Soke - Sensei Steve Yates
Steve was born on September 30th 1949, the son of a miner in Clifton, Nr Swinton Manchester. As a schoolboy he preferred individual sports rather than team events and at 14 was a schoolboy champion at pole vault. Steve says that in those days they used an aluminium pole which he could lift - being only 4'6" tall - however when he was selected to compete for Lancashire the school bought him a new fangled fibre glass pole which weighed considerably. (and he could hardly lift it) Steve was already going to Yoga classes to help with his flexibility and as luck would have it, the next class in the hall was karate. In those days there was only one major style called Shotokan and the deep powerful stances and explosive movements complemented his vaulting skills. However by the time he was sixteen a career had to be chosen, professional sportsmen were unheard of, even though he now had a second athletic event - javelin - throwing a javelin uses much the same muscularity as throwing a punch!!! He is qualified to instruct both pole vault and javelin with the Amateur Athletics Association.
He was apprenticed as an electrician and gained his H.N.C. in electrical and mechanical engineering and sad to say the Martial Arts training was put on hold. During this time Steve met and married Pauline the club secretary and started a family Steve jnr and Chris, he was also playing squash to maintain his fitness level. After a shock knee injury which required surgery (actually Steve is still on the waiting list to have this done after about 35yrs!!!!) a physio recommended building up the leg muscles to support the injury, and it was at the gym where Steve noticed an advert for a new style of karate. He went along to a demo to learn more, because the style - Shukokai - had been founded by a Japanese high school teacher who had studied the bio-mechanical applications of the techniques.
Steve decided that this was the system for him and rather than convert his Shotokan grade as some did he resolved to start at the bottom again. His sporting knowledge and previous training stood him in good stead and he was awarded 1st Dan within two years. It was inevitable that his sons would become interested but rather than teach them himself he sent them to study with a respected friend.
The next chapter starts with Steve beginning to teach to friends after his fitness training classes which he ran two nights a week. At this time Steve became involved with Bury's Sports development unit - although in its infancy a very far sighted team. The increased demand for his coaching abilities meant a decision had to be made and the family came down in favour of a full time sports coach ( Steve recognises that without their support he may not have survived the transition). He began to obtain the coaching qualifications that the development unit needed, Squash, Badminton, Tennis, Basketball. Lacrosse, Volleyball as well as outdoor pursuits B.E.T.A.!!!! Steve is now an examiner for the Greater Manchester Open College in sports leadership and a full member of the National Association of Sports Coaches.
Over the years Steve has coached thousands of people in a wide variety of sporting activity, and some of his proudest moments have come not from Martial Arts, although this remains his enduring passion, but from unexpected sources. For instance the club was involved in the Krypton Factor Charity event at Holcombe Brook army barracks for about ten years and for six consecutive years Steve and his sons and his sister were unbeaten in the mixed team event, but he is especially proud of the four lady shop assistants (two with extreme vertigo) who asked him to prepare them for the event, this he did and they came third in their section.
Steve has also been involved with Bury's entry in the annual Greater Manchester Youth Games for many years. But his best memories of the fantastic atmosphere he witnessed were as Bury's Team Leader, pushing a wheel chair athlete as they led out the parade of competitors at the G-Mex centre as part of Manchester's bid for the 2000 Olympics in front of the Olympic Committee and what seemed like the whole of Manchester.
The club had also grown as students opened their own branches and all branches of Seiken Ryu or Yama Arashi Ryu are exclusively taught in his more westernised approach with all the benefits that correct coaching methodology bring. With the encouragement of Bury's sports development unit Steve began to liaise with police officers and prison officers, youth and community workers with a view to providing a course of self defence instruction. This course was officially recognised for use in schools in 1993 and Steve is still the only professional Martial Arts instructor in the country teaching an externally moderated approved course. Due to the success of this course which has now been adapted and accepted for use by staff of child care centres and local government departments, Steve is hoping that some of his students can become instructors.
Seiken Ryu has also been featured on T.V. a number of times including winning the Busman's Holiday game show, they've appeared on Elton Welsby's Sport Northwest where reporter Paul Crone spent a day training with the squad and with Fred Talbot on the weather show.
On a visit to Japan to train with Sofue Sensei, Steve was intrigued to notice that in Japan there are very few specialist Martial Artists i.e. those who practice one art, karate for example. When he asked Sofue Sensei about this he explained that the original method of teaching was in the practice of Kata and within the Kata are all the skills necessary for defence. For true understanding of the content of the Kata it was essential to study all the arts of the Samurai, after all the Samurai didn't only practice Karate!!!! Fascinating to Steve was the fact that Sofue Sensei held grades in several disciplines and that his senior grade Karate student was actually a higher grade than Sofue Sensei in Ai-Ki Ju-Jitsu! Immediately Steve returned he sought out the instructors that Sofue Sensei had recommended and began to fill in the gaps in his understanding of the Kata. Steve has to admit that up to this point Kata practice had been boring but with the new skills they became a rich source of instruction. Although in Japan children are routinely taught Ju-Jitsu, Steve realised that the joint locking principles could be potentially dangerous to growing bones and so does not instruct his Ju-Jitsu techniques to juniors although he does try to explain the applications within the Kata.
Steve continues to study the empty handed arts of the Samurai and having received instruction from Toyoshima Sensei in Japan (Takeda Ryu Ai-Ki JuJitsu), started training in Yama Arashi Ryu in the UK. His intention is to continue to practice and hone his skills and present them in a modern coaching format to the widest possible audience. Steve says that in Japan everyone knows some form of Martial Art so there is very little violence because you never know what skills your adversary might possess ( how long this will continue with the increase in contact with the West no one knows) but the old maxim "those who desire peace should prepare for war" rings true in the ever more violent world in which we live.
There have been many people who have helped and guided Steve and he would especially like to thank these : - (in no particular order)
Kimura Sensei, Sofue Sensei, Toyoshima Sensei, Peter Constadine, Denis Casey, Kirby J. Watson, Henri Robert Vilaire, Tommy Kwan, John Bolwell and most of all the Seiken Ryu students for the inspiration they continue to provide.
Compiled from an interview for Traditional Karate.