The early pioneers of Aikido in Hawaii: Who was Kiyoshi Nagata? Hilo Aikido club’s first chief instructor.


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.

Kiyoshi nagata family boy scouts-page-001

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.



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.

papa's hakama

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



2 thoughts on “The early pioneers of Aikido in Hawaii: Who was Kiyoshi Nagata? Hilo Aikido club’s first chief instructor.

  1. Thank you for posting a wonderful article about my grandfather! I didn’t get to meet him, but this gives me a good picture of who he was. Once again thank you for the post!

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