XENIA — D.J. Yates started learning karate when he was two years old. By the time he was five, he wanted to open his own karate school, just like his dad.
Thirty-four years later, he’s finally doing it.
Yates called his father, Doug Yates, his hero and inspiration.
Doug opened a karate school in 1976 and was D.J.’s first and primary karate instructor, even becoming his coach on a national karate team. In the 90’s, both competed and medaled together in karate at the state, national, and international level.
D.J. competed on the United States Olympic karate team from 1998 to 2004. He’s won several medals at international competitions. He’s been honored by Congress. But he called opening his school, D.J.’s Dojo, his greatest achievement.
All D.J.’s other accomplishments were about him. But last year, he realized that teaching karate is about others.
He was leading his father’s karate students in the Xenia Community Festival parade, as he did every year. As he led the team through the streets, he watched their bright faces. He looked at their blushing mothers in the crowd. He looked beside him at his eight-year-old daughter, Nyah, who grinned.
“It’s never been about me,” he realized. “It’s always been about those little kids.”
It became clear to him that teaching karate was a way to support a little boy with an unstable family life or a little girl who struggled to focus on things. It was a way to teach kids not only self-defense, but honesty, confidence and perseverance as well.
The parade was in September. Since then, D.J. has leased a gym on Second Street in Xenia, acquired the equipment necessary for a karate school, and is finishing getting his permits from the city.
He plans to begin teaching on Monday, June 22. He’s offering a “grasshopper” program for ages 4-6, a program for kids 7-12, and a program for teenagers and adults.
D.J started teaching in Doug’s karate school, Yates Karate, in 1997, and Doug said he has a knack for working with kids.
Doug remembered one 5-year-old Yates Karate student who was too afraid to participate. He came to class after class and just sat on his mother’s lap, watching. Finally, after months of this, D.J. convinced him to join the others.
This student went on to become a black belt and compete on a United States karate team in Canada.
At his Dojo, D.J.’s goal is to give all his students what he gave that little boy: confidence, self-esteem and the ability to set and reach goals.
D.J. said he learned how to teach karate from his dad.
When Doug teaches, D.J. said, it’s obvious that his focus is on the students and not on himself. He tries to build their self-esteem by showing them that they can do whatever they put their minds to.
Doug, who’s retired from teaching at his own school and now teaches at the Xenia YMCA, said that he teaches his students how to break up their goals. Instead of saying, “I want to become a black belt,” he redirects them to focusing on moving up one belt color at a time.
“What’s beautiful too about it is, along the way,” Doug said, “is the confidence and self-worth that the students capture.”
D.J. has adopted his father’s mindset, using karate to enhance the well-being of his students. Instead of aggressive teaching tactics, D.J. takes a passive approach and gives the kids the positive reinforcement they don’t always get at home. He guides his students but doesn’t belittle them for getting things wrong.
“You see these coaches and parents getting on the kids, and it’s just like ‘You know, she’s seven years old. How does she know?’” he said.
With D.J.’s Dojo, D.J. is realizing a lifelong dream passed down from his father to him.
“[My father] made a difference in the community,” D.J. said, “and it’s time for me to carry on that difference.”
Cedarville University student Madeleine Mosher is an intern for Greene County News.