Filmmaker and Martial Artist Danny Zaino: “In this industry without goals you will only be spinning your wheels”

Yitzi Weiner
Sep 29, 2019 · 17 min read

To thrive in this industry you have to treat it just like any other job. If you’re not getting paid for your work, you should at least have your expenses to include travel, lodging, and food taken care. But that should only be in the beginning when you are trying to get experience. Eventually you need to get paid for your skills. This is your job now. You wouldn’t work at any other profession without getting paid. In regards to not burning out, you need to stay focused on what you are doing and make goals. Without goals you will only be spinning your wheels. You need to surround yourself with positive people who are actually making it. You also need to make it fun especially since there is so much competition in this industry and a lot of rejection. In other words find a way to enjoy the ride. And when you do finally make it you have to be able to give back and help someone else that is struggling to be able to find happiness and success in the industry.

had the pleasure to interview Danny Zaino. Born August 2, 1960 Danny Zaino, originally from Long Island New York, is a noted actor, producer, TV/radio host and hand to hand combat fight choreographer for the motion picture and television industries. Danny is a professional martial artist with over four decades of dedication to the industry currently holding the rank of “Kudan” (9th degree Black Belt) and is the Founder of the American / Japanese & Okinawan GoJu-Ryu Karate & Kobudo Federation. Excelling in sports throughout his school years to include wrestling, football, and baseball Danny began his martial arts career in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, in 1976 at the age of 15 with the local YMCA. Danny was a natural and gifted athlete and received the “Presidents Award” in High School for outstanding athleticism signed by President Nixon. Dabbling in the arts of Kang Do Kwon Tae Kwon Do and GoJu-Ryu, Danny began serious training after High School when he joined the United States Army as a Military Police Officer in 1979. While stationed in Korea on the DMZ he studied the art of Moo Do Kwon Tae Kwon Do. After a 12 month tour in Korea he was transferred to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he joined the United States Army Karate Team studying the art of Japanese GoJu-Ryu. During this time Danny competed and performed extensively on the international level. Upon completion of his Military service in 1982 Danny became a Florida Police Officer and earned the title of “Kumite (fighting) Champion” at the Florida Police Olympics in 1985. During his extensive martial arts career Danny has produced over 50 plus Black Belts under his tutelage producing numerous State and World Champions to include martial arts actors. Among his many students Danny also taught his wife Theresa and three children Tony, Joey, and Dominque Zaino who are all accomplished martial artists and State / World Champions. From 2000–2008 he ran one of the top martial arts competition and performance teams in the United States sponsored by Pepsi Americas called National Team Pepsi “Show Team” (now “Team Americas”) known for their unique and entertaining performances. Danny has been recognized by his peers numerous times and is the recipient of many Hall of Fame Awards to include: 1994–2007 — “Promoter of the Year” for his Battle of the Arts National Martial Arts Championships, 1997–1998 — “Outstanding Martial Arts Weaponry” for Innovative Weapon Design for his creation of the “Pure Warrior” Sports Tonfa for competition, 2002–2007 — “Coach of the Year” for his National Team Pepsi “Show Team”, 2006 — “Outstanding Show Team Award” National Team Pepsi “Show Team” awarded by famous martial arts actor YK Kim, 2009 — “Demo Team of the Year” Team Americas, 2012–2016 — “Outstanding Contribution in Publishing and Media Coverage” for his MASBTV NETWORK “Martial Arts Show Biz TV, Radio & Magazine”, and 2018 — “Goodwill Ambassador to the Martial Arts” for his years of dedication to the arts. Danny Zaino served in the United States Army as a Military Police Officer from June 13, 1979 to June 12, 1982. He served on the DMZ in Korea from October 18, 1979 to October 14, 1980 during the time of the assassination of South Korean President Park Chung-hee, the Gwangju Uprising (Massacre), and the Iran Crisis. He is the recipient of the Korean Service Medal. When his tour in Korea ended Danny was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas where he became a member of the United States Army Karate Team performing numerous demonstrations throughout Texas, Oklahoma, and Mexico as a recruiting tool for the United States Military. Danny was honorably discharged and to this day is an advocate for the PTSD Program for traumatized combat Veterans and their families. Danny was honorably discharged and to this day is an advocate for the PTSD Program for traumatized combat Veterans and their families. He is the owner and operator of his own production company Living The Dream Productions which produces the digital media publicity & promotions company MASBTV NETWORK home to Martial Arts Show Biz TV, Martial Arts Entertainment Radio, and Martial Arts Entertainment Magazine. His latest accomplishments include “The Road To Hollywood” MASBTV 7 Show News Season filmed in Los Angeles / Hollywood and San Francisco, California, New York, New Jersey, Georgia, and Florida; “Hard Core Cooking” with Danny Zaino where the audience will learn to cook traditional Italian and American dishes to include slap stick comedy routines with plenty of action and stunts; and the making of the documentary film “Born To Compete” — The Zaino’s which is a 10 year project in the making, still in the pre-production phase to include a book which will be released to the public first by MASBTV Hollywood Publications.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

grew up as an Italian-American. I was raised in a very disciplined and religious household (Catholic). My Dad was from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, a very tough neighborhood. My Mother was also from a similarly intense neck of the woods — Harlem & Corona, Queens. My parents eventually moved to Long Island, New York where I grew up but we constantly visited the city and hung out with all the relatives in the basements. As a child I used to play in the sewers in front of my house. They had these huge trenches that went down about 20-feet in the ground. I know it sounds crazy and scary, but I promise you, I had a blast. We would also play a game called pitching pennies. There where so many fun simple fun things to do in the old days including dirtball fights. It was just a really active neighborhood. It was ethnically Italian, Irish, Jewish, and Polish. I loved growing up there. There was nothing else like it. Fashion was big time in New York City, so I always loved to dress up sharp and get decked out in nice clothing. There were a lot of gangs, but they were always cracking jokes. It was kind of like living around a bunch of comedians. I’ve always been told that I’m a great entertainer and I like to make people laugh and enjoy themselves. I have also always had great athleticism, which has helped me in coordinating fight scenes in action films, live action acts, and light comedy skits.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was an athlete star in New York. I played football, wrestling, weight lifting, and baseball. When my parents decided to move to Florida, I was pretty upset. I lost all of my recognition in athletics that I worked immensely hard for in New York. I also had a hard time fitting in in School. My heavy New York accent didn’t go over too well in the South. I quickly found myself working harder than the average person because of the upbringing that I had, which seemed to be completely different. Our customs were also very different and I didn’t put up with anybody’s garbage. I was brought up that way. That’s why I truly believe karate was a perfect fit for me. My mom had suggested I join the local YMCA Karate program where I could fight legally. The discipline it taught me was a great way to harness my anger and frustration and the competition end of it I believe is what made me a stronger person in this career path. After High School I joined the United States Army. It was a tough time because it was the end of the Vietnam War era which I had watched on television as a kid and was very terrifying. You watched it like you were watching cartoons. I was proud to be an American soldier and protect this great nation of ours. They sent me from boot camp straight into the DMZ, Korea. It was a hardship tour full on conflicts, with spies coming over the border. I was in charge of guarding tunnels to help infiltrate civilians to safety. After Korea I was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas where I joined the Army Karate Team. It was a very competitive team and we competed and performed throughout Texas, Oklahoma, and Mexico. I loved performing in front of the audience. This is where I know the entertainment bug hit me.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The most interesting thing that has happened to me was when I met Hollywood Stunt Legend Kim Kahana Sr. for the first time. Kim Kahana was Charles Bronson’s stunt double for over 20 years and now has a 100 acre stunt school in Groveland, Florida which he transplanted from Los Angeles, California over 20 years ago. I had previously done a radio show on him for my network and decided to drive to Groveland, Florida to meet him in person to pitch my documentary film in regards to him possibly coming on board with it. I took my wife Theresa and 3 kids Tony, Joey, and Dominique along with me. Now everyone who goes to the Kahana Stunt School for the first time gets lost and it wasn’t any different for us. When we finally made it there we were amazed as it was like being in a time machine going back to the golden age of Hollywood Westerns. His home is like a museum of who’s who in Hollywood with pictures of everyone he had ever worked with. Frustrated and exhausted from the ride and getting lost, Kim Kahana and his wife Sandy graciously welcomed us into their home, but at that time he wanted nothing to do with my film. I later found out it was nothing personal, just that everyone pitched their ideas to him on a daily basis and he didn’t know us from Adam. He did however immediately zone in on my children because he said he hadn’t seen a family like ours in years, so disciplined and polite. We ended up joining his stunt school and the rest is history as I now am an instructor there teaching hand to hand combat fight choreography to the students and for the productions that continuously come there for the motion picture and television industry.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake that you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson that you learned from that?

The funniest mistake I made I believe is when I first started filming my cooking show “Hard Core Cooking” with Danny Zaino and my documentary film “Born to Compete”– The Zaino’s. I was new at this and we had just bought some new camera and sound equipment that we were unfamiliar on how to use. After filming for about a year and a half we found out that the lavalier mics were not hooked up right and after all that filming the sound was completely off so the footage for the show was useless. In regards to my documentary film we discovered that the main camera was on the wrong setting for the first two years of filming so in that situation we were only able to use some of the footage. Another funny incident I would like to add is when we got hired to film behind the scenes in Hollywood, California for an independent martial arts film. We went to eat breakfast at the hotels diner and had our cameras with us which we put underneath the table while we were eating. When we left the diner and went back to our hotel room we completely forgot about the cameras. After about three hours when we were back in our room we suddenly realized the cameras were not with us. In a panic we rushed like mad animals back to the diner with our hearts in our throats racing a mile a minute. To our surprise when we looked under the table by the grace of God the cameras were all there.

I think that you always learn from your mistakes whether the outcome is good or bad and I have learned so much over the years from our mistakes in this industry, the obvious here being to practice first with new equipment before you use it and to be more aware of where you place your valuables. With that said, don’t be afraid to make mistakes because learning from them makes you a better, stronger, and wiser person.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects that you are working on now?

I would have to say some of my own projects. As we speak I am working on Episode two of “The Road To Hollywood” MASBTV 7 Show News Season produced by Living The Dream Productions on the MASBTV NETWORK . “The Road To Hollywood” is a reality based news show interviewing famous stars and celebrities and was seven years in the making filming in California, New York, New Jersey, Georgia, and Florida. I am also working on “Hard Core Cooking” with Danny Zaino. This project has been a dream for several years and is finally coming into the light. You can view the promos for the show on the network as we are still in the pre-production phase with the show. In one of the upcoming episodes I will be teaching people how to turn their ovens into a ‘pizza oven’ right in their own kitchens and I will properly teach the audience how to make dough, sauce, and various pizzas. Besides cooking, the show will include slapstick comedy, stunts, and entertainment in which the entertainment community will be involved. As a kick off to the show I was fortunate to be able to appear as a guest on Joycelyne Lew’s cooking show “Cooking In with Joycelyne” on Amazon Prime filmed in Hollywood, California, where I prepared a traditional Italian meal of sausage and peppers on a sub role.

From your personal experience, can you recommend three things that the community/society/industry can do to help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

Number 1 — More recognition at the award shows for the stunt industry to include more categories for the stunts and the individuals involved in doing the stunts. In obtaining experience for being a fight choreographer at a professional stunt ranch on a professional set, I personally feel this is a must. The stunt community is really an industry of professional and sharp-minded individuals and they preach safety, safety, safety. They aren’t “daredevils”, they are stunt professionals. It’s a very dangerous job and movies, TV shows, etc. cannot be done without them.

Number 2 — Equal pay and roles for everyone (gender or race) in the industry. I don’t believe anybody should lower their standards to be on the producer’s couch, or be pressured into anything unethical to be able to get hired or receive better pay. I have personally been on sets where I overheard this taking place. A person should be hired on their experience and skills alone.

Number 3 — Hiring someone for a project because of their knowledge and experience no matter where they come from. I have personally experienced East coast and West coast rivalry. We all have something to contribute to this industry. It should be about the person and their knowledge and experience, not where they come from.

On a final note I would like to say that even the best of the best needs improvement sometimes. But I love this industry dearly and I want to be a part of it for the rest of my life.

What are your “5 things that I wish someone told me when I first started”, and why? Please share a story or example for each.

#1 — You will hear no more times than yes. If I had known this I wouldn’t have gotten so nervous about going on auditions and so disappointed when I didn’t get the role. I would have treated it more like any other job and prepared myself better for the competition and doing the best I know I could do instead of getting all upset and depressed for days.

#2 — Always storyboard your entire project before you film. Knowing this would have prevented a lot of headaches and would have made filming and editing a whole lot easier. In the beginning when filming my cooking show we pulled our hair out of our heads when it came time to edit and the project took way longer than needed.

#3 — What makes a good headshot and resume. If I had known how to do this properly I may have landed more projects in the beginning. One time my whole family went to an audition down in Miami. When we handed in our head shots and resumes the casting director, who seemed a bit stuck up took one look and snickered at mine saying “You could use some photo shopping”. It was humiliating to say the least and we didn’t get hired.

#4 — Most families don’t support acting or working in the business as a job. I experienced this first hand since I was originally a tile and marble contractor by trade. My family treated my love for the industry just like they treated my love for the martial arts as if I was just playing. It wasn’t a real job to them. This hurt me because I don’t have any support from them in regards to the industry. I learned after talking to many people that more than not, most people in the industry seem to experience the same issues.

#5 — This is a reputational business. I learned this first hand when I was first trying to get work or get help on a project I was doing. In this business if they don’t know you they won’t hire or work with you. I struggled for the longest time for many years with this especially when it came to my own projects. But now with perseverance, hard work, and proving myself by putting out good projects more and more people want to work with me and I am finally making legitimate connections in the industry.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them thrive and not “burn out”?

To thrive in this industry you have to treat it just like any other job. If you’re not getting paid for your work, you should at least have your expenses to include travel, lodging, and food taken care. But that should only be in the beginning when you are trying to get experience. Eventually you need to get paid for your skills. This is your job now. You wouldn’t work at any other profession without getting paid.

In regards to not burning out, you need to stay focused on what you are doing and make goals. Without goals you will only be spinning your wheels. You need to surround yourself with positive people who are actually making it. You also need to make it fun especially since there is so much competition in this industry and a lot of rejection. In other words find a way to enjoy the ride. And when you do finally make it you have to be able to give back and help someone else that is struggling to be able to find happiness and success in the industry.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Yes I am very grateful for Kim Kahana Sr. who is one of the most famous stuntmen in the history of this industry. Kim is my mentor and teacher. He has taught me so much about this industry it’s absolutely amazing. From the time I first stepped foot onto his stunt school grounds I was learning and I have never stopped learning, and never will as long as he is still alive. He taught me everything from the correct way to film a scene to how to conduct myself on set. If there was something I didn’t know, which was pretty much everything at that time, Kim, or “Master K” as everyone likes call him, taught it to me. I will always and forever be grateful for his knowledge but most of all for his friendship.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Missed Opportunities”. The reason why I am always quoting “missed opportunities” is for this simple reason: If you truly want to make it in this industry you truly have to love the industry and be willing to do whatever it takes to make it. You need to be willing to bite, claw, outsmart, and show up earlier than everyone else. You have to be willing to work long hours and know your craft. Never lie about something that you can’t do, that’s the easiest way to get kicked off a set. You have to be hungry one hundred percent of the time and be willing to go at a moment’s notice. You must always look like a celebrity (100%). I say all this because if you are not willing to do any of these things you will definitely miss out on opportunities. And that one opportunity could be the one that gets you where you want to be in this industry.

Don’t let people tell you “Good Luck” with that. There is such a thing as luck, but in this industry most of it is pure hard work. Make sure you educate people along the way, especially when you’re doing something successfully worthwhile. But remember to be humble. The ride of success is a really exciting ride, but don’t forget when you make it to be nice to your fans, the people who pay your paycheck.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

The one person I can think of that I would like to spend some time with the most would be actor Robert DeNiro. I think the reason why is the fact that I am an American / Italian originally from New York and I just no he would be a “pisser” and a lot of fun. My father hung out in little Italy in the City and he reminds me of my New York culture “crazy”.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram pages:

Danny Zaino —

Facebook pages:

Danny Zaino “Crave It Hollywood” —

Danny Zaino “Born to Compete” —

Martial Arts Show Biz TV Radio & Magazine —

The Road To Hollywood Casting —

Hard Core Cooking with Danny Zaino —

Celebrity Promotions —

Living The Dream Promotions —

MASBTV Hollywood Action Actors Company —

Zaino Kahana TV —

Martial Arts Show Biz TV Payperview Network US / UK / AU —

American / Japanese & Okinawan Goju-ryu Karate & Kobudo Federation —

Action Entertainment Talent Agency —

LinkedIn pages:

Danny Zaino —

Twitter pages:

Danny Zaino —

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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