As the town’s longest-running karate club mark their silver anniversary, News reporter Paul Thomson discovers how Jim Ross, the man who started it all in 1986, made the club what it is today
YAMAKAI Karate Club celebrate their 25th anniversary this year and it’s somewhat fitting that since the East Mains club’s inception they have spawned 25 Scottish Champions.
The success of those athletes and the many others who have taken titles across the country, and beyond, can be attributed to one man: Jim Ross, 6th Dan.
For it was Jim who set up the club in 1986 and who has strived to produce top karate fighters that can compete at the top level.
And he’s still as good at it today as he was when he started with the likes of young Lindsayfield brothers Greg and Marc McAulay, who are set to carry on Yamakai’s legacy into the next 25 years.
The duo have already competed at the European and World under-21 Championships and are consistent medal winners on the circuit.
With Jim preparing for a Yamakai reunion meeting in September, they are obviously not the first to benefit from Jim’s tutelage and they won’t be the last.
The club opened its doors in April 1986 in what is now East Kilbride Arts Centre before moving into what has become their home in the United Reformed Church, producing Scottish and British Champions as well as Scottish squad members – and more recently Jim has become part of the national squad coaching team.
But he admits he has someone else to thank for putting the Yamakai wheels in motion.
“In 1986 I was basically told by my then instructor Eddie Welsh it was time to do my own thing, open my own class,” Jim recalled.
“I hadn't even given it a thought. At the time East Mains had nothing for kids to do. I had been brought up in the area so thought maybe it could work.
“Our first hall was in the old East Mains house, which at the time was a youth centre and not very well looked after but we managed to survive until the school summer holidays.
“While the kids were off I looked for a new hall and by chance a friend put me in touch with Jean Monie of the United Reformed Church, who still runs the hall to this day, and we've been there ever since.
“We were one of the first clubs the church ever accepted that wasn't run by them and I have to admit I owe them a massive thank you as they have always been brilliant with us.”
When the club started Jim had not long gained his 3rd Dan. The club was part of two organisations, Eddie Welsh's Katsura which had clubs all over East Kilbride and Roy Stanhope's United Kingdom All Styles Karate Organisation (UKASKO), which was based in Manchester.
From 1987 through to 1990 Jim's club started to grow and the roots of success had started to show, with members winning medals at local events and also the Katsura internal competitions.
By 1991 Jim had changed the name of his club to Yamakai as he wanted his own identity within the UKASKO as his fighters were beginning to dominate their events.
Between 1991 and 1995 Yamakai won 24 association individual and team titles. Jim himself was the UKASKO Senior Male Scottish Champion in 1993 and he then won both the Scottish and British association under-75kg titles in 1994 as well as the Scottish association Kata title in 1995.
Meanwhile, Yamakai’s senior female team had won the Scottish team titles three years running (in 1993, 94 and 95) and the year Yamakai left UKASKO in 1995, the senior male team won the British association title.
Jim (pictured right) was clearly making a big impression on the circuit and during his time with UKASKO he was also the Scotland association coach, where he transformed them from whipping boys to the group's home nations champions.
By 1995 Jim realised that, in order for his competitors to improve, he had to gain access to the Scottish Karate governing body.
This would allow his members to enter the national karate championships as well as send fighters to national squad sessions.
The group resigned from UKASKO and Jim formed his own association with his three clubs of East Kilbride, Rutherglen and Strathaven being the start of what is now the Yamakai Karate Association, which also have clubs in Hamilton, Uddingston, Eaglesham, Moffat and, more recently, Blantyre.
In early 1997 the group was accepted into the governing body and that November the Yamakai squad attended their first Scottish championships, where they lifted two gold medals, 12 silvers and eight bronze medal.
“I'll never forget that championships,” beamed Jim.
“That for me was the day we announced we're here and we mean to stay and to come home with two national champions was something I never thought I could achieve.”
SINCE that turning point in 1997, Jim has produced over 100 black belts, 25 Yamakai members have won Scottish championships, nine Yamakai teams have won Scottish titles, four members have won British Karate titles and the junior male squad are current British and Scottish team champions.
On top of that, 10 members have won Scottish International Open golds along with one team. Marc McAulay won the Commonwealth Karate championship title, as did the boys’ 10-11 years’ team while Emma Boyle, who was part of the Scotland elite senior female squad, beat Canada to take gold.
Each year Yamakai members travel hundreds of miles attending tournaments north and south of the border, amassing over 3000 medals and trophies since the Association started.
At international level, five Yamakai members have represented Scotland at either World or European karate Championships.
Stuart Cameron and David Forsyth both attended the World championships in Cyprus and more recently Emma Boyle has attended one World and four European events, as well as being part of the Scottish squads at the Commonwealth and Grand Slam.
In the 25 years that Jim has been running the club he has seen some major changes in the sport.
The 48-year-old said: “When the East Mains club started you just found a hall, did some advertising and away you went – but not now.
“As part of the Scottish Karate governing body we now have to attain coaches’ licences, which involves attending seminars gaining First Aid qualifications, having enhanced checks done and having the proper insurance cover needed in case of injuries to students.”
But probably the biggest change of all for Jim is the training surface his classes are conducted on.
He explained: “We attended the Dutch Open Championships in 2001, which were conducted on jigsaw matted areas.
“I spoke to a couple of local Dutch coaches who said most clubs in Holland trained on these mats. That was it for me when we got home. I decided all my classes would be conducted on these matted areas and now I wouldn't even consider training on a wooden or concrete surface.
“For me it makes training sessions much more enjoyable for all concerned.”
And as he prepares for another 25 years, Jim is always welcoming new members, as long as they aren’t too young.
He said: “Most martial arts clubs now have kids from as young as three in their clubs. This is something I am totally against.
“I like kids to have at least one year's schooling under their belts. This builds up their concentration levels and enables them to last the full session.
“In doing this I am giving their parents better value for money, especially in the current financial climate. I have kids of my own who train and I know at three years old they were not ready to do karate classes.
“In my opinion, this practice is nothing more than a money-making scheme with no long-term plan.”
So where does Jim see his beloved club 25 years from now?
“I would like to think we would still be going strong,” he said.
“Will it still be me doing the pushing? That’s another question. I'm not far off 50 just now so I might be pushing my luck with that one.
“Maybe my own kids will take over, we just need to see.
“The good thing for the longevity of the club is that every generation seems to get better than the last.
“At present we have some really talented kids of all ages coming through, and when they’re seeing the present competitors winning national titles or being selected for national squads they want that glory.
“I'm always saying to the younger members that the McAulay boys started young, worked hard and are now reaping the rewards so it could be them one day – if they stick at it.”
To celebrate their 25th anniversary, the club is combining their annual fundraising race evening with a reunion party in the Royal British Legion Social Club in East Mains on Saturday, September 10.
Jim is hoping former students who keep in touch with the group’s success via the East Kilbride News will go along.
“It would be nice to see some old faces and reminisce about old times and successes,” said Jim.
“If any former member would like to go along we would be delighted to see them.”
Jim can be contacted about the fundraising evening or general karate enquiries on 01698 421790 or by e-mail at email@example.com