Kickin’ it with a black-belt family |

Kickin’ it with a black-belt family

Jarid Shipley
Appeal Staff Writer
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Jacob Bertocchi spars with his mother, Michelle, during class at ATA Black Belt Academy.

Dressed in a crisp white robe with her name on the back, Michelle Bertocchi is focused on her opponent. In a moment, her instructor will begin the sparring match, and she will attempt to land as many solid blows as possible.

There is no hesitation – even though the man across from her is her father.

“I think ‘that’s my dad, I can’t hit him,’ but we realize that it’s training and it’s to make us better,” Michelle, 33, said. “He’s always been my protector, but now we are learning these skills together.”

Michelle, her father, Ernie, and her son, Jacob, are all members of the Carson ATA Black belt Academy. Michelle and Jacob are green belts, Ernie is a yellow belt.

Jacob, 9, started taking Tae Kwon Do late last year after his mom signed him up in hopes of teaching him respect and giving him an outlet for his energy.

“We was a typical, at the time, 8-year-old boy and I thought it would be a great way to help teach him self-control,” Michelle said. “It has worked, absolutely, and in the process we found his passion. He would sleep here if we let him.”

But watching her son and helping him practice forms just wasn’t enough, so a month later Michelle made a decision.

“I found myself helping him practice at home and just really enjoyed it,” Michelle said. “I like the physical aspect of it, the exercise and the training, but there’s a mental balance as well.”

While attending Michelle’s first belt testing, father Ernie, 58, decided that it was time to get back into shape and join his family.

“I figured it would be good exercise and keep me mentally sharp and it has,” he said. “It helps me strengthen and flatten my body and has made me more limber. It feels great to sweat and run and get back in shape, I’ve lost 15 pounds since I started.”

Chief Instructor Shawn Goodner said he enjoys having the family in his classes.

“They are a passionate family. You can see it when they spar and when they participate in the exercises,” Goodner said. “They have the same facial expressions when they spar and are very focused.”

While Jacob is in a separate class, the Bertocchis do get to train and spar together.

“I’ve bonked her in the nose, and she hit Jacob in the mouth,” Ernie said. “Mistakes happen but it’s part of it and we understand.”

Goodner said the family connection creates an interesting dynamic when it comes to competitions.

“(Ernie) is bigger, but (Michelle) is smaller and faster with a lot of power, so it’s interesting to watch them go against each other,” Goodner said. “It creates a huge amount of respect between them.”

The latest addition is grandma Bonnie, who recently signed up to join her husband, daughter and grandson.

“When I watched them spar the first time, I sat in the audience and had the mother’s instinct. Like I wanted to run out there and tell them to behave, but I got over it and then wanted to join them,” Bonnie said.

Michelle said, “The ultimate goal is to have all of us get our black belts and have that black-belt attitude that we can do it.”

• Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at or 881-1217.