Remember: it’s through basic techniques that we learn how best to use our weight and speed, that’s why basics are the most fundamental part of Karate practice.Walter Seaton
A true pioneer of Karate in the United Kingdom, Walter Seaton was one of the first instructors to teach Karate to women at his Middlesbrough dojo. Described by his students as an inspirational instructor, he was among the first Wado-ryu black belts in the UK.
Walter Seaton was born in Middlesbrough in 1936, three years before the start of World War Two. Seaton, like most young men in the 1950s, did National Service, serving with the 1st Battalion of the Green Howards for two years. He left the army in 1957.
The army had provided Seaton with hard physical training, something he missed in civilian life. He felt a little unfulfilled as he had not found a suitable substitute for the armies hard training. Two years after leaving the army he finally found what he had been looking for in the shape of Yoseikan Karate.
A friend had told Seaton that Judo was being taught at a local community centre. The night he went to the centre a Karate class was in progress. He liked what he saw and became a member of the Middlesbrough Karate Club in 1959. The club, affiliated to the British Karate Federation (BKF), was under the instruction of Fred Kidd. Kidd had previously attended a course run by Vernon Bell and was later taught by Tetsuji Murakami on his visits to the UK from France, on behalf of the BKF.
Seaton continued training with Kidd and then Murakami. By 1962 he was helping Kidd with teaching at the Budokan Karate club in Middlesbrough. During this time they allowed women to train at the club. They were one of the first clubs to do this. A young Pauline Laville started at the club. She would go on to become the first woman graded to 1st Dan in Shotokan Karate, in the UK.
In 1962/63 Tetsuji Murakami stopped visiting the UK due to a disagreement with Vernon Bell. This was a blow to Seaton and Kidd who had loved Murakami’s hard no-nonsense style of training.
Between 1963 and 1964 the great Wado-ryu master, Tatsuo Suzuki, travelled around the UK performing a series of demonstrations. Seaton attended one of these demonstrations and was impressed by what he saw. After some discussion with Kidd, it was decided that the Middlesbrough club would switch styles from Shotokan to Wado-ryu. This did not happen straight away. In fact, Seaton continued practising both Shotokan and Wado-ryu for about three years. He would go on to earn a JKA 1st Dan on 5th May 1968.
Suzuki opened his London dojo in 1964 and this became the centre of Wado-ryu practice in the UK. Students would travel from around the country to practice at the dojo.
In 1965 Seaton and Kidd were among the first group of men to be awarded their 1st Dan by Suzuki, in the United Kingdom. In the same year, Seaton was given the honour of captaining the first English Wado-ryu team in a competitive match against France. The English team included Roy Stanhope, Trevor Overfield, Tommy Morris, Peter Spanton, Martin Scott, Danny Connor and Brian Crossley. In his match, Seaton fought the great Dominique Valera. The following year Seaton captained the English team at the European Wado Championships. The team won two bronze medals.
Teaching Karate was always a passion of Seaton’s. In 1967 he opened his first dojo at the Jubilee Ballroom in Stockton, North East England. A year later the club moved to the Tilery Sports Centre, where it remained for many years. In the same year, he performed a Karate demonstration in front of the Queen Mother at the YMCA in Stockton.
Seaton’s Karate training went from strength to strength. In 1970 he was awarded his 2nd Dan. He also began to take an active interest in tournament refereeing, attending courses and seminars.
1973 saw Seaton awarded his 3rd Dan. The same year he became General Secretary of Tatsuo Suzuki’s United Kingdom Karate-do Wadokai (UKKW). The following year he was tasked with helping organise the European Wado Championships held in Thornaby, Cleveland, England.
Unfortunately, in 1975 Seaton resigned from the UKKW due to internal politics within the organisation. Together with his wife, Eva, he formed the Karate-Do Wado-Kai Club. At the time he was the only Dan grade in the association. However, as time went by he was joined by other like-minded Dan grades.
Always looking to improve his Karate, Seaton had the opportunity to train with some of the best Wado-ryu masters living outside of Japan. Apart from Suzuki, he trained with Masafumi Shiomitsu, Kuniaki Sakagami, Katsumi Kobayashi, Tadayuki Maeda, Teruo Kono, Toru Takamizawa, and Okimitsu Fuji.
In 1986 Seaton, alongside Dan grade, Leo McDermott travelled to Tokyo, Japan. They spent two weeks training at Nihon University’s Wado-ryu Karate dojo under the instruction of Katsumi Kobayashi. Seaton regarded this as the hardest training of his life. Training would start at 6 o’clock in the morning and finish at 9 o’clock at night. Typically, foreigners gave up after two to three days. However, Seaton trained for the entire two weeks he was in Japan. The Japanese were greatly impressed by his spirit and attitude. Kobayashi even invited him to teach at his dojo.
Seaton continued teaching Karate into his sixties. He retired from teaching in 1999. By this time, he had been ranked to the grade of 7th Dan.
On 6 September 2016 Walter Seaton died aged 80 years. A family man, he and his wife Eva had six children, twenty-two grandchildren, 32 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.
Walter Seaton was one of the first Wado-ryu black belts in the UK. He taught and inspired many students, in the art that he loved. He was one of the first instructors to actively teach women. A true pioneer.