Tavani started martial arts training at five years old when her mom enrolled her to help improve her focus and confidence. She was being bullied at school for being biracial, and also struggled with ADHD, so martial arts became the “award-winning combo that would help me gain confidence as well as keep me engaged and focused,” she tells Pittsburgh City Paper over email.
“I have always been drawn to Taekwondo because it is known for kicking and striking, which is practical to learn how to protect yourself, but also so much fun,” she says. “At age six, I started competing and it sparked a passion in me like no other, eventually winning four world champion titles and going on to win the ESPN 360 challenge in 2016.”
While Tavani is very decorated in her awards and accomplishments, including becoming a sixth-degree black belt, she says she has also dealt with her own challenges.
“There have been many times in my life where I have been challenged,” she says. “Whether it be dealing with an abusive father, getting bullied because I’m half Black and half Italian, or something else. Martial Arts has taught me to accept who I am, stay true to myself, and allow myself to live my own journey and live to my fullest potential. It has taught me that having a ‘Yes, I can’ attitude is essential to loving yourself to the fullest and reaching your goals.”
Tavani’s can-do attitude is very apparent and infectious. She describes how her training impacted her and calls it one of the most profound experiences in her life.
“My training has affected me greatly, mentally and physically. Teaching me from a very young age how to stay mentally and emotionally strong. Helping me to implement and practice important life skills like self discipline, communication, and belief in myself,” she adds.
In 1998, Tavani was invited into the Legacy program for the American Taekwondo Association, which trains teens and adults to become certified instructors. She was awarded a scholarship to the program and fell in love with teaching because it gave her the ability to help others mentally and physically. She says it allowed her to watch her students grow as they progress in rank through years of training, which she finds rewarding.
Tavani says that growing up in Erie, she didn’t see many people who looked like her. The town was primarily white, and she was the only mixed-race person at Master Stitt Black Belt Academy at the time. As she grew older, progressed in her training, and began to travel, she began to see a variety of cultures and backgrounds in her classes and when she was learning to teach.
Tavani says she was apprehensive about being a biracial woman opening up a gym in the South Hills, but within the first three months of opening, she was up to 70 students.
“I believe if you are really good and genuine with what you do, then that is all that really matters,” she says. “I believe there is still much growth to do in terms of diversity in our area, but I believe by exposing my students to culture and getting the opportunity to train with me that I can open their eyes and minds up to people of other ethnicities and backgrounds. I didn’t realize how much of a cultural impact I would have on this community, but the power of martial arts is so strong.”
No Limits Martial Arts. 1001 Cool Springs Drive, Bethel Park. nolimitspgh.com
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