Sunday, July 19, 2009

Robert "Snaggy" Naoto Inouye

Today we celebrated the life of Robert "Snaggy" Naoto Inouye, one of Sensei's real old-timers who passed away on the 3rd of July, 2009.

Alan Yokota would always speak of his constant coaching, mentoring, and vocal corrections. When Snaggy came back to the dojo to train with us, I finally got to understand what Yokota meant. Like others who have been coached by Snaggy, I still hear his voice while I do my kata, telling me not to go blank, to get my chin up or relax my shoulders or... and the list goes on. His guidance during class and mentoring afterwards had a profound effect on me, so although I am a slow learner, I continue to understand more of his words the more I train.

Last November, he was diagnosed with aggressive kidney cancer. I was still in Iraq at the time so I would occasionally give him a call to see how he was doing. After we filled each other in on what we had been up to, Snaggy would start mentoring and coaching me long-distance, asking me how my training was going and what corrections I had been working on. Even as he battled cancer, his willingness to help others grow in karate was unchanged.

After I got back, we went out to eat at Utage's and were talking story. He told me what he missed the most due to his condition was karate. He said he would literally dream of training and would have given up anything to be able to train once more.

The power of his statement struck me hard. What an important lesson! When you start to lose everything, you gain sight of what is truly important. There are many common variations of that phrase, but Snaggy made me understand its true depth.

While in ICU, Snaggy still never ceased his mentoring. When I visited him, he started off by scolding me, saying he wasn't "make" yet (for you non-Hawaiians, "make" is pidgin for "dead"). And sure enough, even though I was supposed to be there to encourage him and despite his difficulty speaking at the time, he still gave me a pep-talk on my training. That is the kind of fighter, coach, and mentor Snaggy was.

During the funeral reception, we did several kata with a "missing man formation", leaving a space open for him. So in the end, Snaggy's wish was granted and he was training with us once more. Upon returning back to my apartment, I couldn't sit still. I finally had to go down to the dojo and train. Sure enough, Snaggy was there, shouting out his corrections like usual.

You may be gone from this life, Snaggy, but you will always be here training with us. Thank you for everything. Thank you.