Olympia High Assistant Principal Nick Zambri is a fifth-degree blackbelt, a world champion power breaker and recently became the owner of his own gym.
If one is looking for an outward indicator that Nick Zambri, an assistant principal at Olympia High School, is a taekwondo master and champion power breaker, it’s there — but it’s subtle.
The clues that Zambri, 53, is a fifth-degree blackbelt who can break cement with ease, as well as a martial arts performer who is as comfortable lying on a bed of nails as he is breathing fire, can be found in simple interactions.
His polite demeanor, his emphasis on respecting others and following protocol are all reflective of a martial-arts lifestyle that Zambri said has served him well over the years.
“(Taekwondo has) taught me to be respectful to everybody, all the time,” Zambri said. “It gives me a servant attitude. What it does for me that makes me happy, is it makes me handle myself in such a way to where, you don’t have to earn respect from me — I give respect to you. It’s all about my self-respect.”
Zambri is in his 10th year as an assistant principal at Olympia, where his responsibilities include everything from facilities and maintenance to teacher assessment and helping pilot the school’s special-education offerings.
The New Jersey native has been in education for three decades, dating back to the 1980s, after he graduated from the University of Central Florida. During his career, he has worked for Orange County Public Schools, Seminole County Public Schools and also for charter schools. Zambri achieved his master’s degree in education in 1995 and moved to the administration side of the profession.
He also has spent a decade of his career working specifically with special-education students, and Zambri’s passion for education, he said, is motivated by a desire to help youth enjoy getting their education and feel wonderful while doing so.
“I want kids to love school,” Zambri said. “I’m very lucky to have this job. … I get to sell kids a better life.”
Of course, all of this is what Zambri likes to call his “straight job.”
In addition to working 50-plus hours a week as an educator, Zambri recently opened Breakwando Martial Arts in Longwood, near his residence in Altamonte Springs. It’s the latest occurrence in a lifelong journey in martial arts that dates back to when Zambri was 19 and took up kung fu. When his kung fu instructor left in 1984 to follow Van Halen on tour and never returned, Zambri — who swam and wrestled for Lyman High School — transitioned to taekwondo and never looked back, earning his first black belt in 1989.
“Chuck Norris was very big back then, and we were just kind of looking for something to do,” Zambri said.
Zambri’s involvement in martial arts has changed throughout the years, from competing in power breaking to a period where he was an editor and marketing director for Martial Arts World Magazine.
The longtime educator, who has six children (including stepchildren) ranging from age 5 through 38 and seven grandchildren, said he did not get serious about power breaking until he was in his 40s.
Since then, though, he has seen incredible success — from holding a world record for most concrete patio blocks broken with a stomp within 60 seconds to a handful of world championships to regularly competing as a professional.
In a roundabout way, Zambri said, his advancements as an educator ultimately led to his championship career as a power breaker, noting that his master’s degree opened doors in martial arts, too.
“It’s given me the opportunity to do world championships,” Zambri said. “If I didn’t have a master’s degree in education, I never would have directly worked as an admin in martial arts, and when I worked as an admin, I wanted to show how good I was as a martial artist. Otherwise, why would you listen to me as a martial artist?”
Zambri, who still serves as a regional director for the USBA/WBA in Florida, said the discipline is about having a servant’s heart.
Not only that, but Zambri said he has enjoyed passing the craft down to his family — three of his adult children have black belts, and his 9-year-old son can safely break cement — as well as his students over the years, at least 12 of whom have went on to become black belts.
“It can’t be just about me,” Zambri said. “What I enjoy the most is watching other people be successful in the martial arts.”