By VERENA DOBNIK
The Associated Press
Sunday, January 28, 2007; 2:53 PM
NEW YORK -- On TV, Michael Imperioli honors the godfather. Off-screen, he bows to a martial arts grandmaster.
The 40-year-old actor, who plays the heroin-addicted, hothead mobster Christopher Moltisanti on "The Sopranos," says he owes his clean new real life to tae kwon do teacher Tae Sun Kang, who also trains Imperioli's wife, Victoria, and children.
"I was in terrible physical shape. I smoked a pack a day," he said. "Tae kwon do has transformed our family in body, mind and spirit. It has changed us as human beings."
He gave up cigarettes after taking up the martial art four years ago. His wife, their sons David, 9, and Vadim, 5, and a 16-year-old daughter from Victoria's previous marriage, Isabella, take classes from Kang at his school in Tribeca, the Manhattan neighborhood where the Imperiolis live.
Tae kwon do also has changed Imperioli's acting, he said.
"I have more focus, concentration, confidence," he said. "Tae kwon do teaches you that you can overcome any obstacle, that you can tackle anything."
On Saturday, the family honored Kang with a big bash in a small off-Broadway theater run by Imperioli and his wife because Kang attained his 9th degree black belt _ the highest rank in the kick-and-punch Korean martial art.
These days, Imperioli is busy shooting new episodes of "The Sopranos." He won an Emmy in 2004 playing the perpetual screwup Christopher, Tony Soprano's nephew.