After losing his mother and moving to a new town at a young age, Mike Ross had a tough time adjusting to his new life.
The then 11-year-old boy didn’t know anyone, didn’t have any friends and didn’t have much self-confidence. This lasted for just a short time, however, because Ross found something that changed his life.
“I moved to Tooele in 1976 and that’s when I started karate,” he said. “It was tough for me. My mother passed away when I was 9, and I moved to Tooele when I was 11. I didn’t have any friends or know anyone. Karate pulled me out of my shell and really gave me the self-confidence I needed.”
After beginning karate, it only took Ross about seven years to get to the point where he could start teaching it as well. He began teaching in 1983 after training with Japanese Sensei Kiyoshi Yamazaki. Ross is now a third degree black belt. “I met sensei in about 1981,” Ross said. “He began coming here because our [karate] school at the time was rearranged. We went with his style of karate. I was impressed with him because he has the same philosophy as me and he is a world champion.”
The style of karate taught is called shindo jinen ryu. This style was founded by Yamazaki’s sensei, Yasuhiro Konishi.
Training is conducted in the traditional Japanese method, stressing discipline, consistent attendance, etiquette and hard work. The purpose of training in shindo jinen ryu is to develop the whole human being, physically and mentally.
“It combines traditional karate, aikido, jujitsu and kendo,” said Ross. “The unique thing about his style is it’s one of the first styles that would train with other styles. A lot of traditional styles are very closed and don’t like other styles coming in. [Yamazaki] likes to pull the best from each style and learn from them.”
Ross now co-teaches a local karate class with his wife, Michelle. The class is part of an international organization called Japan Karate-Do Roybu- Kai. The class has around 35 students who range from 5 to 50 years old.
“Our class is very traditional,” he said. “There’s a lot of discipline involved and it can be hard for kids sometimes, but there are so many rewards that come from it. So many kids come in shy and quiet and you just watch them blossom. It makes it all worthwhile.”
Ross, who is a lieutenant for the Salt Lake City Police Department, said teaching karate is not something he does for the money — it’s something he does because he loves it and loves helping kids gain confidence. Yamazaki visits Ross’ classes each year, which are held at the Tooele National Guard Armory, because he is the chief instructor for the Japan Karate- Do Roybu-Kai organization. He oversaw three different karate classes for the Ross’ over the weekend, and took pictures with and signed belts for the students in the class.
Yamazaki is originally from Tokyo, Japan, where he began training in the martial arts around the age of 10. He is now 73 years old and is an eighth degree black belt. In 1956, he joined Konishi’s dojo and earned his first teaching license for karate in 1962. Eventually, Yamazaki was asked to assist Konishi in demonstrations and seminars worldwide.
Since then, he has been the chief instructor for all countries outside of Japan and Brazil. In the U.S., he has authority over all Japan Karate-Do Ryobu- Kai schools except for those in Washington and Oregon. Yamazaki lives in Anaheim, Calif., and owns a dojo there. In addition to teaching at his dojo, he maintains a busy schedule supervising and developing schools of Japan Karate-Do Ryobu-Kai.
Ross said it means a lot to have his sensei come visit his karate class each year. Some of his younger students were nervous for him to come teach their class, but once they met him, they enjoyed having him there, said Ross.
“There’s no substitute for 50 years worth of experience,” he said. “I can see for a lot of the kids that it will click when he’s here. I learn a lot from him and see how he’s instructing and I pull that in. It means a lot to have him here.”
Ross said when Yamazaki left Tooele, he had trips planned to England, Bahamas, Venezuela and Australia.
“He trains people all over the world, so we’re lucky that he stops here once a year to train us,” Ross said. “For me, teaching karate is an opportunity to give back to kids. This experience is important for them and helps them to come out of their shells. I know, because I was right there with them [when I was a kid].”