Joe Calendino’s two cellphones ring non-stop as he barks out commands during an early-morning martial-arts class at Templeton Secondary School in Vancouver.
Calendino is a popular man these days. Clean and sober, the one-time full-patch Hells Angels Motorcycle Club member and martial-arts expert is taking 22 students through a 45-minute workout before they head off to class.
The phone calls, many from at-risk youth from around the Lower Mainland, go to his voice mail. He’ll return the calls later.
Calendino was a competitive kick-boxer who practised jiu jitsu and taekwondo and, more recently, tai chi. He is gruff, animated and tough, and his students seem to thrive on the no-nonsense workouts he does with them.
With his long, curly, greying hair tucked into a ponytail, Popeye-like arms, barrel chest and piercing brown eyes, Calendino looks like he just stepped off the set of the Sopranos.
“Stop letting your feet touch the ground,” Calendino bellows at one student as the class lies on the floor doing crunches. “What are you doing, man? Don’t let your feet touch the ground.”
About five years ago, life unravelled quickly for Calendino.