Millbrae Teen Uses Karate To Fight Back Against Epilepsy



Millbrae teen uses karate to fight back against epilepsyGino Villeggiante refuses to allow his epilepsy define him, and instead uses the disability to help fuel his motivation for martial arts.
After four tries, the Millbrae native was awarded in May his black belt in karate, the expert certification in his training.
Villeggiante, 15, began practicing the craft roughly 10 years ago as a means of helping him cope with his seizures and the result has been the development of a passion which he believes will serve him for life.



“It has definitely taught me to stay focused,” he said. “And if there is something I don’t want to do, I just stick with it and do it. It has taught me discipline.”
Karate serves not only as a self defense method for Villeggiante against potential foes, but also against his disease, he said.
“Epilepsy is triggered by stress,” he said. “But karate really helps you not be stressed, helps you be calm and focused. We do lots of stretching too and that helps you relax and be stress free.”
His path to landing his black belt was not without challenges though, as he failed his first three initial attempts at the qualification, and has also had a seizure at the Dojo USA center in San Bruno where he trains.
Though he has battled epilepsy for years, Villeggiante said the experience of a seizure continues to be frightening and unpleasant.
“I’ve been having them all my life. I had one at the dojo. It was pretty scary. I didn’t know what was going on,” he said.
Typically in the days after a seizure, Villeggiante is subjected to a variety of tests and medical visits designed to recalibrate his prescription in an effort to fend off the next occurrence, said his karate mentor Peter Johnson, which can set back his training.
But only two days after his seizure during training, Villeggiante was back in the dojo, said Johnson, who cited the immediate return as a testament to his student’s hard work and dedication to excellence.
“I derive a lot of motivation from him,” said Johnson.
He said the symbiotic relationship formed over the guidance he offers Villeggiante in return for an opportunity to witness the power of his student’s commitment is fulfilling.
“That is what martial arts is about,” said Johnson. “It’s about fellowship that builds. It’s not one-sided. It’s a win-win or no deal. And learning to apply yourself like that makes the greatness come out of everybody involved.”
Villeggiante agreed his relationship with Johnson has been beneficial as well.
“He has helped me through a lot of hard times. He was there when I had a seizure and helped me relax and stay calm and be in the moment,” said Villeggiante. “He’s a really good person. And I feel like out of the dojo we can be best friends, but inside the dojo, he’s the teacher and I’m the student.”
The partnership infused through karate follows Villeggiante home too, as his older brother also holds a black belt.
The lessons learned through his pursuit of his black belt should continue to pay off, said Villeggiante, as he plans to get certification to work as an electrician once he graduates from Mills High School in Millbrae.
Centering his attention for a sustained period of time, a skill developed through karate, will ultimately serve him well in his preferred career, said Villeggiante.
“You have to be very focused on what you are doing and how you are going to do it and how you are going to perform it, if you want to do the job right,” he said. “Because you do not want to shock yourself.”
Looking forward, with plans to continue practicing karate, Villeggiante said he believes his goals are achievable through the lessons he’s learned while training.
“If you are feeling like you can’t do something, or you are unable to do it, you have to keep pushing through and you will eventually reach your goal,” he said.