Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
We drove past the old gate and continued on to a narrow dirt road that led to a small, grassy clearing. At the far end of the field stood a small termite-worn building. Although we were in the Wailua area of Kaua‘i in 2019, it felt like we had stepped back in time to the 1940s.
My family and I had come to observe an aikidö class and meet its longtime instructor, Lloyd Miyashiro-Sensei. Aikidö is a martial art that emphasizes the unity of mind and body and the unity of self and the universe by using an opponent’s ki, or life energy, in self-defense. I was about to learn about aikidö . . . and so much more.
A small sign above the door read “Kapa‘a Ki-Aikido.” The rubber zori (slippers) on the stairway landing were neatly arranged Japanese-style, facing away from the building. As we removed our slippers and entered, we found that the building was actually one very large room. Blue and yellow mats covered the entire floor. Fading photographs of aikidö masters and past aikidö classes lined the walls, along with a collection of wooden bokken, or weapons.
A friendly warmth permeated the döjö (practice area) as we settled into our chairs to observe the class. As one student lovingly swept the entryway and mats with an old broom, others began arriving, happily greeting each other.
According to one of the students, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources allowed the Kapa‘a Ki-Aikidö group to lease the land as a neighborhood center, although the one-room building is used exclusively by the aikidö group.
Many years ago, the old wooden building, then situated in Mänä, on the western side of Kaua‘i, was loaded onto a truck and carefully transported across the island to Wailua in the east. Aikidö instructors do not receive a salary to teach, so the students’ dues pay for the reasonably priced lease.
Just then, Lloyd Miyashiro-Sensei arrived. He introduced himself and then excused himself to change in a back room. A few minutes later, he emerged wearing a white gi (uniform) on top, covered at the bottom by the black hakama (skirt-like pants) of a black belt martial artist.
The Kaua‘i-born nisei said he began studying aikidō in the 1970s while a graduate student at the University of Hawai‘i. Back then, he trained in a döjö on Wai‘alae Avenue in Kaimukï.
His interest in äikido actually began in 1953, when he was about 10 years old.
“My uncle took me to see Köichi Töhei-Sensei, who was teaching in Kapa‘a for several nights. Töhei-Sensei had been sent to introduce aikidö outside of Japan by the founder of aikidö, Morihei Ueshiba-Sensei,” he explained.
Miyashiro-Sensei has long been a student of Shinshin Toitsu Aikidö, the branch of aikidö started by Töhei Köichi-Sensei in Japan. He studied first under Tabata-Sensei in Kaimukï and then began studying with Yamamoto-Sensei at Palama Settlement.
In 1975, he returned to Kaua‘i to care for his aging parents. His parents had emigrated from Okinawa in the early 1900s. Miyashiro-Sensei, now 77, was the youngest of seven children. He himself has four daughters and five grandchildren who range in age from 10 months old all the way up to age 17.
He and another brother, 11 years his senior, are the only ones left from the original seven. “My two oldest brothers were part of the 442nd Regiment,” he offered. And, his third brother, also an Army veteran, served as an interpreter in postwar Japan.
After returning to Kaua‘i, he continued to study aikidō with Kimura-Sensei at a döjö in the All Saints’ church gymnasium for three or four years, earning his 1st dan degree. After several more years of study, he earned 5th dan. He also studied with Masumura-Sensei and Kuboyama-Sensei. When Kuboyama-Sensei retired about 10 years ago, he began studying with Christopher Curtis-Sensei from Maui, who is the chief instructor of the Hawaii Ki Federation.
The class began with the students bowing respectfully before entering the mat. They sat in seiza (kneeling on the floor) and bowed to their sensei, a signal that they were ready to begin class.
The class meets for 90 minutes three times a week. Some of the current students began with the introductory class and steadily progressed. During the class, the students took turns approaching Sensei as if they were attackers. One-by-one, he easily put them down on the mat.
Whether intentionally or by happenstance, most of Lloyd Miyashiro’s life has involved educating people. In his professional career, he was a teacher and counselor for at-risk and handicapped youth at his alma mater, Kapa‘a High School, until retiring in 2008. Throughout those years, he also taught aikidö.
But Miyashiro-Sensei’s aikidö teaching will end this month. Student Nancie Bean is grateful to have had him as her sensei, saying he led by example. “I’ve learned from studying ki aikidö that calmness is true strength,” she said.
The Kapa‘a Ki-Aikido group recently held a retirement party for Miyashiro-Sensei. Although his students are sad to see him retire, he said he is leaving his students in the hands of his “very capable assistant instructor,” Rene Relaction. And, he plans to come by occasionally and advise the class.
In his second retirement, Miyashiro plans to pursue another of his passions — volunteering with the Kaua‘i Monk Seal Conservation Hui, which works to protect the endangered Hawaiian monk seal (Ilio holo i ka uaua) by educating the public about its health and plight. Miyashiro can often be found on Kaua‘i beaches early in the morning, putting up warning signs around bathing seals. The Hui says the public should remain at least 50 feet away from the seals. Miyashiro alsoanswers questions about the seals from curious tourists.
He said he got involved with the Hui after his wife, Mary Frances, who had been teaching a children’s aikidö class for many years, wanted to devote more time to protecting the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, which number only about 1,400 today.
“She stopped teaching aikidö when she started volunteering to protect the monk seals full time. She’s the team leader of monk seal volunteers on this eastside of the island,” Miyashiro said. In 2008, Mary Frances “volunteered” her husband for the Hui.
“They are critically endangered and there aren’t many volunteers besides my wife and me on the eastside of the island,” he said.
As the deadline neared for me to turn in this story, I hoped for a call from Miyashiro, telling me that a monk seal had come ashore. That was a side of Miyashiro that I was hoping to see.
I was in luck. Miyashiro called me on the morning I was to send in my story. My husband Ron and I rushed out to meet him at a beach near the Wailua Golf Course. We were thrilled to see a large monk seal sunning lazily on the sand at the largely deserted beach.
Miyashiro carefully put up four signs around the sleeping seal. We asked him about this particular monk seal. He guessed that it was a female and possibly pregnant because of her large midsection.
We could see a red tag on her hind flipper, so Miyashiro took out his binoculars to observe her from a distance. He read the tag as R1KY. He hadn’t seen that seal before. He called in the tag number and location to NOAA scientists. They called him back and reported that R1KY was an 8-year-old female. She was born on Ni‘ihau, but stays around the main Hawaiian islands until it’s time to give birth. That’s when she will probably return to Ni‘ihau, the scientists said.
While we were there, a few tourists stopped by the relatively deserted beach to ask us questions. “Is it dead?” “How much does that one weigh?” “How can you tell if it’s male or female?” they asked.
Miyashiro patiently answered each of their questions. In his backpack, he also carried educational handouts to give to children so they can learn about the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and why they need to be protected.
Whether it’s helping the students of Kapa‘a High School, or his aikidö students, or volunteering with the Monk Seal Hui, the people of Kaua‘i are fortunate to have Lloyd Miyashiro in their community.