Last year I had the unique opportunity of trailing judo legend Hayward Nishioka for a piece on the declining role of physical education at colleges and universities for the Chronicle of Higher Education. At 72, Hayward, a 7th degree black belt, has long since retired from professional competition and has been teaching judo at Los Angeles City College since the 1970s. Among his numerous accomplishments in the ’60s are being a 3-time U.S. judo champion and a gold medalist in the 1967 Pan-American games. He is widely considered to be one of the best ever in the sport. While this is impressive and rather intimidating, in person Nishioka is a soft-spoken, gentle man with a good sense of humor, and was a pleasure to spend the day with. And a full day it was, starting with me knocking at the door of his San Pedro home, just steps from the Pacific, at 6 a.m. and ending around 8 or 9 at night at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Garden Grove in order to create a day-in-the-life style profile piece that could accompany the story. The day consisted of a wide range of activities, starting with a stop at the neighborhood market near his home in San Pedro for coffee and danishes, followed by a 45 minute drive in his blue Prius to teach introductory judo classes at LACC, lunch with his girlfriend, a stop for ice cream, a visit to East LA’s Abell auction house — not far from the rough neighborhood where he grew up and where the staff know him by name — a kendo demonstration (another martial art, in addition to karate, that he excels in) on a homemade dummy in his backyard, takeout dinner on a San Pedro bluff a short walk from his home and finally to Garden Grove for yet another judo session. Along the way we had great discussions, ranging from his recalling his heyday as a champion to his earliest days where he and his family were interned at Camp Manzanar during WWII to how one can determine the authenticity of a lithograph. His time in Manzanar, as you can imagine, has greatly influenced his opinions on today’s wars and the public’s common misperceptions of muslims. He also let me give it a go with his kendo sword, which he swings 1,500 times a day. Typically a fairly light, wooden sword, he fills his with lead to increase his strength and control, the object of his training being to stop the sword as close as possible to the dummy without actually hitting it. After about 20 swings my forearms were on fire and I maybe stopped the sword from touching the dummy once. Maybe I’ll be better by the time I’m 72. All in all, a fascinating and humbling day!
The article just ran in the chronicle and can be seen here: http://chronicle.com/article/When-Colleges-Abandon-Phys-Ed/151109/