Bob Malvagno wanted to change your life. The martial arts grandmaster, who spent the majority of his life devoted to the spirt of self-defense, wasn’t much interested in how many belts a person could accumulate. No, the owner and namesake of Bob Malvagno’s School of Self Defense in Oakdale wanted to leave a person with more than just a trophy.
“It wasn’t just about self-defense,” said Malvagno’s son, Robert Jr., 44, of Oakdale. “He changed many lives, from people who [suffered from] drug addictions, to people with disabilities. We never did a lot of competitions or handed out black belts to kids that were 8 years old. It was a life’s journey. . . . It was more about how you grew in your life and your development than handing out a belt or a trophy.”
Malvagno died of liver cancer on Nov. 19 at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center in East Patchogue. He was 66.
Born in Brooklyn on Aug. 1, 1951, Malvagno grew up in Farmingdale and graduated from Farmingdale High School in 1969. He took up the martial arts when he was 8 years old and, by 16, he was teaching the art of jiujitsu. In his early 20s, Malvagno opened up his own school in East Islip where he created the American Kobe Jiu Jitsu Federation. He also owned schools and taught in Wantagh and Commack before moving the schools to Bohemia and Oakdale.
Malvagno was the only man known to bend a 15-inch machete on his chest with a man pushing it into him and two men on each arm. He preformed this for David Letterman and on television for Regis Philbin, Robert Jr. said.
Among his many accolades, Malvagno was inducted into the World Karate Union Hall of Fame as Grandmaster of the Year in 1996.
In addition to martial arts, a discipline that took up the majority of his time and energy, Malvagno loved classic Western movies and was a food connoisseur, eager to share a meal and good conversation with anyone he could find. He was so affable that friends and family took to calling him “The Mayor of Oakdale.”
“Anybody who had a restaurant wanted my dad eating there,” Robert said. “He brought the whole school down to a restaurant and loved trying different ethnic foods. He was such a social person. He wanted people around him to celebrate life. . . . If he went into your restaurant and thought your food was good, you had clients for life.”
Malvagno is survived by his wife, Angela, his son, Robert Jr., his daughter, Michelle Carucci, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Visitation will be held at Raynor & D’Andrea Funeral Home in West Sayville Monday 7-9:30 p.m. and Tuesday 2-4:30 p.m. and 7-9:30 p.m., with a religious service at 8 p.m.