A family that kicks together

Published 9:52 pm Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I’ve never thought for one second about being a martial artist or taking a martial arts class.

Someone could show me Okinawan Karate and call it Brazilian Jujitsu and I’d believe them. I wouldn’t know the difference.

I also know if I tried to kick a cinder block into pieces, I’d wind up with four compound fractures in my foot and ankle.

Email newsletter signup

But there is one thing I’ve come to admire in the people who dedicate themselves to practicing one or more of the versions of the sport, whether for some type of competition or not.

That one trait is easy to see and appreciate, even though I know hardly anything about what being a black belt truly entails. It is loyalty.

Jeff Bateman is a seventh-degree black belt. He’s still loyal to those who taught him, and the Okinawan Karate masters who preceded him and are among the few artists in the world more advanced than he.

Similarly, in nearly three decades of teaching to students in Hampton Roads, whether at his school in Hampton or during his many years in Suffolk, Bateman has been a guide for new students. In karate, by the way, “new” still seems to apply in a lot of ways to someone who’s been studying, working and advancing up the ranks for decades.

Rhett Kolipano came into Bateman’s school on the day that Bateman opened the doors of his business almost 30 years ago.

When Bateman tells the story, he glosses over or simply says he never thought to figure out how Kolipano came to stop in and ask about Okinawan Karate out of the blue. Bateman makes their friendship sound quite fateful in nature.

Rhett, or “Rabbit”, took long stretches away from Bateman and the sport, but returned, even if it meant going back to square one and relearning each class and each belt.

Kolipano and a number of Bateman’s top students are also teachers to those in the beginning stages. Knowing what it means to be a student and a teacher, and that you’re still a student even as a black belt, is part of being a martial artist.

Now Kolipano’s young son and daughter are in the same school, in the same classes. They are at Bateman’s school as a family many nights a week.

It’s not that a karate school is the only way this happens for a family, but in this case, it’s certainly an admirable way for a family to come together.