ARNOLD FUKUTOMI / 1956 – 2014Kendo master led, inspired with ‘utmost dignity and grace’
By Curtis Murayama / email@example.com
Arnold Fukutomi, who won several kendo titles as a competitor, led teams to world championships as a coach and lived his life abiding by the principles of the sport such as dignity and honor, died April 21 while jogging. He was 57.
“He is what you would aspire to be if you knew him,” said Desmond Nakamoto, who knew the kendo master for more than 30 years and became his son-in-law. “You couldn’t help but be impacted by how he led his life and can’t help but change how you want to live your life now that he’s passed … Everybody who knew him for any period of time aspired to be like him.”
Born in Aiea, Fukutomi began his lifelong kinship with kendo (meaning “way of the sword”) and its beliefs at age 10 when he and his younger brother, Bryant, trained under Dr. Noboru Akagi.
“We would always fight with sticks and we would end up crying, mostly me,” said Bryant Fukutomi, who is two years younger. “Our grandma got mad and said, ‘If you going fight with stick, learn the right way.’ So she dragged us (to a kendo club in Aiea).”
Arnold Fukutomi began his training with Akagi in 1966.
“After I trained him 25 years and when he was good enough, I retired,” said Akagi, 85, a retired surgeon who was born in Japan and moved to Hawaii in 1954. “He was (a) very excellent (student). He was the first person born in Hawaii who became a seventh dan (seventh-degree black belt). It’s quite high, even in Japan.”
Bryant Fukutomi said his brother’s training was “insane.” He said his brother would swing the shinai (sword) 1,000 times.
“Usually you swing it 100 times you get tired, but he wanted to see if he could swing it 1,000 times.”
After Fukutomi found that to be too easy, Bryant Fukutomi said his brother shaved down a Christmas tree and swung that.
Fukutomi won titles in Canada and at the fourth triennial World Kendo Championships in Sapporo, Japan, in 1979. He also received an individual kantosho (spirit) award at the second WKC and a team kantosho at another WKC.
He competed eight times at the WKC and coached Team Hawaii five times at the world competition. His teams produced four kantosho recipients. Active until the end, Fukutomi was training Team Hawaii for the 2015 WKC in Sapporo.
“I always admired how he handled winning,” Nakamoto said. “Everybody deals with losing, but it’s how you handle winning, which is a reflection of the person that you are. And Arnold won all the time and he was a champion, but he handled himself with the utmost dignity and grace and integrity, which I found also very admirable.”
Nakamoto, a Punahou graduate who now runs his own law firm in the Orange County area, wasn’t coached by Fukutomi but trained with him for the WKC in 1988 and 1991.
“I often sparred with him,” Nakamoto said. “Sparring with Arnold was like competing against a computer in chess — you always knew that he was learning all your moves and tendencies. Rarely would you be able to hit Arnold with the same technique more than once. He always got the best of me, and I was considered one of the best in Hawaii at the time.”
Fukutomi’s legacy only broadened later as he served as the Hawaii Kendo Federation president, Aiea Taiheiji Kendo Club chief instructor and Seibukan instructor.
“Certainly locally, you cannot talk about Hawaii Kendo Federation without mentioning Arnold Fukutomi,” Nakamoto said. “I mentioned the accolades he received while he was actually in tournaments but he had an equally impressive resume after he stopped competing in the Hawaii Kendo Federation. So you can’t have any rational discussion about the Hawaii Kendo Federation without discussing Arnold. His footprint, so to speak, in the Hawaii Kendo Federation is huge. You can’t get around it.”
Fukutomi graduated from Aiea High School, the University of Hawaii and the Electronics Institute. He served as systems operator for the city’s Department of Transportation Services.
In addition to kendo, Fukutomi was an avid fisherman, tennis player and craftsman. He is survived by his wife, Cynthia; son, Braxton; daughter, Roxie Nakamoto; mother, Ryoko; brother, Bryant; sister, Colleen; seven nieces and one nephew.
A celebration of his life will be held Wednesday at Mililani Memorial Park and Mortuary, mauka chapel, with visitation at 5:30 p.m. and service at 6:30 p.m.
Our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the deceased