Wow….a couple of years…..lots of big changes and a different life. I am prob gonna start posting soon. I got some nice pictures from a contact and I have several hours of interviews to go through. Looks like an interview with the late Meyer goo Sensei is on the agenda. And some local Hawaii Sensei that passed recently. Mahalo…..good to be back….
So in the last couple of weeks since I moved back to Sapporo, I have gotten some very unfortunate news. Two of my friends in Hawaii that practiced Aikido passed away. Matt Stevenson from Kauai and Carrie Yonemori from Hilo. I havent seen Matt in while but just messaged him two days before he died. Carrie I saw right before I left Hilo. She was her usual self. Positive and friendly.
When friends pass away, I think it gives us time to reflect on our time with them and ourselves a bit. I am gonna have to write a blog on each of them soon…….
Life is interesting. I recently returned to Hilo after my study abroad course ended last year. I went Hokkaido University in Sapporo. It was an amazing journey. I even got to practice some Aikido and Daito Ryu there. Lot of life changes in the last year or so. Its been a while so time to write something on the blog. Have some interesting ideas and at least one tribute to write about. I will be moving to Japan on a permanent basis in a couple of months. I had better get to work on some interesting things!
To quote my Sensei ” Life is like the bamboo shoot….it goes on and on and on”.
L-R Takashi Nonaka, Yasu Iwasa, Koichi Tohei, Kazuo Takaki, Kiyoshi Nagata Sensei. Circa 1955 at the Liliokulani Teahouse in Hilo Hawaii. Photo courtesy of Bernie Lau.
Since doing this project starting in 2009, I have accumulated a great deal of resources and information from the many wonderful people who taught or practiced Aikido in Hilo and Hawaii in general. Unfortunately, many of the early Senseis or students who started back in the early to mid 1950’s in Hilo have passed away, making validating or gathering information quite difficult. In slowly gathering information and talking with people, I have been able to gather some facts about some of the early figures in Aikido in Hilo. One person that eluded me for quite some time was Kiyoshi Nagata, who was the first chief instructor in Hilo. Who was he? What happened to him? As I looked at the few pictures I had, I felt like there was a story to be told. Who was this smiling mystery man in the very earliest pictures of Aikido in Hilo? After much research, I was finally able to find some information to highlight Nagata Sensei’s life. This is a small tribute to him and his contributions to the early days of Aikido in Hilo.
Kiyoshi and Ayako Nagata circa late 1960’s.
Kiyoshi Nagata (1919 – 1986) was born in Mountain view to Chikichi and Miki Nagata. Shikichi was from Oshima gun in Yamaguchi and moved to Hawaii to work on the plantation. Miki Nagata was a picture bride from Fukushima ken who also worked in the plantation. They had 10 children in total. Of the 10 siblings 5 of them had passed before the birth of the Nagata family’s first child
Kiyoshi served in the military in World War II and spent some time in Italy during the war. He often spoke fondly of the late senator “Sparky” Matsunaga so they may have known each other through the military. After the war, Kiyoshi spent time in Minnesota where he attended Northwestern TV and Electronics Institute learning about electronics. He made his way back to Hawaii, and worked for his brothers bus transport company for a short time. Kiyoshi also worked for the late Kiyoshi Okubo, who owned Hilo Times newspaper which was a popular Japanese language publication which ran from 1955 to 1991.
L-R, Scout Master Bill Sewake, Kiyoshi, Russell, Dale , Miles, Ayako, Donna. The Nagata boys receiving Eagle Scout awards circa 1973
Kiyoshi and Ayako Nagata on their wedding day Feb 5th, 1949
Kiyoshi was a devoted Father to his family. Kiyoshi married Ayako Otomo on Feb 5th,1949. Ayako was a local girl from Kalopa. She work part time at Hilo dry goods for the Lau family. He had three sons Russell, Miles and Dale and one daughter, Donna. He spent time with his sons teaching them fishing and his favorite pastime gardening. “Gardening… that was his passion” stated his daughter Donna Malson. ” Whatever people gave him, he would plant”. Kiyoshi was also very traditional, passing on the Japanese customs such as mochi pounding to his family. Kiyoshi was very involved with his sons in Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts. “He was all about family…If you asked him something, he would be glad to teach you…that’s how he was.” Donna stated.
Kiyoshi was in the first group of people that met Koichi Tohei Sensei during his first visit to Hilo in 1953. Evidently, during this first visit Tohei Sensei saw that Kiyoshi was quite serious about training and also picked up the waza very quickly. Kiyoshi was put in charge of leading the Hilo group as its first chief instructor. Kiyoshi, Yasu Iwasa, Kazuo Takaki and Masa Takaki were amongst the first instructors of Aikido in Hilo. Bernie Lau Sensei recalled training with Nagata Sensei in his backyard in the late 50’s “Nagata showed me a few basic Aikido techniques – It was as if Magical – Nagata had relaxed but ultra powerful forearms – I was truly amazed.” Bernie also said “he was a no BS individual – He was in the National Guards with Reggie (Bernies Stepfather) – Anyway – I still have total respect for Nagata to this day – that’s the impression he made on me.” Kiyoshi reached the rank of 2nd dan or second degree black belt in Aikido.
Nagata Sensei is listed on the Hilo Aiki dojo as an instructor on the McKinley 1961 O Sensei Aikido brochure. http://www.aikidohawaii.org/mckinley_p7.html
Nagata Sensei, 4th from back left side. Tohei Sensei front center and Takashi Nonaka Sensei currently 9th dan with the Hilo Ki Society right of Tohei Sensei. This was taken at the Honokaa dojo circa 1955.
Unfortunately, Nagata Sensei left Aikido training and the club in the early 1960’s around the time that O Sensei visited the islands. Even though he was not actively training with a group he still applied his Aikido training to his life and interests. “He firmly believed in Ki… everything he did was focus, focus, focus…that was him.” said Donna.
Nagata Sensei’s hakama given to him from Koichi Tohei. The Kanji says “Koichi Tohei” this must have been given to Nagata Sensei circa 1953 or 55 during his year long visits to Hawaii.
Kiyoshi Nagata Sensei unfortunately passed away in 1986 from a heart attack at his home.
In writing this article on Nagata Sensei, I finally found out who the smiling man in the picture was. He was not just an Aikido instructor but a good Father and husband. A hard worker who took everything he did with utmost seriousness and dedication. Overall, a good man. Now when I look at the smiling face at the far right of that picture at Liliokulani Park, I perhaps know now why perhaps he was smiling.
Nagata Sensei enjoying a relaxing moment at home.
I hope that this small tribute to a good man whose early history is intertwined with Aikido history, sheds some light on one the pioneers of Aikido in Hawaii.
Very special thanks to Donna Malson and family for the pictures and information and Bernie Lau Sensei for sharing his experience.
If we stand tall it is because we stand on the shoulders of many ancestors.
– Yoruba Proverb
After training Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago, Nonaka Sensei shared a story with us about Koichi Tohei. Takashi Nonaka Sensei 9th dan with the Hilo Ki Society was a student and close friend of Koichi Tohei Sensei.
In the late 50’s in Hilo, Nonaka Sensei was conversing with Tohei Sensei about a story he read from one of his fathers books. In the story from this book there was an encounter of two swordsmen in a duel. The two men drew their swords and focused on each other with the tip of their blades. One of the men was intending to engage the other when he noticed something. Now all he could see of the other man was the tip of sword pointed at him. His opponents Ki or intent was far beyond his own. The other swordsman’s skill was far superior to his own and he accepted defeat before any movement was made. Nonaka Sensei asked Tohei Sensei if this was possible. Tohei Sensei thought about it for a little while and said “Lets see.”
Later after classes were done, Nonaka Sensei and Tohei Sensei stayed after class to train. “Lets try to see if I can do what that swordsman did.” Stated Tohei Sensei. Tohei Sensei walked to the far opposite side of the tatamis till h stood on the end of the mat with a jo in hand. He turned and faced Nonaka Sensei who had a bokken in his hand. “Raise your bokken. I am going to walk towards you, strike if you can cut me at any time.” Said Tohei Sensei. Nonaka sensei was experienced with the sword being a prewar shodan in Kendo and thought this should be no problem.
Tohei Sensei raised the jo above his head with the tip pointed at Nonaka Sensei’s head. He slowly started walking towards Nonaka Sensei. Nonaka Sensei stood with bokken overhead to strike at any openings. As Tohei Sensei moved forward, Nonaka Sensei said his vision narrowed. Tohei Sensei’s body began to be overshadowed by the tip of the jo. All Nonaka Sensei could see was the tip of the jo grow bigger with every step Tohei Sensei took. He said he felt he could physically cut with the sword but, mentally he was frozen in place. There were no openings as he came closer. The tip of the jo was focal point which grew larger and closer. Eventually,Tohei Sensei came close enough to touch Nonaka Sensei on the forehead with his jo. By this time Nonaka Sensei was covered in sweat and nearly collapsed onto the mat.
Tohei smiled and said “Wakarimaska?”. Nonaka Sensei nodded. “I realized at that moment I needed to train more.”
This was at the reopening of the Waikea Recreation Center in Hilo. The Waiakea rec (As its known to Hilo People) is the only facility in Hawaii that focuses on the training of martial arts. The building used to be a Pick and Pay Supermarket until the late 60’s. The building was converted into area for the community to train in martial arts.
The Seishikan Aikido group was founded in 2000. The group led by Steve Adams Sensei and Carrie Yonemori Sensei have a long time Ki Aikido background and now have seminars with Donald Moriyama Sensei, Kazuyoshi Takayama Sensei, and Dan Harden. The Seishikan Aikido group is one of the nicest groups of people I have had the pleasure of training with!
L-R Takashi Nonaka Sensei, Yasu Iwasa Sensei, Koichi Tohei, Kazuo Takaki Sensei,Kiyoshi Nagata Sensei. This picture was taken in 1955 in Hilo at the teahouse in Liliokulani park. Picture courtesy of Bernie Lau Sensei.
This is part one of a series of interviews I conducted with Aikido practitioners/pioneers who had experience taking ukemi and talking with O-Sensei during his 1961 visit to Hawaii.
O-Sensei’s only visit to Hawaii in 1961 was his only visit outside of Japan. During his two month stay many were fortunate to be called upon to take ukemi for O-Sensei. From what I understand O-Sensei was quite particular about who took ukemi for him and many outsiders or casual students never got to feel O-Sensei’s power. Also, unfortunately many of those who took ukemi for O-Sensei have passed away and are unable to share their stories. I was fortunate to speak with some with some of the remaining Hawaii Sensei who either took ukemi or were close with O-Sensei during his visit here.
Takashi Nonaka Sensei 8th dan with the Hilo Shin Shin Toitsu Do club was the translator for O-Sensei during his seven day visit to Hilo. Nonaka Sensei (At the time 2nd dan head instructor of the Hilo Aiki dojo) along with Nobuyoshi Tamura Sensei (His otomo), Koichi Tohei Sensei (Then Chief instructor of Hombu), and Yukiso Yamamoto Sensei (Chief instructor of Hawaii) were O-Sensei’s constant companions during this short visit.
I asked Nonaka Sensei what his impression of O-Sensei was “Off the mat ….he was a typical old warm gentleman. On the mat it was different” He stated“His legs were weak because in Hawaii, to go up and down the stairs at the gym (Where the demonstrations were being held) I had to help him put his hand on my back and he would lean on me. But when he got on the mat he would stand up straight”
Nonaka Sensei stated that he never took ukemi for O-Sensei during the demonstration in open handed waza but had the opportunity to feel his power in other ways“ He was very fussy about who is taking uke” “I learned that from Tohei Sensei even in Japan. When he calls somebody he sticks his hand out ..if you wait.. you don’t respond …you don’t get called again. “It means you are daydreaming ..your mind is not there.” I heard that luckily before O Sensei came therefore when he stuck his bokken out and faced me ,hey I jumped!!”
During the opening ceremony of the Honolulu Aikikai Nonaka Sensei noticed something different about O-Sensei’s swordwork. “I watched him. I could see that when swings the ken he is cutting (People).” “ I am a kendo man. I got my shodan at 15. I had the record on this island the youngest before my 16th birthday. I trained hard. I read books about about swordsmen. I could read because my father had books. I could see that its a cut …not swinging a baton around”. “So therefore I am fussy when it comes to sword. Even how they (Students)hold a sword, how they draw the sword”
O-Sensei enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and hospitality of Hawaii. Perhaps in a moment of deep thought, O-Sensei confided with Nonaka Sensei in private some deep regrets about his past. “O-Sensei told me personally, that that was the time (The Japanese-Russo war) of his life he is most ashamed of. You know why? He killed Russians. Batto-dai. you know sword? (He) Crept up nighttime Pitch darkness. In the foxhole. You cut with the sword, (its) silent, you fire with the gun make noise. Japan was running out of metal and bullets. He never told me how many he cut …but he cut (them down).” Nonaka Sensei also added “ Then I heard about him being very strict about swinging the bokken in the dojo. To him the bokken is a life sword(Katsujinkan)1i.”
In thinking about why the founder would discuss such personal issues with him Nonaka Sensei stated “So therefore I think that because I could communicate with the founder in Japanese…and then he found out I did kendo maybe he told me the story about his cutting the Russians(during the war).”
Sometime before, Nonaka Sensei watched the film sent to Hawaii earlier of O Sensei doing waza and one thing catches his attention. “ He has a bokken like this (held horizontal) people pushing (on it). It stays. Then he drops his arm and they fell. How the hell can he do that? My son Eric at that time was 12 or 13 years I let him do it. I cannot hold him. Two adults pushing one …How can you do that? That’s Shibai(B.S)!”
Later during the demo in Honokaa, O-Sensei got his bokken and looked at Nonaka Sensei to come up. “I Jumped! (He called) From Honolulu Yamamoto Sensei he was the head instructor of the state and Tamura his otomo.. those two guys came up ..us three came up.” “ I didn’t have a chance to push really plenty ..I pushed a little bit and then he dropped it and we all fell. But I could feel the pressure” I asked Nonaka Sensei to clarify the feeling he got from the bokken “I just felt the resistance.ii” Nonaka Sensei added philosophically” So in life ..you cannot hold the train back right? The train is coming. Better you hop on the train. So when the train stop and you get off, you still in front of the train. You cannot stop the train. You let go.”
Nonaka Sensei asked Tohei Sensei later “ How can that(Three men pushing on a bokken) happen?” Tohei Sensei thought for a while and said” Try imagine there is a post or lumber on a swivel or gate. If its 5 feet you can push it. But, If the lumber is 100 feet long. You push it, how is it? If the lumber is 1 mile long how is it? In the founders mind the bokken is going to eternity. Not only three feet long.” Nonaka Sensei later got to push on Tohei Sensei’s bokken and stated “There was resistance but not as much as O-Sensei’s”.
This at either at the gym Carvalho park in Hilo or Honokaa in 1961. Yukiso Yamamoto and Nobuyoshi Tamura push on O-Sensei’s forehead. Photo courtesy of Dr. Mitsuo Adachi Sensei.
O-Sensei then asked Nonaka Sensei to be uke for another demonstration. (He sat in) seiza and then (he said) push his forehead. So three of us pushed and fell. I fell and then I could remember …definitely two or three times just when I came up he (O-Sensei) grabbed my back pushed me back down” The crowd clapped and later one of the other students asked “What happened? Why where you struggling?” Nonaka Sensei said “ I could feel his hand on the back of my neck…Just when I could stand up (O-Sensei) shoved me back down”
I asked Nonaka Sensei “How do you think O Sensei got his power?” “I don’t know. I don’t know his young days”
While he had minimal mat time with O-Sensei, Nonaka Sensei stated that he did learn a technique directly from the founder. later at the Daifukuji temple in Kona Nonaka Sensei was practicing early morning with another student. “The founder came and we bowed”. “Continue, continue” O-Sensei said and showed them both how to do a correct shihonage. “ So I can tell people I am not lying..learned from the founder! “Just one art though” Nonaka Sensei laughed.
Special Thanks to Takashi Nonaka Sensei for the time and permission to write this article. And thanks to Eric Nonaka Sensei for help with editing.
Takashi Nonaka Sensei 8th dan is the former Hawaii Chief instructor of the Hawaii Ki federation. He is still active teaching sunday mornings at the Waikea recreation center. The Hilo Shin Shin Toitsu do club is one of the oldest Aikido clubs outside of Japan being established in 1955.
The Hilo Shin Shin Toitsu do club website
Information about the Hawaii Ki Federation
The Ki Aikido USA website
The Hawaii Ki Federation headquarters in Maui.
The Shin Shin Toitsu Do headquarters in Japan
A detailed biography of Nonaka Sensei from 2001
Nonaka Sensei was interviewed in Wayne Muramoto’s excellent martial arts publication Furyu magazine back in 1994 in issue #4. An edited version appears in the Australian Ki Society newsletter “Kiai” back in 1998.
iI tried to get a clear definition of what “resistance” felt like from Nonaka Sensei. Eric Nonaka Sensei his son clarified . To resist means to push back or fight. O-sensei was already very old so (one) could not “resist”. Rather his energy was extended through the sword, making it “live”, to inifinity. Therefore no need to resist.
iiEric Nonaka Sensei added “(It was more like) “live sword” (rather than) “life sword”.