Getting His Kicks
Danny Zanelotti’s extraordinary life and times
Danny Zanelotti used to be a member of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s personal protection detail. He is a U. S. Army veteran who saw combat action in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is a sergeant on the Shreveport Police Department’s airport detail. He can often be seen running through Shreveport’s South Highlands area in all sorts of weather during his daily workouts. He has been training in the martial arts for 30 years and holds black belts in taekwondo and karate. But he also recently wrapped up shooting a film to be entered in the Louisiana Film Prize competition this year.
You might say Danny Zanelotti has a full life. And there’s more.
This summer he will be one of 200 honored in Las Vegas in the 2019 Martial Arts Masters and Pioneers book release and inducted into the American Martial Arts Alliance Who’s Who Legends Award, the group’s highest award.
Zanelotti said he tries to incorporate the martial arts into every aspect of his life. He trains extensively at home, sometimes to the distraction of his girlfriend. He said he believes that continuous training makes for a better artist. He was 10 when he got into the martial arts. He grew up in South Buffalo, N. Y. The same three guys kept harassing him every day. His uncle said, come on, you need to learn some self-defense. After getting the basics down, the three bullies decided that messing with Zanelotti was not a good option anymore.
He said he didn’t go looking for trouble, but he wanted to make sure those bullies knew he could handle himself. His goal was not retaliation, he emphasized, but defense. That’s a philosophy he carries to this day.
Zanelotti said his martial arts discipline served him well in his stint in the military. He was stationed in Afghanistan in the United States Army and served on the protection detail for President Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, from Dec. 22, 2001, to Sept. 29, 2014. He also took and passed the grueling SERE training. SERE is a military acronym for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. The program trains military personnel, private military contractors and Department of Defense civilians in evading capture, survival skills and the military code of conduct.
While in the service stationed in Hawaii, Zanelotti trained under Master Paul Ortino, whom he considers a mentor and friend. Ortino also is the one who has recommended Zanelotti for the recognition he’s scheduled to receive in July. Zanelotti said his upcoming recognition is flattering, if a little embarrassing, but he thinks it is good that some of the most respected names in the martial arts have seen fit to honor him.
The purpose of the martial arts, he said, is primarily to defend yourself and others. He has continued his rigorous training regime for 30 years, not in air-conditioned dojos, but in hot or cold venues that, he says, make the training more intense and more beneficial. His attitude is that training is the most important aspect of the martial arts lifestyle, not achieving different color belts or rankings. He studied taekwondo in Korea, achieving his black belt in Seoul.
Pursuing a martial arts lifestyle is a personal decision. If you’re interested in any of the many forms of martial arts, Zanelotti says you should find the one that’s most comfortable for you. Otherwise, you’ll not pursue it correctly and put in the hours of training necessary to really incorporate it into your life.
Along the way, Zanelotti picked up the acting bug and has appeared in several films that have been recognized in the Louisiana Film Festival. He’s even written, produced and starred in his own film for this year’s competition. It’s called “Gambler” and is an action adventure film about a man pursued by Russians and law enforcement. He won’t get too specific about the film; he doesn’t want to spoil the experience for Film Fest attendees.
He got into writing films because he felt he was being typecast. “I was either a cop or a bad guy, like a serial killer. Whenever anybody read [a character description] of a shady guy, they said, ‘We gotta get Zanelotti.’” Zanelotti is planning to continue his film work. He’s already working on a series he hopes to develop. In the meantime, he’s studying Russian Systema, a form which developed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It’s described as the preferred style of the old Russian Spetsnaz. Teachers of the system claim their techniques originate from traditional fighting styles of the Cossack and East Slavic peoples and/or are derived from alleged secret techniques of Soviet special forces.
If you don’t see Zanelotti at the airport or jogging through South Highlands in wind, rain or sleet, you might see him on the big screen in an action adventure. Or maybe, he’ll be at home making his girlfriend roll her eyes when he practices punches while watching television.