Greetings from Bernie Lau, the first “haole” to learn aikido in Hawaii

The comments below from Bernie Lau have been retrieved from our Facebook page. Bernies is, quite probably the first Caucasian to have studied aikido in Hawaii back in 1955. Bernie is a well-known figure on the martial arts scene and has published a book sold through Amazon on his amazing life.

Hi Stan,

I covered the period of when I met Tohei sensei in my recently published memoir – “Dance with the Devil: Memoirs of an Undercover Narcotics Detective”. Back home in Seattle, I have a photo and the names of all who were in attendance that first night I started Aikido under Tohei sensei at a Japanese Tea House in Hilo in 1955

There is a photo of Tohei sensei putting sankyo on me that first night. You’ve probably seen the photo of me as a young haole boy, crew cut, wearing very short Gi pants. I am jumping up in the air as Tohei applies sankyo on me. In attendance were Mr Nagata (at the time Chief Instructor of Aikido in Hilo, Mr Nonaka (later the Chief Instructor of Hilo Aikido, Mr. Iwasa, Mr Takaki, and of course, Michael Frenz and myself.

I believe Michael and I were the very first two haole boys (white dudes) to start taking Aikido in Hawaii and in the entire USA. I don’t believe Aikido had yet been introduced to the mainland United States back in 1955 as Hawaii was not yet a State. Please check to see if I have bragging rights to be the first white guy to start taking Aikido in Territory of Hawaii and in the entire United States. Later I received both shodan and nidan from O’sensei. The shodan certificate was the old three fold style (Photo on my facebook). My sandan and yondan were from Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba. No more promotions after that. In my thinking, having a third kyu certificate from Tohei Sensei, two dan promotions from O’sensei, and two Dan promotion from Doshu is good enough for me I guess I was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time during the beginning days of Aikido in Hawaii.

Bernie Lau


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