Cougar Pride – Three Kaiser High Grads Making a Difference

Cougar Pride - Three Kaiser High Grads Making a Difference
Todd Tanaka watching over his students

When it comes to careers, they have an old saying… “Do what you love and you never have to work a day in your life.” Most of us chug along through the day to day of life, wondering if there’s a better way. Personally, though I love my job, I often wonder if the folks in Major League Baseball are still out there looking for a mediocre-ly built, over-the-hill, talented (in-his-own-mind) right arm to be the next best thing in the bigs. And then I wake up.

A lucky few, however, are fortunate enough to find something they fall in love with and follow that path towards something they can make a career of. Below is the story of three such men.

Jody Kamisato – `Ukulele Hale

Jody Kamisato is the owner of Ukulele Hale, an ukulele school in Kaimuki that teaches students – from small kid time all the way up to our senior citizens – the art of our beautiful 4-stringed instrument.

Though we both knew of each other from our Kaiser High School/Hawaii Kai days, I think I actually first met Jody when I asked him to perform at an event I was putting together back in September (the inaugural Rice Fest). Not only was I impressed by the talent he showcased during his performance on stage (through his group Heart & Soul), but I was also taken aback by the way he mentored and encouraged his students before their performances.

Here’s an interview I had recently with Jody:


An Interview with Ukulele Hale’s Jody Kamisato

[Edward Sugimoto] When did you first pick up the `ukulele and how long was it before you fell in love?

[Jody Kamisato] Geez, I first picked it up in elementary school. So I went to Kamiloiki Elementary and in their Hawaiiana class, they offered ukulele. So that was my first time, and started taking lessons, and actually it wasn’t until high school that I got really into ukulele.

[Edward Sugimoto] Kaiser right?

[Jody Kamisato] Kaiser. *winks*

[Edward Sugimoto] That’s right!

[Jody Kamisato] Kaiser! *laughs*

[Edward Sugimoto] Kaiser baby! *laughs* At what point did you know it was the path for you?

[Jody Kamisato] Um, well actually Jake Shimabukuro from Pure Heart had come to do one of our assemblies at Kaiser, and he was in a group called Pure Heart along with Jon Yamasato who’s another Kaiser graduate… Um, but after that, I just you know, I saw what he did and I was just amazed at what the ukulele, you know, the possibilities of the ukulele. And just the way he played and the style that he played in really caught my attention, so I just called him up and I was like “Hey, can I sign up for lessons?” and so I did and a few years later he asked me to teach. He opened a school called Ukulele Academy in Hawaii Kai and so that’s where I kinda got my start from… was teaching at his studio.

[Edward Sugimoto] Do you draw from any positive experiences from some of your mentors from your past and apply them to your teaching methods today?

[Jody Kamisato] Absolutely. You know, I think one of the greatest gifts with music is the ability to share it. And so, some of my mentors, which included Peter Moon, Jake Shimabukuro, Troy Fernandez…You know these guys have really done so much with music and really taken it to, not just Hawaii, but outside of Hawaii so, they’ve gone international. And especially with Jake, and so, just from that, he’s really opened a lot of doors with music and with ukulele. So that’s what I want to try to do with our music… it’s to take it on another level and share it with people not just from Hawaii but around the world.

[Edward Sugimoto] And you have a business: Ukulele Hale. Talk to me about your keiki.

[Jody Kamisato] Alright, well, we have a school called Ukulele Hale in Kaimuki and I’d say a majority is students, is the keiki. You know we actually teach students of all ages and skill levels. So we start them… Our youngest is 3 and a half years old, and we also have senior classes as well. Right now we have about 170 students.


Kody Kiyokawa and Jody Kamisato jammin’ on the uke

NOTE: Kody Kiyokawa recently represented Ukulele Hale at the Duke’s Ukes contest and came home with a brand new Kamaka Ukulele after winning the Best Showmanship award.

[Edward Sugimoto] On top of being a teacher, you also have a group with Chris Salvador called Heart & Soul? Tell me a little bit about that.

[Jody Kamisato] I partnered up with a friend of mine, his name is Chris Salvador, and we call ourselves Heart & Soul, and we are actually in the recording studio now working on our debut album. We’re hoping to have it out, gee, in the next few weeks and actually have our CD release party in November. It’s set for November 21st. Chris and I just got back from touring Japan as well as New York. We participated in the New York Ukulele Festival, and also Japan has this event called the Ukulele Picnic which draws 10,000 ukulele fans. So it was an amazing experience and we just feel very blessed to follow our passion and play music.

Poster for Heart & Soul Debut CD Release Celebration (click to enlarge)
Poster for Heart & Soul Debut CD Release Celebration (click to enlarge)

[Edward Sugimoto] Where can we pick up the album when it’s ready?

[Jody Kamisato] It’ll be available on iTunes and definitely in music stores and book stores throughout Hawaii. Yeah, so go out and support local music. *laughs*

[Edward Sugimoto] You were mentioning that you guys tour a lot, you were in New York and you go all over the place. You were at the Rice Festival of course…

[Jody Kamisato] Rice Festival, yeah!

[Edward Sugimoto] … Where else can we find you guys going forward?

[Jody Kamisato] We’re definitely going to be performing more. Right now we’re focusing on the recording. Once that’s finished, we plan to do more steady gigs for the public. And definitely we’re actually planning a Japan tour this coming December. We’re going up for about a week and a half. It’s a Heart & Soul CD Japan Release Tour.

[Edward Sugimoto] That’s awesome.

[Jody Kamisato] Yeah, we’re excited.

[Edward Sugimoto] You’re all over social media. You wanna give some plugs out there to your various locations?

[Jody Kamisato] *laughs* Sure. Alright well you can come check us out on Facebook. Um, I just set it up recently. It’s uh facebook…

[Edward Sugimoto] *shows Jody his notes*

[Jody Kamisato] *laughs* facebook.com/jody.kamisato. Or you can visit us on Youtube. Just type in “Jody Kamisato”, “Ukulele Hale”, or “Heart & Soul”. And Twitter. I’m ukulele…

[Edward Sugimoto] jody

[Jody Kamisato] jody *laughs* Thanks Ed! @ukulelejody

[Edward Sugimoto] Cool. Good stuff.

[Jody Kamisato] Thanks a lot. Take care. Keep jammin’ the uke and live aloha. *shaka*

Ukulele Hale
Kaimuki Professional Building
1109 12th Avenue Suite 203
Honolulu, Hawaii 96816 (map)
(808) 258-7237
ukulelehale@gmail.com

George Kotaka – IKF Hawaii

George Kotaka is legend in karate. He is a 4th degree black belt with 30 years of training under that belt. He is the son of Chuzo Kotaka (a legend in his own right), the man responsible for bringing IKF (International Karate Federation) Karate to Hawaii. George is one of the main instructors for IKF Hawaii teaching students at dojos in Kamiloiki, Kailua, Kaneohe, Kapolei and the University areas.

My first memory of George was seeing him grow through the karate ranks right alongside of the rest of us. Under Sensei Kotaka (Chuzo), I was fortunate enough to earn my brown belt, and I remember little (at the time) George showing up at our dojo to train periodically. Eventually our paths crossed again while attending Kaiser High School.

George sat down with me during this recent interview:


An Interview with IKF Hawaii’s George Kotaka

[Edward Sugimoto] First of all, please introduce yourself George.

[George Kotaka] My name is George Kotaka, I’m 33 years old and I’ve been taking karate since I was 3 years old.

[Edward Sugimoto] Back in the day, your father (Chuzo Kotaka) was my sensei at IKF in Kahala. Is this where your interest in karate first came from?

[George Kotaka] My interest in karate began, like I said, when I was 3 years old, and my father actually didn’t really force me to take karate. He was just bringing me by the dojo and kinda like just like anything else, you know, where you’re introduced to it so often, after a while you just start to pick it up. I just was really kinda just drawn to karate. Never forced to start it.

[Edward Sugimoto] As the sensei’s son, did you feel any extra pressure to be better and perform well because your dad was the sensei?

[George Kotaka] Being the sensei’s son, I really didn’t feel any pressure at all. I always just went to practice, worked really hard, always had goals in mind that I wanted to achieve since I was young. Just, you know, just like short term goals in the beginning and then later on, fulfilling my long term goals, but never had the pressure because I always just knew that if I just relied on my training and my skill, you know, good things would come about.

[Edward Sugimoto] Lyoto Machida of the UFC, he became the Light Heavyweight Champion a while ago (UFC 98 on May 23rd, 2009) and probably burst karate into the mainstream. Did you kinda feel that karate/”Lyoto Effect” in your studios/dojos?

[George Kotaka] I would say there was a little bit of an affect from the UFC fight where Lyoto won the UFC title. We saw a little bit of an influx of students inquiring about karate, interested in martial arts, especially the traditional martial arts. He comes from a traditional Japanese background, his style is called Shotokan, and it’s a very very popular, I would say one of the four major styles of karate in Japan. So I would say there was a little bit of an influx of students when that happened.


George Kotaka knocks out opponent (from shotokan68’s channel)

NOTE: George does not endorse this clip (a popular video on Youtube with over 29,851 views) and was frankly quite embarrassed of it when I brought it up. I snuck it in here just to give you a glimpse at what George’s karate is capable of.

[Edward Sugimoto] What inspired you to take the next step and become an instructor?

[George Kotaka] I always was intrigued and motivated to be an instructor, to be a teacher. Ever since I was about 14 or 15 years old, I began helping my sister at one of the local karate classes and being kind of like a junior assistant or junior leader and from since that time on, I was really just drawn to teaching, I always liked working with other people. So even after the competition aspect, I could always rely on going back to teaching and falling back to that background.

[Edward Sugimoto] You mentioned your competition background. You’re pretty much a karate legend here and around the country. What do you have in store going forward?

[George Kotaka] Most importantly right now, after retiring from competition in 2008, is just to really work on my students and giving back to the dojo and going back to that teaching. Whether it’s producing the next state champion, national champion, Pan-American PKF Champion or even world champion, that would just be great. I just want to produce quality students most importantly. They don’t have to be champions. If that comes along that would be great but overall I just want my students to be good mannered students, have good morals and ethics and really go by the karate way.


George Kotaka Highlights (from CHAMPOFFICIAL’s channel)

NOTE: This clip I found on Youtube is probably a better representation of what George is all about (as opposed to the previous one). Check it.

[Edward Sugimoto] Cool, thank you very much.

[George Kotaka] OK, thanks.

IKF Hawaii – Main Office
7231 Nuulolo Street
Honolulu, HI 96825
(Click here for individual dojo locations/information)
(808) 395-1774
ikfkotaka@yahoo.com

Todd Tanaka – Team HK

Todd Tanaka holds a black belt under the prestigious Relson Gracie Jiu Jitsu system. He is the owner and head instructor of the Relson Gracie Jiu Jitsu Team HK team, with locations in the University area, Kaimuki and Lutherville-Timonium in Maryland. He teaches the art of jiu jitsu and self defense to keiki (ages 5-13) and adults of all ages. He (along with George above) also just started a women’s cardio kickboxing class on Sunday nights (5:30pm-6:30pm).

Of the three, I probably knew Todd the best during high school. We ran in similar groups and hung out at some of the same places. Todd helped me land my first “celebrity” interview with his good friend Jason “Mayhem” Miller and even let me train at his dojo for a little while.

Here’s Todd and I catching up in this recent interview:


An Interview with Relson Gracie Jiu Jitsu Team HK’s Todd Tanaka

[Edward Sugimoto] Please introduce yourself.

[Todd Tanaka] Hi I’m Todd Tanaka and I’m the head instructor and owner of Relson Gracie Jiu Jitsu Team HK.

[Edward Sugimoto] Long before the MMA (Mixed Martial Arts)/Jiu Jitsu explosion, you were training with Relson Gracie before anyone knew what it was. How long ago did you start training in the art of jiu jitsu and why did you first start?

[Todd Tanaka] I started in 1990 and I was in, I believe, 8th grade. That’s when (Jean Claude) Van Damme and Steven Seagal was all popular, and me and my friends John and Jared wanted to take a martial art because of the popularity of the martial arts. We were thinking about taking like kickboxing, aikido and stuff and Jared’s father suggested that we go with him to this jiu jitsu class, Brazilian jiu jitsu classes, and we were like, “What is that?” We had no idea. And the dad was like just come down and see if you like it. So we went down, met Relson, started taking the classes from there, and we fell in love with it from day 1.

[Edward Sugimoto] What inspired you to take the next step and become an instructor?

[Todd Tanaka] Well after the UFC started (1993), a lot of my friends wanted to learn and they’d always see me at the weight room and ask me to teach them and I was like “Man, sounds like a good deal.” You know, I could use the side cash so I asked Relson “Eh, can I start teaching?” and he said, “Well I want you to take an instructor program from my brother.” So he flew me up to his brother Rorion’s school in Torrance California, which Royce Gracie was there at the time and the dad (Helio)… And I stayed there, I took their instructor program, and I came back and I helped Relson open his new school in Kaimuki. And that’s pretty much how it all started for me in teaching.

[Edward Sugimoto] Talk to me about your kids. What brings you the most joy when you teach them?

[Todd Tanaka] The most joy is probably just seeing the smiles on their face and seeing how they really like it when they actually do the move correctly.

Todd Tanaka watching over his students
Todd Tanaka watching over his students

[Edward Sugimoto] Do you have an opinion or any comments to those who feel jiu jitsu is dangerous for young kids?

[Todd Tanaka] Yes. You take a risk in any sport… You do… but they have to understand that jiu jitsu and MMA is totally different things. I don’t teach my students to fight. I teach them to defend themselves, self defense, you know. And, you know, if you go in there and you think that jiu jitsu is all about fighting, then yeah, you’re gonna have that perception, but I’m gonna let you guys know that the Relson Gracie jiu jitsu system is about self defense and not fighting.

[Edward Sugimoto] What about personal goals? You received your black belt in July of last year? Anything else in store?

[Todd Tanaka] Um, well, I’m just gonna keep training. I currently just opened two other schools this past year. I have a branch in Kaimuki, and I opened one with another Kaiser classmate/alumni Stuart Ramos. He opened a school under me in (Lutherville-) Timonium, Maryland. Hopefully I dunno, maybe my schools can start growing.


Relson Gracie Promotes Todd Tanaka to Black Belt (from GracieTeamHK’s channel)

[Edward Sugimoto] How about any professional fighting for you at some point?

[Todd Tanaka] *laughs* No, I’m too small and old for that.

[Edward Sugimoto] Finally, you’re big into social media. Do you find that it helps a lot?

[Todd Tanaka] Yes. I can’t remember where I heard this, and I’ve always been using this for years… It’s not who you know, it’s about who knows you. So I’ve always put myself out there. You know, they say there’s no such thing as bad publicity right? Everything’s good publicity, so whatever I do, I put myself out there, I’m easy to find. *smiles*

[Edward Sugimoto] Why don’t we do some plugging of some of those web sites?

[Todd Tanaka] Alright, I got my web site: ToddTanaka.com, and I have my jiu jitsu web site: TeamHK.net, I have my Facebook: facebook.com/toddktanaka, I have Twitter: twitter.com/toddtanaka, Youtube: youtube.com/gracieteamhk, and, man, I got a couple others but I can’t remember all of them right now. *laughs*

[Edward Sugimoto] Alright cool, thanks a bunch Todd!

[Todd Tanaka] Thank you!

Team HK
(Click here for individual dojo locations/information)
(808) 277-1128
todd@teamhk.net

Three great individuals doing great things in their respective communities… who, oh-by-the-way, all happen to be graduates from my proud Alma mater of Henry J. Kaiser High School. They have found a way to follow their passion and find a career doing something that they absolutely love.

I guess you can say they never have to work a day in their lives…

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