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Decorated Marine officer becomes member of exclusive fight club

By W. Thomas Smith Jr.

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Col. Steven B. “Steve” Vitali, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.), was inducted into the South Carolina Black Belt Hall of Fame (SCBBHOF) during ceremonies at the Anderson (S.C.) Recreation Center prior to the Marty Knight Karate Tournament, Sat. Apr. 1, 2017.

A Columbia native, Vitali became the 17th member of the SCBBHOF, which also includes older brother Keith Vitali, ranked one of the “10 best fighters of all time,” according to Black Belt magazine.

The younger Vitali – a career Marine officer – says Karate and the Marine Corps have been his two life-passions. “They were vessels of enlightenment, oases of adventure, and passions which inspired a strong sense of esprit de corps among fellow warriors,” says Vitali. “I experienced this both in the karate arena and while serving in the Corps.”

A decorated veteran of both wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Vitali served as senior advisor to the 201st Afghan National Army Corps as well as commanding officer of the 201st Afghan Regional Corps Advisory Group. Throughout his 35-year career in the Marine Corps, he has served as an infantry officer, plans and operations officer, assault amphibious vehicle officer, and logistician. His nomination and ultimate inclusion in the SCBBHOF was based largely on the combination of his “outstanding decorated service” in the Corps and “his commitment and achievement” in the martial arts.

“Steve was a highly rated competitor in the ‘70’s,” says brother Keith. “And he recently received a ‘Living Legend Award.’”

In 2010, Vitali was named to the living legends list; officially the Sport Karate Museum Living Legends Past and Present of Sport Karate 1946–1999.

“As a martial artist for over 40 years and an athlete, it upsets me when people in sports are called heroes for throwing a touchdown pass or dunking a basketball, when right here, in our midst, stand the real heroes,” says Mike Genova, pres. of the SCBBHOF. “They are the men and women and their families who serve our country: quietly, proudly, and with honor. I am honored to know one of these real heroes, Marine Col. Steve Vitali.”

The Vitali family is a Midlands-area karate dynasty to be sure. Vitali’s younger brother Ricky, also an accomplished martial artist, is owner and chief instructor at Lexington, S.C.-based Vitali Family Karate.

Since its inception in the 1980’s (officially founded in 2012), the SCBBHOF has become one of the most-respected karate halls of fame in the nation. In addition to SCBBHOF president Mike Genova, the directors include “karate greats” like Keith Vitali, also Sam Chapman, Bobby Tucker, Bruce Brutschy, and Marty Knight.

“I was fortunate to have trained and competed on the national stage with fellow friends, competitors, and mentors in a great period of American Karate history where the legacy of the South Carolina Karate fighters were so renowned that they were the envy of the nation,” says Vitali. “To now be considered among them as a fellow inductee into the South Carolina Hall of Fame and to have been also recognized for my military service is a great honor.”

The S.C. Black Belt Hall of Fame is headquartered in Columbia.

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