by Raywat Deonandan
This article was published in 1995 in the Winter edition of Black Belt Journal.
Despite a very busy schedule ‑‑a full‑time job, a family and many hobbies‑‑ Steven Yap is, above all else, a study in attitude and discipline. Canada’s lightweight karate champion in 1994 and recipient of the 1995 Masuko Cup sportsmanship award, Steve waxes philosophic on the activity he insists is “just a game”.
“I don’t get into the spiritualism and philosophy of the martial arts,” he says. “I know that that’s what attracts a lot of people, but I get my spirituality from my belief in God. Karate is a physical activity first and foremost, and hopefully any mental discipline or philosophical understanding comes from the physical training.”
Steve was first drawn to karate after having accidentally observed a class while jogging at the the University of Toronto. The challenging rigors performed at the behest of Sensei Tominaga ‑‑ himself a renowned contributor to Canadian karate‑‑ beckoned to the young Steve, and there was no denying the impulse.
“I knew that this was something that I could do, and it was something that I had the skills to be one of the best at. My goal from the start was to one day compete in a world championship, and I knew the steps I had to take to get there.” This touch of bravado and surety is surprising in a man who normally exudes nothing but charm, civility and humility. But this kernel of unshaking confidence would be the seed from which a champion would grow.
“To be a champion,” he says, “you need a touch of arrogance, but not disrespect. You have to be confident enough to know that you will win, while still respecting the abilities of your opponent.” As an assistant instructor at the University of Toronto dojo, he often tells his students to develop a favourite technique in which they can have absolute confidence.
He takes that confidence to work with him, as well. On the outside a soft‑spoken and amiable engineer, few would guess at the tempered paradigm of focus and preparedness at his core. “After performing kata in front hundreds of spectators, judges and opponents,” he says, ” I can go to work and give presentations without getting nervous at all.”
Steve is foremost a kumite champion, but is also ranked nationally for his excellent kata performances. He finished first in his kumite weight division (less than 60 kg) in last year’s National Championships, and placed 2nd in kata. This success no doubt had something to do with the bestowment upon him of the Masuko Cup, an award that Yap cherishes greatly. He sees it as recognition, not only for his own accomplishments, but for the excellent coaching given him by Tominage Sensei and other members of the U of T dojo.
But as many practitioners age, they often shift their priorities from kumite to kata, perhaps in recognition of its greater historical and artistic merits, or perhaps in realization of the greater potential for injury in dynamic kumite competition. Steve intends to follow this pattern, too, but not for the usual reasons. “I’ve been very lucky so far,” he says. “I’ve only been injured three times, and the worst was a broken nose.” This is surprising for someone whose feet and fists have represented Canada in three Pan‑American and one World Championship.
“When I was younger, I never considered the possibility of getting hurt in tournaments. But as I get older, I’m more aware of the possibility, and sometimes this affects my focus. But usually I forget the fear as soon as the fight begins.”
“I’ll probably be too old to compete in the Olympics, if karate ever makes it there,” he says. “But I think one day I’d like to coach and to have my own club.” Proper teachers with healthy social attitudes have always been critical to the development of the martial arts as instruments of lifestyle. “If your intent is to learn how to hurt people, then that’s all that you’ll learn unless the sensei is good enough to show you more,” he explains. “We’ve been very fortunate to have Sensei Tominaga, someone who can keep things in perspective. He can channel his student’s aggression in a more positive light”.
And what about Steve? Can he keep his martial abilities in perspective? “Actually,” he says, “I think I’m quite harmless.”