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Fighting Cancer, Protecting Selves

Local martial arts school raises money for cancer research.

From the pictures on the national Krav Maga Training Center’s Web site, Marni Levine appears to be a smiling, happy woman, the top-ranked female in Krav Maga in the world. The mother of young girls, Marni and her husband, Darren, had helped bring the martial art form designed to train the Israeli Army to the United States and opened the first officially licensed training center in Los Angeles.

Under her picture is a link to a site where visitors can make a donation to the Marni Fund, established earlier this year after she lost her five-year battle with breast cancer.

“I didn’t know her directly, but I’ve seen her influence in every single thing we do,” said Peter Giannetti, owner of the Krav Maga NOVA Training Center in Springfield. “We all felt the loss very deeply and we wanted to do something to not only help fight and stop cancer but to honor Marni’s memory.”

On Saturday, Oct. 21, Giannetti opened his training center to his students, one of 45 training centers nationwide that participated in a fund raiser for cancer research. Giannetti’s location alone raised over $1,000, which will be added to a fund and matched Stop Cancer, a Los Angeles-based organization that funds young doctors with cancer research.

KRAV MAGA WAS created by Imi Lichtenfeld, a martial arts expert, to teach self defense to the Israeli Army in the early 1960s. Because both men and women are required to complete a length of military service in Israel, Lichtenfeld designed Krav Maga to be suitable for the varying physical and endurance abilities of both, Giannetti said.

Darren Levine was trained by Lichtenfeld and brought Krav Maga to the United States, creating the National Training Center in Los Angles and began teaching there. Only officially licensed and certified trainers can legally teach Krav Maga, a trademarked defense system, Giannetti said.

Giannetti has been studying martial arts from a young age, earning a black belt at 12 and has since become an accomplished martial artist in aikido and other forms. He studied martial arts in Japan for eight years and was certified in Krav Maga there; the studio in Springfield was opened last December.

Compelled by his desire to help the Levine family, Giannetti opened his studio for the national open house and fund raiser.

“It was a very informal open house and we had great turnout,” he said. While the 45 centers across the country had set a goal of raising $50,000 during the open houses, Giannetti said he wasn’t sure how many people participated or how much was raised.

“The really great thing is, every dollar we raise, nation-wide, will be matched by Stop Cancer for the Marni Fund,” Giannetti said.

Becoming involved in the fund raiser was an easy decision, Giannetti said. “If I ask anyone if their family has been affected by cancer, the answer will almost always be yes,” he said. “It would be very cool if we could help slow or eliminate all forms of cancer.”

Giannetti said Marni Levine’s death came as a shock to everyone in the Krav Maga community who knew her. Only 37-years-old, Marni was fighting her disease for five years.

“I knew she wasn’t doing well when I was in L.A. earlier this year,” Giannetti said. “But we all expected her to pull through. We were all shocked to get that phone call.”

Watching his own 5-year-old son play in front of the wall-length mirror in the studio, Giannetti said he can’t imagine how Darren Levine and his daughters are coping with their loss.

Being emotional about life is something that gets to the heart of Krav Maga, Giannetti said, which is intended to help people defend themselves against a surprise attack.

“At the end of the day, I’m here to help people protect their lives,” he said.

PROMOTING CANCER RESEARCH and helping young doctors with new ideas work on possible miracle drugs is what Stop Cancer is all about, said executive director Ron Wise.

Stop Cancer was created by Armand Hammer in 1988 as a way to increase funding for research, because Hammer didn’t think enough federal money was being dedicated for that purpose, Wise said.

Three facilities receive grants from Stop Cancer each year: University of California at Los Angeles, University of Southern California at Norris and City of Hope, Wise said. Every dollar that is donated or raised is matched by federal funding and since Stop Cancer’s creation, over $42 million has been raised.

“We specifically look to young researchers who might be just out of medical school that have really innovative ideas,” Wise said. Otherwise, those researchers may have to wait for years until they’ve earned the respect to get funding they need for their projects.

Currently, Stop Cancer has 640 members, most of whom have been affected by cancer in some way, Wise said.

Stop Cancer was selected by Darren Levine and the staff at Krav Maga National Training Center as the beneficiary of their planned yearly fund raiser, Wise said.

“This is a cause so close to everyone’s heart,” said Jeanine Jackson, licensing coordinator for Krav Maga Worldwide. According to her calculations, over $45,300 has been raised for cancer researched in the Marni Fund, which set a goal of $50,000 for this year.

“We’re really happy to be partnered with Stop Cancer,” she said.

Even three months after her death, Jackson said Marni Levine’s presence is felt at the Krav Maga’s U.S. headquarters.

“She will always be a part of this place,” Jackson said. “We’d love to help raise money to keep other people from going through the loss we had this year.”

When asked if Marni Levine had been involved in the decision for the fund raiser, Jackson said she wasn’t, simply because no one expected her to lose her fight.

“The week before she passed away, she was planning our holiday party,” Jackson said. “There was no giving up, it just wasn’t an idea. Loss was never in her mind and never in our mind.”

In addition to being a well-liked and respected person, Jackson said Marni was a fourth-degree black belt in Krav Maga, one of the top ranked women in the world in the sport.

“Everything in the Krav Maga center in L.A. has been touched by Marni,” Jackson said.

Three Krav Maga schools in Europe, the Netherlands, Italy and Belgium, had their own fund raisers to benefit the Marni Fund, and next year’s fund raiser will most likely be scheduled for the first weekend in October, both in the U.S. and internationally, Jackson said.