The Force is strong with eight-year-old Ontario boy Savino Quatela, who is dazzling online viewers and the martial arts world with weapon skills he developed in part from watching Darth Maul in “Star Wars.”
Videos of Savino’s incredible precision with the bo staff have racked up tens of millions of views online, as the boy from Woodbridge, Ont., has rocketed up the North American sports karate circuit to become a world champion. Savino has placed second in multiple world tournaments over the last year, outshining many top competitors who are also several years older.
Savino’s father, Joe Quatela, says the boy has an incredible talent for studying other fighters on video and adding their skills to his own repertoire. That talent sets Savino apart from most of his peers, including older brother Matteo, 10, who also competes at world championship tournaments.
“There’s a lot of adults in martial arts in general that can’t do what he does,” Quatela said of his son, in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.
One of Savino’s earliest influencers was the acrobatic, double-bladed lightsaber-wielding Sith Lord, Darth Maul, in “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.” The villain, who is portrayed by real-life martial artist Ray Park, inspired Savino to focus his training efforts on the bo staff.
“He mimics scenes in the movies,” Quatela said, adding that he suspects Savino might have a photographic memory. “He picks up things at lightning speed,” he said.
Savino and Matteo have worked Star Wars into their training routine at home, where they have several lightsabers and a variety of Jedi and Sith outfits to use while they practice.
“Roleplaying is encouraged at my house,” Quatela said. “It gets them excited to do more and train on their own.”
Quatela said his boys have succeeded in their sport because they like to practice on their own, without being pressured or prompted to do so.
“You can’t just go to a class and do half an hour. You’ve got to do it on your own and you’ve got to want to do it,” Quatela said.
He adds that despite all the home swordplay, his boys never cross the line into fooling around or trying to hurt each other with their weapons.
“They don’t actually strike each other, even with their plastic lightsabers,” he said. “They do develop a different degree of respect for those things.”
Training a boy master of martial arts
Savino and Matteo got into martials arts by chance four-and-a-half years ago, during a trip to pick up pizza with their father. They spotted several people training through the windows of Pulse Martial Arts Academy next door, and were fascinated by the whole thing. Quatela decided right then and there to sign both boys for taekwondo lessons.
“They were watching Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles, so a chance to mimic it was appealing to them,” he said. “That’s where it started.”
He said Savino’s interest fell off for a little while because he was still very young and not accustomed to the structure of a dojo. However, that disinterest ultimately helped him build up muscle, because his instructors made him do push-ups when he showed a lack of focus.
“He’s the push-up champion,” Quatela said.
Savino’s interest in the sport really took off two-and-a-half years ago, when gym owner Emerson Wong decided to switch his curriculum to the weapons-focused art of sports karate.
“He said, ‘You guys want to train with weapons?’” Quatela recalled. “Their eyes lit up, they looked and me and I said ‘Sure, why not. I’ll get you a sword and a bo staff.’”
Savino now holds a black belt and has competed in 11 of 12 competitions on the North American Sports Karate Association tournament over the last year. Many of those competitions have pitted him against boys up to two years his senior.
Quatela says Savino loves the competition, but his long-term dream is to appear on screen, perhaps as a Jedi in a future Star Wars film.
“He would say, ‘I want to be on TV, I want to be in the movies,’” Quatela said.
And that goal is not so far away, the boy’s father says. Savino is already competing at the top level of competition for his age, and has gone up against kids who have appeared on “America’s Got Talent” and in the recent X-Men film “Logan.”
Quatela says he’s thrilled by the attention Savino has received for his skills, and hopes he will inspire kids to dedicate themselves to what they love.
“My guys were inspired by watching other young people do amazing things, so I’m hoping that he’s able to inspire other parents and young children.