It’s a Wrap

“Mat Monsters” and Canyon Elemntary School students Daniel Gatto (left) and Gabe Velado practice their moves at Gerry Blanck’s Martial Arts Center. Velado is the younger brother of former Palisades High wrestlers Carlos and Joseph Velado.
Photo: Steve Galluzzo

Aldo Juliano Teaches ‘Mat Monsters’ Wrestling Class at Blanck’s Studio

By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor

When one door closed, Aldo Juliano opened another one.

Amidst a swirl of controversy the former Palisades High wrestling coach was fired last season, but he didn’t let the setback quell his passion for teaching the sport he loves. Instead, he organized a youth-oriented program he named  “Mat Monsters” that offers beginner classes twice a week at Gerry Blanck’s Martial Arts Center.

“Frank Jasper (who played Shute in the 1985 movie “Vision Quest”) and I got some calls that some kids in the Village wanted to get into wrestling so they could go on to Palisades, Santa Monica and surrounding high schools to wrestle,” Juliano said. “So I talked to Gerry [Blanck], he loved the idea and said he had some time slots available to use the room here and I said ‘Let’s do it.’ We started two months ago and we’re still going strong and expanding.”

Former Palisades High coach Aldo Juliano (right) and reigning City 132-lb wrestling champion Aaron Galef watch their pupils’ technique in last Friday night’s Mat Monsters class.
Photo: Steve Galluzzo

The program has attracted kids as little as 5 and 6 years old but is also open to high school athletes—several of whom assist Juliano in demonstrating such basic moves as tilts and doubles to the enthusiastic youngsters.

“We’re trying to keep the instruction as basic as we possibly can,” Juliano added. “So we teach them how to shoot, how to sprawl and how to get off the bottom… things like that. It’s been fun.”

So far the average class size is 8 to 10 kids but Juliano said he’s had as many as 15 or 18 of various ages. Some of Juliano’s former wrestlers at Pali High help teach  the classes, including last year’s Post Cup Award winner Hamzah Alsaudi, a three-time City Section champion at 195 pounds who now attends Santa Monica College. Other former Pali High wrestlers who help Juliano include Chance Chapman, Joseph Velado and Aaron Galef, a senior who transferred to Birmingham over the summer upon learning Juliano would not be returning at Palisades.        

“I started off as an 8th grader and I always wanted to help out little kids because when I was that age I didn’t get the help I really wanted,” said Galef, a lifelong Palisadian who lives in the Alphabet Streets. “I had great coaches, but I didn’t have that person right beside me to help with everything I needed. I love being around kids  so I decided I wanted to give back to my sport and my community.” 

Lenon Ohara (left) grapples with “Mat Monster” classmate James Van Wagenen.
Photo: Steve Galluzzo

“I just like to help out the kids because this sport has given me so much,” Alsaudi added. “It’s good for them to have people with our level of expertise training them and hopefully that will help them improve.”

Galef started wrestling under coach Adam Hunter at Paul Revere Middle School while Alsaudi started as a 9th-grader at Pali High under Randy Aguirre, who founded the program with Juliano in 2011. It was Juliano who kept the Dolphins’ program afloat in the wake of Aguirre’s tragic death from brain cancer on January 8, 2015 at the age of 30.    

“The whole point was to keep Randy’s legacy alive,” Juliano said. “He put his heart and soul into this team and I didn’t want to see it get dropped. This is a continuation of that. I’ve got kids who have never been on the mat or maybe been on it once. Doesn’t matter. Whatever age they are, we’ll find someone close to their size and skill to wrestle. There’s no pressure­—everyone develops at their own speed.”    

Current Pali High wrestlers Eric Smith-Williams and Kyle Santelices also regularly attend the 90-minute classes, which are offered Fridays from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and Sundays from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at a price of $20 per session. To become a “Mat Monster” call Juliano at 310-428-3050 or simply go to a class, fill out the required paperwork and hit the mat.