WAILUKU – Aikido pioneer and Maui police “legend” Shinichi Suzuki died Friday at Maui Memorial Medical Center. He was 92.
A 32-year veteran of the Maui Police Department, who trained a generation of police recruits in self-defense techniques, Suzuki was one of only four people in the world to hold the rank of ninth-degree black belt in the discipline of ki-aikido. He was chosen to help introduce the Japanese martial art to the United States in the 1950s, and became its most pre-eminent teacher in the west.
“Hawaii became the mecca of aikido outside Japan,” said Christopher Curtis, chief instructor of the Hawaii Ki Federation. “Everyone made trips here to meet him and train with him.”
Incoming Maui Police Chief Gary Yabuta called Suzuki “a true legend.”
“This is a sad day for the Maui Police Department,” Yabuta said, adding that “those of us that were fortunate enough to be a recipient of his training not only learned self-defense but also self-confidence. He walked with confidence and would tell us that was the most important skill as a police officer, to have that
appearance of confidence.”
Services are scheduled for June 4, with visitation starting at 4 p.m. at Ballard Family Mortuary and a service at 5 p.m. The family requests no ko-
den (monetary gifts), but donations may be made to the Shinichi Suzuki Sensei Youth Award, which provides scholarships to young students of Maui Ki-Aikido to train at Shinshin Toitsu Aikido Kai, ki society headquarters in Japan.
Donations for the award can be sent to Maui Ki-Aikido, P.O. Box 724, Wailuku 96793.
Suzuki was born March 22, 1917, in Wailuku.
He joined the Maui Police Department in 1940 and was introduced to aikido 13 years later, when the founder of ki-aikido, Koichi Tohei, arrived in Hawaii to teach aikido to police.
Suzuki was assigned to tend to Tohei during his visit, and because he had studied judo, the Japanese sensei chose him as a throwing partner. The next day, Tohei asked Suzuki to become chief instructor of aikido for Maui. Suzuki trained intensely with Tohei for the next month, and continued to receive regular training from him as he began leading instruction of Maui police officers in self-defense, and founded the Maui Ki-Aikido dojo in Wailuku.
After he retired from MPD as a major in 1972, Suzuki spent two years in Japan to train with Tohei full time.
Aikido is a defensive art based on throwing techniques. Practitioners learn to channel or redirect an opponent’s momentum and energy to resolve a conflict. The ki-aikido branch of the art has an additional focus on spiritual training and developing a sense of “nondissention” and inner calm.
Curtis said Suzuki was known for his dedication to his art. He once was instructed by Tohei to spend a month sitting for one hour each day in a very painful, difficult meditation position. It took 18 months of practice before he could endure the position for a full hour.
“Once he achieved it, he said, ‘to heck with one month, I’m going to do it for a year,'” Curtis said. “Not many people would put that kind of effort into their practice.”
Suzuki was a very strict and even “scary” teacher, expecting complete discipline from his students, but he also was known for being lighthearted, selfless and kind.
As a beginning student, Curtis asked how the sensei had achieved such a powerful combination of intensity and relaxation. Suzuki told him he spent an hour each day sitting and breathing.
“If he couldn’t do it, like if he was traveling or sick, then the next day he did two hours,” Curtis said.
Suzuki’s many honors over the years included being named a “living treasure” by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii; being named to Black Belt magazine’s hall of fame; a lifetime achievement award from the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii; and the Nihon Bunka Award of the Japanese Cultural Center of Maui.
In 2007, the Maui Police Department dedicated and named its training dojo at the Wailuku Police Station for Suzuki. While the dojo Suzuki founded in Wailuku had provided training to Maui police officers and recruits for decades, MPD last year replaced the aikido instruction with training in more specialized self-defense tactics required in modern policing.
Yabuta said MPD wanted to name the dojo for him, “to show him the impact he had on us, and the impact he’ll continue to have after he’s gone.”
More than the throwing and restraint techniques he shared with police recruits in his training, Suzuki taught “a philosophy of respect for yourself and respect for others,” Yabuta said.
“His philosophy of life was probably the most valuable lesson for any of us,” he said. “It made us all better people, not just better police officers.”
Suzuki is survived by a son, Mike (Ann) Suzuki; five brothers, Frank Suzuki, Robert Suzuki, Donald Suzuki, Arthur Suzuki and Ralph Suzuki; two sisters, Gene Hee and Alice Agena; and two grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Written by Ilima Loomis Excerpted from the Maui News