Team brings home medals, memories

Published 9:50 pm Friday, August 12, 2011

Students from Jeff Bateman’s School of Karate won 18 medals at the Coventry Commonwealth Games of Virginia in Roanoke. From left, Shihan Susan Bateman, Alejandro Madrid, Shandon Kolipano, Dorhett Kolipano, Sensei Rhet Kolipano, Jarod Riggle, Sensei Brandon Kolipano and Kyoshi Jeff Bateman were the team.

HAMPTON — Once Kyoshi Jeff Bateman and his karate students got to Roanoke and the Coventry Commonwealth Games of Virginia, they had a great time. His team even brought home 18 medals from the Games to go along with the fun.

The team from Jeff Bateman’s School of Karate left along I-64 on a Friday, expecting the normal four-hour trip and arrival in Roanoke in time for the opening ceremonies of the Games and to participate in a karate demonstration that evening.

An accident backed up, then closed, the interstate. One of the vehicles, driven by Rhet “Rabbit” Kolipano, blew its transmission.


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“It took 10 hours for us to get there,” Bateman said, about the one good vehicle left.

Everyone missed Friday evening’s activities. Kolipano finally pulled into Roanoke around midnight.

Brandon Kolipano, Rhet’s brother, got into Roanoke at 3 a.m., after having to work until Friday evening, got a couple hours of sleep, and was ready to compete at 7 a.m.

It was a tournament Brandon wasn’t going to miss, though, as it was his first time competing as a black belt.

Brandon, who grew up in Suffolk and now lives in Virginia Beach, has been a karate student since 1983. He started training under Bateman in 1999. He was promoted to a first-degree black belt in August 2007.

“I’m working three jobs and have a baby and a wife in Virginia Beach. I come here Mondays and Wednesdays. I try to get here as much as possible,” Brandon said.

“It was very stressful,” Brandon said about the Games. “There’s no room for mistakes when you go against another black belt. Everyone’s there to win, not to play.”

Brandon won silver medals in the weapons and fighting classes.

Brandon, now a second-degree black belt, is both a student and a teacher. Even Bateman, a seventh-degree black belt and one of the foremost experts of Okinawan Karate in the country, considers himself still a student.

“You want to give back what you know. It’s a way to give to kids or younger students and you’re giving back to the school,” Brandon said.

“It’s all part of a lineage,” Brandon said. “Now I’m able to be in the process of teaching other students this system.”

Christopher Sparks, 8, and Jarod Riggle, 9, competed for the first time in any event at the state Games. Both won two medals and both kids learned from the pressure of performing their best in front of a big audience.

“It was a huge crowd,” Christopher said.

“I was really focusing on what I had to do. It was exciting,” Jarod said.

“Christopher, he gets so excited and starts going so fast, sometimes he messes up,” Bateman said. “But he did a great job. Everyone who went was great.”

“Then we were in the pool until 10 (p.m.),” Christopher said.

“We always make sure the hotel has a pool. It’s an important criteria for the trip every year,” Bateman said.

“I’ve promised myself I’m going to work harder and do a lot better. I’ve got to work to get where Chris is. He’s faster than I am,” Jarod said.

Jarod had to tell his dad about the tournament and his medals over the phone as he’s overseas on a mission trip.

Rhet, who lives in Suffolk, comes to Bateman’s School three evenings a week or more with his son Shandon and daughter Dorhett. All three won medals.

Bateman has a large contingent of students from Suffolk as he had a school in Suffolk until 2008. Rhet’s studied under Bateman going back to 1984 and the first day Bateman opened his school in Hampton Roads.

Rhet was diagnosed with diabetes last year. Bateman said it changed Rhet’s life a lot, in and out of karate, with lost weight, different diet requirements and differences in how he can exercise and train.

Bateman’s taught in the area for going on four decades now, so he’s well into the time when his family is made up of many actual families, such as the Kolipanos.

“We’re definitely a family here and it’s a lifestyle,” Brandon said.