white belt beginners at two Dallas area YMCAs get their very first karate
lessons from a tenth-degree black belt. And if you dig through the history of
martial arts in America, you’ll find that their instructor, Keith Yates
(MA[BS], 1983), is a former champion, a nationally certified instructor, and an
inaugural member of the Texas Martial Arts Hall of Fame.
monthly columnist for Martial Arts Professional, Keith has been published or
featured in martial arts magazines such as Black
Belt, Inside Kung Fu, and TaeKwonDo Times, with over four hundred
articles and ten books under his belt, including a children’s story, Young Samurai. He also holds leadership
roles in several national martial arts organizations, including the Gospel
Martial Arts Union and Chuck Norris’s Kick-Start Foundation.
Yet Keith’s primary interest is teaching and training, evidence of which can be
seen in the seventy-three students who have earned black belts under him. In
fact he’s been teaching martial arts continuously since 1967, almost as long as
he has been a believer, and longer than practically anyone else in Texas.
Christians are concerned that the martial arts are all about Asian
religion,” says Keith, whose seminary
thesis sparked the publication of a tract, Martial Arts: Religion or Sport?
(available from the American Tract Society). “But after doing extensive
research in this area, I can confidently say that the vast majority of martial
arts simply teach fitness and self-defense. Still, if you’re concerned about a
particular instructor,” he adds, “find out his or her teaching philosophy. Even
better, be a witness of Christ.”
Keith, his ministry in the field of martial arts is simply an extension of his
full-time work at Dallas Seminary, where he serves as director of Creative Services
and Publications as well as teaches a class in publication design. But it is in
the martial arts where he has a unique opportunity to model Christ to
non-Christians. Rare among high-ranking instructors, Keith doesn’t push the
beginner classes or the children on to junior instructors. Instead he makes
time for each of his students, who range in age from six to seventy.
just seems to draw good people to himself. It’s a big difference from some of
the other schools we visited,” says Dr. Tom Pledger, who has watched his son
Drake train in karate under Keith for the past four years.
Although he didn’t know Keith was a Christian when he enrolled his son in the
class, Dr. Pledger quickly noticed Keith’s character and the climate he
of the instructors and senior students model gentleness and self-control—it’s a
great environment for my son,” he says.
any of the parents—Christian or not—to describe Keith and inevitably the same
words come up: goodness, knowledge, humility, patience. He strives to be a
kicking, punching, breathing model of 2
Peter 1:5–7 and Galatians 5:22—a touchable model of Christ in the gym.
of my faith in Christ,” Keith says, “I’ve been able to tailor my martial arts
as a method of more deeply relying on Him. For example during my daughter’s
battle with bone marrow disease a few years ago, the discipline, focus, and
single-mindedness required in martial arts helped me focus on the task at hand.
It was an overwhelming experience, during which I had to rely totally on the
or not one is involved in the martial arts, Keith believes its principles apply
to the toughest of circumstances—something everyone faces.
of the things that martial arts teaches beyond just ‘training hard’ is the
attitude of never giving up no matter how difficult the task might be. We call
that ‘indomitable spirit,’” he says. “I would say that is one of the greatest
lessons I have learned—and that I try to teach—from white belt to black belt
believer strives for discipline, not only in the spiritual life but even in
everyday activities,” Keith adds. “But that is hard to accomplish. Discipline
[in training] pays off in a tangible way and it encourages you to broaden that
to all areas of your life.”
Kathy Rhine (MA/CM, 1995),
wife of Greg (ThM, 1999), holds black belts in Taekwondo and Kobudo. A
lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, Kathy recently completed a tour in Afghanistan.