Interview with Dion Riccardo, January 27, 2000
By Evan McKenzie
E: Why don't we start by just explaining a little bit about your background as a
person, where you're from, where you grew up, and how you ended up in Chicago.
D: Well, I was born in Japan on an Air Force base. My father was in the Air Force, and he met my mother over there. They stuck around there until I was two years old. Then they moved back here where my father's family was, to Cicero (a near-west suburb of Chicago). We stayed in Cicero until I was maybe eight years old, at which time my parents were able to move into a house in Lyons. And that was a big change for me. Lyons was a very nice neighbrhood, a lot
nicer than I was used to. As I grew up I found myself playing a lot of sports, basketball, baseball, football, with the people in the neighborhood. But in a few years I found myself going back to Cicero. I really can't describe exactly what it was that was driving me, but I found myself riding my ten speed bike from Lyons all the way to Roosevelt and Austin to hang out with some of the friends I knew around there, and then trying to race back home on my bike to make it home
before curfew. I did that for awhle, and actually started getting into trouble a little bit during that time frame, hanging out on the corner, probably doing a whole lot of things that we shouldn't have been doing. But you know, at that age, I didn't think it was wrong. At that time I got really blessed by meeting an individual who was on the police department. His name was Anthony Pellegrino. I met him when I was about 14 years old. Our first couple of meetings were just at the North Riverside Mall. He happened to be a scurity guard there and we had a few conversations. Every time I would go there we would end up talking and eventually he wound up telling me that he had started a martial arts school that was located in Cicero on Cermak. He invited me in, and the first couple times he invited me I was
not really interested. But I went through a couple of experiences where I was arrested a few times, and I started to feel myself not going in the right direction. I started realizing that. And I started to kind of take a break from my old friends and try to do something different. That's when I went into the martial arts school. And I can still remember the first time going in there and just kind of looking around and being refreshed. It was just something that probably deep down inside I had always wanted to do but I didn't really have a vehicle to do that. And maybe a
lot of my energies that I was utilizing on the corner were just pent up energies I could apply towards doing something else or wanting to do something else. So it was a great opportunity.
(Dion Riccardo With Mr.Pellegrino)
E. What kind of a martial arts school was Anthony Pellegrino's?
D. It was called the American Martial Arts Academy, and Mr. Pellegrino was kind of doing
JKD before it was popular. His background was that he started with the Japan Karate
Association and moved into some Tae Kwon Do and some boxing. I also remember him telling
me that he used to read about Bruce Lee all the time. And when he would find out in Black Belt
magazine that Bruce Lee's protege, Dan Inosanto, would be coming to Chicago over at the
Degerberg Academy, he would go there and start seeing Guru Dan. The next thing you know he
was kind of on that path. He would follow anybody that came through the Degerberg Academy
at that time. I was kind of lucky and fortunate because at that time there was a lot of times when
classes were really thin. There were two police officers running the school, one wasn't really an
active martial artist, but he enjoyed martial arts and did more of the administrative work. Mr.
Pellegrino was the master instructor. They weren't doing martial arts as a full-time job. And a
lot of times there weren't that many students. So I was fortunate to get a lot of private lesson
time with Mr. Pellegrino, and eventually became essentially his training partner. He took me up
to the Degerberg Academy and started introducing me to more of the people there. The next
thing I knew I was attending a lot of the seminars myself. Also, Mr. Pellegrino brought in a Kali-
JKD instructor, one of Dan Inosanto's representatives here in Chicago, to the American Martial
Arts Academy. His name was Ron Balicki. That was a great scenario, for me to be able to train
with a representative of Dan Inosanto right in the school that I was working at.
E. So you started at the American Martial Arts Academy when you were 14?
(Dion Riccardo with Ron Balicki)
E. And how old were you when you started to train with Ron Balicki?
D. I would have to say that it was about three years after that, at about 17.
E. Did you at some point become more directly involved with Dan Inosanto's way of
training? Was that through seminars?
D. It was through seminars. What happened was that Mr. Pllegrino decided to retire from
teaching and Ron Balicki and myself were left with all of teaching responsibilities. So I taught
many of children's classes, and Mr. Balcki was teaching the adult' martial arts classes. Of
course when he couldn't make it I would fill in for him. I guess you would say I was his protege.
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