A trip to the Rising Sun

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 14, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Thousands of karate students and instructors all over the world dream of someday visiting the dojo of Grand Master Matayoshi, one of the premier karate artists the world has ever seen. For a group of students from South Hampton Roads, the reverie became a reality. Pupils, senseis (teachers) and the renshi (highest instructor) from Jeff Bateman’s School of Karate in Suffolk visited Okinawa and Kyoto, Japan in late October to visit the dojo, train on the beautiful beaches of Okinawa, and get acquainted with a culture that helped start the martial arts so many centuries ago.

Accompanied by Master Tadashi Yamashita, one of Bateman’s mentors, the students pulled into the Land of the Rising Sun just before Halloween. &uot;We went on a boat ride, and we passed all of these little islands,&uot; recalls Bateman, who proudly proclaims that he took over 1,000 photographs and 12 hours of videotape during the trip.

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Heading onto the Okinawan beaches, the first thing that Bateman’s stepson Jeremy Hall noticed was a huge pile of coral laying on the sand. &uot;It was hard to keep from stepping on it,&uot; says Hall, who tested for his black belt at age 12 at Hampton’s Buckroe Beach. &uot;The sand was a lot thinner than the ones around (Virginia), and we kept sliding in it. It was harder, but we got a lot out of it.&uot;

After the students and their teachers trained under the sun for an hour, their instructors asked if they were hot. &uot;They let us go into the water,&uot; Bateman says. &uot;When we were in up to our waists, they told us to do punching drills. We did that for a while, and then backed up a little farther.&uot;

Now chest-deep in the waves, the students performed several blocking exhibitions. With smiles stretching across their knowing faces, the instructors soon told them to back up. When they could hardly keep their heads above the salty wetness, they were told to do kata (forms).

&uot;They told us, ‘OK, are you ready?’&uot; Bateman smiles, &uot;We said yes, and they said, ‘OK, go have some fun!’&uot; Relieved, the students frolicked in the waves.

The next day, they headed to the dojo itself, the home of Matayoshi, Yamashita’s master (the grand master died several years ago). &uot;For us to even be able to go there and train was a honor,&uot; Bateman says. &uot;There were nothing but old weapons everywhere.&uot;

Hall was anxious to try them out. &uot;There was a big rack of bos and nunchucks,&uot; he says (Hall calls the bo stick one of his most effective weapons during demonstrations). &uot;I don’t think nervous is the word for what I felt. It was such a huge honor.&uot;

But the &uot;arts of martiality&uot; wasn’t the only reason for the Far East trip. &uot;We went shopping at this place called, ‘Kociso Dori,’&uot; Hall says. &uot;There were tons of food and novelty shops there. You could buy Japanese clothing, like dresses.&uot;

Communication was a bit of a problem as far as language went, however. &uot;I can say, ‘Thanks,’ and ‘You’re welcome,’ in Japanese, but that’s about it!&uot; Hall laughs. He brought home a sword.

The group may take another trip overseas in 2005. Hall can’t wait. &uot;I was sad,&uot; he says. &uot;I didn’t want to come back.&uot;