Karate ‘giant’ visits Suffolk school

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 22, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Master Tadashi Yamashita is certainly a giant in martial arts. A ninth-degree black belt, he’s trained artists all over the world in the sport, and worked with such Hollywood legends as Bruce Lee. Yamashita has been featured in feature films such as &uot;American Ninja,&uot; &uot;Rising Sun,&uot; and &uot;The Game.&uot; But when Evan Robertson found out that the Master was giving a lesson to Evan and the rest of the students at Jeff Bateman’s School of Karate, he took the &uot;giant&uot; term just a bit too literally.

&uot;I expected him to be a lot taller, just from hearing about how magnificent he was,&uot; said Evan, a student at Forest Glen Middle School. To his surprise, Yamashita stands roughly 5’8&uot;, only slightly higher than the 12-year-old.

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As the lesson progressed, however, Evan discovered that Yamashita’s heart, mind and discipline are much larger than his physical stature. &uot;I would not want to mess with him!&uot; Evan said after Yamashita spent a session showing Bateman’s youngest students a set of drills and katas (forms). &uot;He was awesome. I’d like to be as fast as he is.&uot;

After watching some of Yamashita’s drills on videotape, Michael Bauder could hardly believe his eyes. He watched Yamashita walk across blades without showing pain, hand-chop apples in half that were on a sword without cutting his hands, and reach into a birdcage, grab a tiny bird in his fist, slam the fist through three boards, and put the bird, completely unharmed, back into its home.

&uot;It was kind of like working with a superstar,&uot; said Michael, 9. &uot;He inspired me a lot. He taught me some blocks and complexes (sets of moves). He was actually really gentle with the children.&uot;

Working with someone as well-renowned as Yamashita can turn instructors (or senseis, as they are referred to in karate class) back into students. When working out with Yamashita, &uot;You find out how little you know,&uot; said Dan Haber, a second-degree black belt who has been teaching with Bateman for six years. &uot;It’s very humbling when you see someone with his level of dedication.&uot; After working with the children, Yamashita instructed the adult students before putting on a weapons display (he also took time for photos and autographs).

&uot;Martial arts are part science and part art,&uot; Haber said. &uot;It becomes art when you make it your own and teach it to others. That’s what he’s done.&uot;