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Martial arts experts grow mustaches to KO cancer

Bryan Gotthoffer (l.-r.), Julio Arce and Matt Castillo show off their 'staches. Photo by Rich Bockmann
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A mustache has always signified something about the man wearing it, whether it be machismo, an ironic appreciation of 1970s styling or — ever since the ’stache-twirling villains of vaudeville — one’s nefarious character.

But in November, also known to the mustachioed as Movember or No Shave November, men don their Fu Manchus and handlebars to raise money and awareness for prostate and testicular cancers.

“Nowadays, mustaches are not as popular as they were in the past,” said Bryan Gotthoffer, head instructor at the Tiger Schulmann’s martial arts school on Bell Boulevard in Bayside, his upper lip covered with thick, light-colored facial hair. The sensei said his age was a secret around the school, but did admit to sporting a stylish ’stache in his earlier days.

The trainers and students at the martial arts school joined men across the world last month and registered with movember.com, a nonprofit that encourages men to “become walking, talking billboards for our men’s health causes — specifically cancers affecting men.”

According to the website, nearly 65,000 Americans raised $7.5 million last year for its health partners, the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Livestrong.

“You know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and you see the NFL players wearing pink, but about 30,000 men in the United States die from prostate cancer each year,” Gotthoffer said. “You don’t really hear about prostate cancer that much, unless it’s a high-profile case like [former Mayor Rudy] Giuliani. It’s important, though.”

Dr. Gerald Wang, director of urology at New York Hospital Queens, said prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among men in the United States and the second most-lethal after lung cancer.

“What’s important to know about prostate cancer is that it exists on a spectrum. Some is aggressive, some is not,” he said.

About 1,450 new cases of prostate cancer and 47 cases of testicular cancer were diagnosed in Queens last year. Wang said men at the age of 40 should start talking to their doctors about screening for prostate cancer. Testicular cancer is most prevalent in men 18-35 and can be detected by self examination.

Students, staff and others throughout the Tiger Schulmann’s organization reached out to their communities, and with mostly small donations they were able to raise about $11,000 for the cause, Gotthoffer said.

“Every little bit helped. We didn’t get there with just 10 people,” he said.

The sensei said that during his years in the health and fitness industry he has always stressed the need for men and women to take an active approach to maintain their health.

“I tell my students all the time: Eat right, work out, get the proper amount of sleep and get an annual checkup. These are the keys to preventative medicine,” he said. “You know, in the West, we practice curative medicine. You get sick and they give you medication or they cut you open or whatever. In the East, they practice preventative medicine.”

Gotthoffer said instructor Matt Castillo had the best ’stache in the school.

“Matt’s came out the best. By the first week he had a full moustache. It took a couple of weeks until mine came in fully,” he said.

Castillo, 28, said he had never had a mustache before and he had trouble getting used to tasting his coffee in it after his cup was empty.

Instructor Julio Arce, 22, the winner of last year’s Golden Gloves boxing competition, said a few people made fun of his mustache, but it was all in good fun.

“It’s all for a good cause, so I didn’t really mind,” he said.

And though a mustache can be practical in the cold winter months, no one who was asked planned to keep wearing theirs.

“No way!” Gotthoffer said. “It’s coming off tonight!”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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