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Karate Teacher Celebrates 20 Years in White Plains

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Toshindo Karate
Toshindo Karate has been training aspiring martial artists for the last 20 years.

For 20 years, Don LaMattina has been teaching kids not just karate, but valuable life lessons they can use to better themselves.

LaMattina runs Toshindo Karate on Maple Avenue in White Plains, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. The karate school was supposed to open on June 29, 1992, but LaMattina’s daughter was born that day, pushing back the opening to July 5.

LaMattina was a schoolteacher prior to opening the school, having done martial arts since 1966. In a down economy, LaMattina was substitute teaching while running the karate school.

“I’ve always wanted to teach,” LaMattina said. “I love teaching kids about discipline and having a no-quit attitude. I always stress taking care of yourself and not doing drugs and alcohol. It’s important for them to hear that as much as they possibly can.”

The shihan, an 8th degree black belt, believes in setting examples for the kids. The kids see how well LaMattina spars and how he takes care of himself and learn the value of hard work.

LaMattina’s assistant, Rowan McClain, grew up without a father and lived in the projects, yet made a good life for himself, spending his childhood at LaMattina’s school.

“He tells the kids that he knows people who are in jail or dead, they died using drugs or in a drug deal gone bad,” LaMattina said. “I’ve had a lot of great kids, a lot of my kids have become black belts and have come back and told their story. Some have gone onto Ivy League schools and accomplished a lot. They are not just sitting on the sidelines. They have all worked hard and reached goals that are not easily attainable.”

LaMattina seems to relish working with kids who most need his help. He has worked with kids with attention issues, kids on medication, special needs children and kids who just are not coordinated.

“We try to work with them and be real patient with them,” LaMattina said. “The kids tell you how they always get picked last for kickball and people argue over who has to take them. It’s humiliating, it breaks your heart to hear it. I tell the kids that was yesterday, this is today.”

One of his biggest success stories was a kid who used to trip and fall whenever he walked and who after six months was doing spinning kicks and three minute fights. Unfortunately his father lost his job, and though LaMattina offered to train him for free, he took his son out of the school.

“It was so important to me that he comes here,” LaMattina said. “The money is meaningless, I’m going to be teaching other kids. It’s a family school, you see kids get really good and they are like your kids. I tell them that the economy will come back and you can pay me when it gets back. I always feel strongly about kids coming back to train. We try to help them as much as we can.”

Having been born and raised in White Plains, LaMattina has seen the changes the city has gone through, and the urban renewal and development that has occurred.

“It’s a great city,” LaMattina said. “All three of my girls went to White Plains High School and they all did great. The city has a lot of opportunity for you to better yourself in so many ways. There’s a lot going on.”

One of LaMattina’s enduring messages is that the kids are not allowed to have the word quit in their vocabulary.

“You’re going to forget how to spell and pronounce it,” LaMattina said. “We don’t know the word quit. Never leave yourself down, always come back fighting. Life throws you a lot of curveballs, you’re going to have to fight to get better.”

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