[ JUDO ]

Leeward Judo Club was founded by sensei Tsuruo Fukushima (front center) but is now run by his former student Kevin Asano (not pictured).

Life’s lessons
written in silver

Kevin Asano's judo
students will try to match
his success this weekend

USJF Jr. Nationals

Who: About 1,000 judoka from 50 states
When: Saturday and Sunday
Where: Blaisdell Arena

At the Olympics, silver is often synonymous with pain and bitterness. Second place can leave an elite athlete spent and wasted, wallowing in tears and the belief the last four years of sacrifice and dedicated training went for nothing.

Kevin Asano knows that hollow emotion. He settled for silver at the 1988 Games in Seoul, when he lost a judo championship match to a Korean in what many observers called a hometown decision.

The Pearl City High graduate has no ghosts haunting him, having put the bad memories on the shelf long ago. He is a happy businessman and family man, spending much of his free time letting his 5-year-old daughter, Rena, toss him around.

"She loves judo. She can throw me," Asano said. "You know how that goes."

While he doesn't live in the past, Asano has no problem resurrecting his tale of disappointment every now and then to give his Leeward Judo Club students a taste of perspective. He's forgiven the judge. And most importantly, he's forgiven himself, a long time ago.

"I think the story of my silver medal gets more response than anything else," said Asano, who recently became the club's head instructor, and leads it into this weekend's U.S. Judo Federation Junior Nationals at Blaisdell Arena.

"It grabs the heart. I try to tell it in a way that gets them laughing, and also, gets them thinking. Everybody loves a champion, but 99.999 percent can't be No. 1 in the world. I use the silver medal to make things relatable."

Bryan Kaneshiro, front, and Bryson Morita practiced with their Leeward Judo Club at Pearl City High School last night.

Judo is one of the sports where the journey -- as painful as it can be -- is as meaningful and spiritual as the arrival. It has to be, because the training is so arduous and success so physically and mentally expensive.

"It's about discipline and daily consistency in workouts," said 80-year-old sensei Tsuruo Fukushima, founder of the Leeward Judo Club and Asano's first instructor when he was a child in Okinawa.

"This is a dream come true," Fukushima said as he looked on proudly last night at the Pearl City cafeteria. More than 50 Leeward members, the youngest age 3, went through a demanding two-hour practice session. Some will be top contenders in this weekend's competition that includes around 1,000 participants from all 50 states.

Everett and Christian Pavo are two of the club's top prospects. Everett, 17, and Christian, 14, are the sons of legendary Pearl City and Leeward coach Leigh Nakamoto and instructor Sharon Nakamoto.

Leigh Nakamoto, who coached Asano in high school, has opened another judo school, in Kapolei.

Zachary Hernandez, front, practiced with Bryson Morita during Leeward Judo Club's session at Pearl City High yesterday.

"It's a great sport for a growing community," Sharon Nakamoto said. "It's one of the best ways to keep kids off the streets."

Everett won a state championship at 165 pounds in the just-completed school year, and is headed to Cumberland College in Kentucky on a judo scholarship to pursue an electrical engineering degree.

Christian enters Pearl City High in the fall and wants to follow his brother's path in judo, wrestling and football.

Both say they have benefited from all their instructors, and they have heard Asano's story of dealing with being second-best in the world. They both seem to have gotten the intended message.

"Winning is good, but losing you learn a lot, too," said Everett, whose state title came a year after finishing runner-up. "You learn what to expect next time, and it inspires you to try harder."

Said Christian: "Sensei Kevin makes me feel like if I work hard I have a chance to get to where he got ... or maybe one step farther."


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