National Team Pepsi
An American ICON in the Martial Arts
The driving force behind National Team Pepsi is found in head coach Danny Zaino and his love for the martial arts. As a child he was continuously involved in competitive sports such as wrestling, football, baseball, and karate from the early age of 14 to present. When he was in his last year of high school an army recruiter convinced him to join the service and with his interest in the martial arts he requested to be stationed in Japan and to be a member of the Army karate team. As it turned out Japan was not available and he was sent to Korea instead where he studied Moo Do Kwon Tae Kwon Do.
The duty station after that was El Paso Texas where he was stationed on one of the biggest army basis, Fort Bliss. On the base there were two martial arts clubs and Danny picked the Japanese one which traveled around Texas and Mexico competing and performing martial arts demonstrations. This is where his experience and love for performing came about. The Army then began paying him for his travels throughout Texas and states such as Oklahoma to compete and perform at various high schools there and to convince students to join the military. After he left the military in 1982 he moved back to Florida where his family resided and in 1983 he met his wife Theresa and began training her in the martial arts.
In 1988 they got involved in throwing martial arts events and at that time had a good amount of karate students throwing karate demonstrations every chance they got even though their team was inexperienced. The Zaino’s have thrown 30 martial arts events to date and have brought in such greats to perform as Jimmy Pham, Mike Chaturantabut, Adam Faldetta, and members of Team Paul Mitchell. Any martial arts super stars they could get their hands on and afford to pay they brought in. Before these super stars would perform Danny would always have his team open up the show which would annoy the stage managers who would try and convince him not to do this. Danny was quick to remind them that it was his event and he continued to have his team opening up the show performing 3 to 5 acts each time. His plan began to pay off as the more he did this the more experienced his team became.
The turning point came about when Danny’s father passed away on February 1, 1999. Reflecting back to when the martial arts super stars of his day were such greats as John Chung, Michael Bernardo, and Charlie Lee, Danny decided to try something new by enrolling him self and his son Tony into Mike Chaturantabut’s “Camp Chat” being held that summer in California. With the birth of extreme martial arts on the rise Mike Chat was the top trainer at that time and his camp had something to offer not only to world martial arts champions but to novices as well. Tony who was only 9 years old at the time was the youngest in the camp as Danny was the oldest. The camp was run comparable to a military boot camp. You were woken up as early as 6:30 am with intense work outs that lasted until 11:00 pm, including three square meals each day. It was also very exciting as Mike Chat brought in a colorful line of trainers like the Alfa stunt team (Ninja Turtles), various acting coaches, and members of the Ringling Brother’s & Barnum & Bailey Circus. This camp is where Danny first learned about the proper drills for performing and how each act must be timed if you want to run a great show. Mike would carry a stop watch on him throughout the camp and would time everyone’s act making sure everyone did not go over the time allotted for the show which was going to be the fantail of the camp being held on the US Open Night of Champions stage. After 5 days of intense training everyone got on a plane and flew to the US Open ISKA World Championships in Orlando, Florida where they competed and performed on stage at the night show. It was a great success and an experience Danny would take to the heart as he, Theresa and their three children Tony, Joey, and Dominique continued their training as a family unit at the 2001 and 2002 camps held in Orlando, Florida, and with Joey and Dominique training again in 2006. Danny also hired world champion Adam Faldetta who was a student of Mike Chat’s to train his children privately for two years as Danny, himself attended every martial arts seminar possible to perfect his craft. Originally Danny had a small involvement with Coke who gave him a small sponsorship for his team.
When he attended his 20 year high school reunion he met one of his classmates there Scott McDullen who at the time was working for Pepsi Palm Beach/Ft. Lauderdale. Scott convinced Danny to come over to Pepsi stating that they could do much better than Coke. At the Zaino’s 24th Battle of Florida Night of Champions show Danny had his family decked out in Pepsi uniforms as a thank you to Scott McDullen and the Pepsi Cola Bottling Co. It soon caught on like wild fire and the Zaino’s were bombarded with phone calls around the state with competitors wanting to join the hottest new team around the United States.
Team Pepsi was born in 2000 and consisted of 80 team members total throughout the United States. The team hit every competition venue possible within the next two years dominating the tournament scene and clobbering rival teams in their path. As Danny was reaping the rewards of his popular team he would soon learn that glory comes with a price and that price was financial and logistic nightmares. As we have always thought of martial arts to be revolved around honor such was not the case with Team Pepsi. Danny soon learned the under handed and shifty business that takes place amongst rival teams when rival coaches will do anything in order to obtain a team member who was on top. Then there were the coaches, karate instructors, and organizations who were upset because their top students wanted to leave them to be part of the team. Danny would always stress that they needed to get permission from their instructors or coaches but that did not always happen. Most of the time they would lie to get what they wanted and that was only half the battle. Parents of the team members were worse. It was always a, me, me, I, I situation never thinking or realizing that there is no ‘I” in team. Some of the team coaches even went so far as to take advantage by putting members on the team without permission and than demanding benefits such a free equipment and when they couldn’t get their way they would pull them from the team. Trying to plan a demonstration with the team was even more impossible. Everyone wanted to be the star. Members with the most talent wouldn’t want to share their talent and some coaches wanted to get paid for every practice. Finally the breaking point was when coaches took members behind the Zaino’s backs and formed their own teams. This is when coach Zaino started to analyze some of the top teams in the United States and came to a decision to run the team on a smaller scale. That worked for a couple of years but he soon ran into the same problems on a smaller scale. Finally one day Danny called John Sharkey who runs team ATA/Evolution out of Chicago and asked his advice. John Sharkey had a lot of experience in these matters being Mike Chat’s and Mat Mullin’s (Side Swipe) teacher. He advised Danny that he only needed to run a team of 7 to 10 members and that the team should consist of members mainly from his own school. Danny took his advice and for the past 2 years Team Pepsi has consisted of members only from Zaino’s Martial Arts Gym including Danny & Theresa’s own talented children Tony, Joey, and Dominique. Everyone on the team has at least 10 years of martial arts experience and the team is sought after around the country performing at Martial Arts Hall of Fames, tournaments, and at various entertainment venues. Team Pepsi has turned into an icon in the martial arts having its own corporate / national sponsor “Pepsi Amercias” with Pepsi representative Adam Chernow, T.V./ Magazine sponsors “FightZone Magazine & T.V.” & World Martial Arts online Magazine, Radio sponsor “Action Radio” (www.actionradio.net) and equipment sponsor Ringstar, Inc. owned by 5 time world champion Steve Shepherd. Team Pepsi is a unique team and is always on their game whether they are performing, competing, kick boxing, or involved in radio and T.V. One of the benefits of having a great martial arts team is that it opens the doors for a lot of opportunities that you normally would not get just by running a regular team. A lot of greats were discovered by doing karate demonstrations such as Bruce Lee, Ed Parker, Bart Vale, etc. If you go back and research some of the great karate personalities of our time you will realize that they got their fame and fortune in the beginning by performing and competing in some form of demonstration or competition.
America was built on dreams and the team members of Team Pepsi are reaping the rewards of their fame. If anyone is thinking of starting up a martial arts team go for it and reach for the stars. They are reachable and don’t let anyone tell you that it is a waste of time and that you can’t. The more and more you perform and compete, the better you will get and the better you get the happier you will be.
CLICK TO CONTINUE