unlimited classes, or $30 per class.
Bottazzi brought several dozen students to his new location from Dynamic Martial Arts Family Center on Corbin Drive, where he taught Krav Maga classes at night. Since opening, he has signed up nearly a dozen more students.
"As far as I'm concerned, this has given me some real exposure," he said of the new location. "It's a good space for me."
The space consists of blue rubber mats that line the floor, and equipment tucked into corners or against the far wall opposite the entrance. It is a small studio, but the mirrors that line the right side wall make is seem bigger.
The studio is also in a location that Bottazzi said is prone to flooding. His flood insurance was not activated when, less than a month after opening, Hurricane Irene swept through the area.
"The worst thing that happened was I was out of power for five days," he said. "During that time we did classes outside in the parking lot. We had people circle in, putting their high beams on, and we did carjacking scenarios."
Bottazzi, a Darien resident, knows that crime is not a major issue in the town. His goal, however, is to give people the confidence to handle any situation wherever they go, like being assaulted while walking to their car at night.
He was motivated to start teaching Krav Maga after living in New York City, where he was mugged twice at gunpoint and once at knifepoint.
"I'm training them to feel more confident," he said. "I'm going to take you out of your comfort zone and you're going to feel challenged."
The first 20 minutes of this challenge is core strength and flexibility training.
"It's almost a diffusion of Pilates, yoga, and dance stretching," he said. "By the time you are done your body is literally stretched out from head to toe. Flexibility is as important as anything else because it prevents injury. You don't have to be in the greatest shape for battles, but it helps."
Bottazzi has trained people of all sizes, skill levels, and age 16-years-old or above.
"I can't tell you how many times I've seen guys who are athletically built who can't throw a punch," he said. "It's the guy who understands who feels better."
Bottazzi's current goal is to increase awareness to people who could benefit from Krav Maga training. In particular, he said he would like to reach out to teenagers and women's crisis centers.
"I just want to inspire people to know they can take care of themselves," Bottazzi said. "The tools are already there, I'm just here to show them where they are."