Taking the path of humility
Eight years of triumph and tragedy have pushed Taylor Takata to the Olympic stage
FIRST IN A SERIES
To understand the roots, the beginning, one needs to take the walk. Down the narrow driveway marked "Private," past the barking dogs and the occasional clucking chicken.
The Star-Bulletin profiles Hawaii's athletes competing in next month's Beijing Games
Follow the footsteps of those who came before. The path that is only paved three-quarters of the way, the last quarter a walk of dust and pebbles and humility.
The Shobukan dojo is not easy to find.
The judo club is one of the oldest in the country. It will celebrate its 100th anniversary this fall, having survived the prejudices of World War II and the building of H-1.
Want to take the easy way? Sneak through the back gate of the School Street Pizza Hut parking lot in Liliha.
But champions don't take shortcuts.
Taylor Takata didn't.
"The sport is both physical and mental. Besides working out, I do my mental training each day. I see me fighting in the Olympics. I can prepare for it in my mind all I want but there's no way to replicate what the expereience will be. I just want to do my best."
Hawaii's third Olympic judokan
Since he was 10 years old, when he had surpassed what the Mililani YMCA had to offer, Takata has been with Shobukan. And, eight years later, he had gone beyond the humble wooden walls of the Kunawai Lane dojo.
Eight years of highs and heartbreak have propelled Takata onto the world's largest mat. On Aug. 10, the 2000 'Iolani School graduate will represent the U.S. in the 66kg division, becoming just the fifth judoka from Hawaii to earn a spot on the Olympic team. (Keith Nakasone in 1980, silver medalist Kevin Asano in 1988, Clifton Sunada in 1996 and Amy Tong in 2000 are the others).
Takata spent some time at home earlier this month, giving back to the sport with clinics. He also recharged and refocused, with beach time at the family cottage in Waialua -- "I'd like to be surfing but I have priorities" -- and training at Shobukan.
"It's such an honor to represent not only my country but also Hawaii," the 26-year-old Takata said. "We're such a small place. To be from Hawaii at the Olympics is such an honor.
"I don't see myself as a cocky person but you have to have self-confidence. Be strong on the outside, humble on the inside."
Such is the dichotomy of the sport and why the simple dojo in Kalihi has produced countless national champions.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Taylor Takata is a 2000 graduate of 'Iolani School. The experts say they don't envision him on the judo medal stand, but he's prepared to excel.
It wasn't easy nor cheap for the Takata ohana. Judo is not fully funded by the national judo organization and Taylor's expenses were largely underwritten by his family.
His inspiration came from them. When sister Summer was killed in a car accident in 2003, Takata said he did some soul-searching.
» Full name: Taylor Sunao Takata
» Birthdate: April 6, 1982
» High school: 'Iolani (2000)
» Hometown: Wahiawa
» Class: 66kg
» Olympics: First.
» Competition date: Aug. 10
» Career highlights: Competed at the Junior and Senior World Championships as well as winning the National Championship, Pan American and U.S. Open titles at 60kg. In 2004, he moved up to the 66kg division and has won gold at FEDOJUDO International Cup, USAJ Senior Nationals (twice) and the New York Open ... Seven-time national junior champion ... Two-time state and three-time ILH wrestling champion at 'Iolani.
» Fun fact: Takata is currently dating one of his coaches, Cuban Danieska Carrion. Carrion defected in 2003 while on a layover in Mexico, and is now a coach for USA Judo based in Colorado Springs, Colo.
» Tomorrow: Water polo player and Punahou grad Brandon Brooks.
That, combined with a disappointing loss in the 2004 Olympic Trials when he had to move up a weight class (the U.S. initially didn't qualify for his 60kg spot), he wondered if he should continue. Instead, he memorialized Summer with a tattoo on his left shoulder and looked to his tattoo on his right side -- the kanji representing kokorazashi (ambition or will) -- for mental strength.
"I didn't want to continue but my sister wouldn't have wanted me to stop what I was doing, feel sorry for myself," he said. "That's what made me keep going. And my parents have been so instrumental in so many ways, always supportive of what I've chosen to do.
"The sport is both physical and mental. Besides working out, I do my mental training each day. I see me fighting in the Olympics. I can prepare for it in my mind all I want but there's no way to replicate what the experience will be. I just want to do my best."
His work ethic and training regimen, described as insane and ridiculous, earned him the respect of peers and foes. Training partner Jeff Sato is in awe.
"If you're OK with being like everyone else, then you do what everyone else does," Sato said. "But if you want to be the best, then you do the extra.
"The training is creative, stuff you've never seen before, like walking on your fingertips up and down the mat, doing a bear crawl with a guy hanging on underneath you. And then there's the positiveness. You have to believe you are the best."
Sato is a believer. After losing at last month's Olympic Trials at Takata's former weight (60kg), "I wasn't handling it well," he said. "Taylor invited me to come to Hawaii, said he wanted help with his camps and training.
"I'm lucky to have had him as such a positive influence. Every second I spend with him makes me a better person. Every day I know I'm training with the best."
Takata is ranked No. 1 in his class nationally. Most don't envision him on the Olympic medal stand, giving the nod to Yordanis Arencibia (Cuba), Arash Miresnaeili (Iran) and Joao Derly (Brazil).
Takata bows his head when asked about his chances, bowing as he has done countless times when he's entered a dojo, met an opponent, won or lost.
"I go into every match wanting to do my best," the former two-time state wrestling champ at 'Iolani said. "My goal is to win. I'm hoping that my best performance will come in Beijing. We'll see what happens, you never know.
"Judo is not a glamour sport in the U.S., but it is the second-most practiced sport in the world, behind soccer. It's cool that the world will be watching us in Beijing."
As for the future? Takata has put his life on hold pretty much the past eight years. He'll know when it's time to move on. It may be as early as Aug. 10, the night of the medal ceremony for his weight class.
"I have a lot of knowledge that I would like to pass on," he said. "I want to give back because judo has given so much to me."
A return to Shobukan as a sensei could be part of his life's path. He knows the way.