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Starting all over again

HAMPTON – Brandon Moody completed a decade-long journey to earn his black belt in Okinawan karate two weeks ago.

Moody, 14, along with five more students at Jeff Bateman’s School of Karate in Hampton, all of whom are Suffolk residents or natives, received their black belt or were promoted to a higher degree of black belt Sunday, July 24.

A week before, Suffolk’s Shandan Kolipano, 5, competed in his first big karate event, the Commonwealth Games of Virginia in Roanoke, and won a gold medal and a silver medal.

Jeff Bateman, a seventh-degree black belt or Kyoshi, wasn’t sure how Shandan would do, especially in the forms division.

When Shandan won, Bateman had the joy of telling Shandan’s father, Rabbit, who was judging another division at the Games at the same time.

“We have pictures of Shandan in the bleachers just looking at the medal and he was saying ‘Sensei Susan (Bateman), I got a gold medal!’ With kids it’s great when they win a competition. It gives them motivation to keep going,” Bateman said.

Seven of Bateman’s students won medals in Roanoke. Every event his competitors entered resulted in a medal.

Moody won three gold medals. Dorhett Kolipano won a gold and two silvers. Austin Abrams won a gold, a silver and a bronze. Matthew Miller won two gold medals. Jessika Miller won a gold and a silver and Taylor Miller won a silver and a bronze.

Shandan’s at the beginning of the same path Moody’s still on. Moody, still a kid himself, knows a black belt is a great achievement, yet actually another beginning rather than a goal to stop with.

“There are 10 degrees of black belts and basically, it’ll take a lifetime. I’ll be working at it for the rest of my life,” Moody said.

Moody, Michael DeLucia and Nathan Luckado earned their first-degree black belts.

Rabbit Kolipano and his brother Brandon Kolipano were promoted to second-degree black belts.

Susan Bateman, Jeff’s wife, was promoted to a fourth-degree black belt, or the title of Shihan or master instructor.

Moody completed the physical test that goes with advancing for any belt. The required elements can be done in increments, but in all, it was a 5-mile run, 500 push-ups, 500 sit-ups and a total of 2,000 kicks for Moody.

The day was more memorable thanks to ninth-degree black belt Tadashi Yamashita being on hand to teach a seminar. Yamashita is Bateman’s master, one of the most-renowned Okinawan karate experts in the world and a movie star.

Yamashita put the six students through more tests during the day before making the promotions official.

“Emotionally, it can be really nerve-wracking when you’re performing and doing tasks in front of a man who’s a ninth-degree black belt,” Bateman said. “When I’m in front of him, I’m nervous. So it’s very hard for students.”

Yamashita usually makes one or two trips a year to Bateman’s school. On this trip, he flew into Norfolk in the wee hours of Sunday, got a few hours of sleep and “he was raring to go and on his toes,” Bateman said.

“I started doing this when I was really little. Back then, (Yamashita) was just some guy to me. As I’ve grown up though, now I know how important he is and who he is,” Moody said.

Moody started under Bateman at age five. His mom, also a student with Bateman, passed away shortly after he started karate.

“So we’ve tried to be a family, as much as possible, for him,” Bateman said.

Bateman spoke at his mother’s funeral and presented her with an honorary black belt. That belt is the one Brandon now wears.

The next evening at the school, Moody, who’s already been an assistant instructor for three years, entered the training room and all of the students bowed, as is proper custom for all lower belts to do for a black belt.

Moody left the room and came back in two or three more times, just to see everyone bow. Bateman brought him into his office and lectured him for a minute.

“You still have to behave in a way that’s worthy of respect,” Bateman said. “But he’s great with the kids. He builds their confidence up. He’s a great kid.”

Bateman said Moody understood why he spoke to him for a moment, at same time though, “Brandon said, ‘I’ve been waiting 10 years for this.’”