Shihan Heller and His Karate Apprentices

March 16, 2012
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For sixteen years, the 8th grade English teacher, Mr. Thomas Heller, has been coaching the Holy Cross Karate team. Greeted by traditional Japanese music and a strong-scented candle, I recently caught up with him on a Tuesday morning in his homeroom.


Some falsely believe Mr. Heller was the first person to bring Karate to Holy Cross. “No, it was Harold Clark, a religion teacher,” explained Heller as he sipped coffee from his mug. “But I did bring hand-to-hand fight here.”


Mr. Heller’s interest in Karate dates back to when he was five-years-old, when he says he started a style of Karate that involved weapons. One reason that he still loves Karate is that he can simply practice it for much longer than other sports, such as football, baseball, or basketball. In his spare time, he also enjoys scuba diving, biking, and climbing.


The Holy Cross Karate team has won over forty World Championships. Both Logan Field and Robby Slicho, members of the class of ’13, finished in first place in the 14-15 Young Boy Sports Chanbara in Dallas this summer. “I’ve always had a great passion for Karate,” said Field, sitting by the picnic tables. “Mr. Heller has taught us many values in life that tie into Karate.” Slicho added, “Mr. Heller is such a great teacher and a great instructor; I haven’t seen him fail in teaching someone to be great in Karate.”


Mr. Heller is confident that his apprentices will come out of the Holy Cross Karate team as changed young men. He has the title above Sensei called “Shihan,” which means that he has taught students Karate that are now instructors and teach students of their own. “I earned my Sensei title when I was close to ending my college career. I earned my Shihan title just about five years ago when we were on 4950 Dauphine St.,” said Heller. His very first student at Holy Cross, Ryan Lee, who received the very first black belt from Mr. Heller on the old campus, is now a medical doctor and still goes to Heller’s Dojo in Metairie every week. Mr. Heller stated that if a student wanted to go far in Karate, he has to trust his gut and follow the technique he was taught.


In October, the team traveled to Ruston to compete in USKA World Karate Championship. In the 16-17 year-old division, Logan Field placed first, Robby Slicho placed second, and Ben Piazza placed fourth. Ronnie Cantin placed first in the 14-15 year-old division.





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