Black-led Community Spotlight: Alicia Tavani of No Limits Martial Arts | Community Profile | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Black-led Community Spotlight: Alicia Tavani of No Limits Martial Arts

click to enlarge Alicia Tavani of No Limits Martial Arts - CP PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG
CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
Alicia Tavani of No Limits Martial Arts
People practice martial arts for a variety of reasons, from health and wellness to being able to defend themselves in dangerous or unfamiliar situations. For Alicia Tavani, owner and master instructor at No Limits Martial Arts in the South Hills, martial arts was a path toward self-confidence and focus. On her website, Tavani describes herself as “not the most athletic or confident child,” who started her training as a way to change that. Now, as a multi-time Taekwondo world champion who has also appeared on the popular TV competition series American Ninja Warrior, Tavani is ready to take what she’s learned and impart that knowledge to the public.

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.
click to enlarge Alicia Tavani of No Limits Martial Arts - CP PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG
CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
Alicia Tavani of No Limits Martial Arts
No Limits Martial Arts started in 2018 with Tavani at the helm. The facility currently teaches Songahm Taekwondo, but combines techniques and principles from other martial arts styles in their classes, including Krav Maga and Kickboxing. No Limits also has a children’s program that starts young, ages 4 to 12, and has classes for teens and up. Participants can even book No Limits trainers for children’s birthday parties as a way to teach them “courtesy and respect.” Some of the benefits of training with Tavani or one of the other instructors includes “positive mental attitude, high goal setting, perseverance, self-control, and confidence.”

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

This community feature is made possible by the financial support of Peoples,
an Essential Utilities Company

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