Robert Hiroshi Aoyagi not only taught hundreds the discipline of aikido, but life’s lessons.
"He was a second father to me. He gave me so much advice," said Cary Okimoto, senior instructor at Aikido of Honolulu.
Aoyagi, chief instructor of the Kaimuki dojo, died Nov. 16 at Straub Clinic and Hospital. He was 90. Aoyagi helped establish the dojo, the first of its kind to be built outside Japan.
Aoyagi was born in Kona, the oldest of 14 children. He moved to Oahu when he was 18. He worked as a English instructor and accounting teacher and later opened an auto service business in Kakaako.
In his mid-30s, Aoyagi became hooked on aikido after he watched an exhibition at a teahouse. He mastered the art, becoming a seventh dan, or seventh-degree black belt.
Aoyagi’s passion for the martial art was immeasurable. In March 1961, he and others built the dojo on Waialae Avenue in Kaimuki. His students came from all walks of life and included attorneys, doctors and police officers. In the 1980s, Aoyagi also taught classes at the police academy, helping many in law enforcement.
Family members and students described him as a gentleman with good character and spirit.
Though strict, he was soft-hearted.
Okimoto recalled Aoyagi telling him that perseverance was key in overcoming obstacles. "That was one of the great lessons he taught me," he said.
Aoyagi was instrumental in establishing the dojo as a nonprofit organization to promote the martial art. He was community-minded, Okimoto said. "He never came first. It was the students, the school."
Longtime student Norman Kau described Aoyagi as an exceptional aikido instructor. "He had so many people that came through the dojo," said Kau, senior instructor at the dojo. "He touched so many lives, not only here but all over the world. A lot of people who met him were lucky to cross paths with him.
"It’s not every day that someone like him comes along," Kau said.
Aoyagi is survived by wife Dora Shiohira Aoyagi, sons Robert and Terrence, daughter Eleanor Matsuda, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Services will be held Dec. 1 at Hosoi Garden Mortuary, 30 N. Kukui St. Visitation begins at 5 p.m. with the service at 6 p.m. No flowers.
Family members said personal expressions of condolences can be sent to Aikido of Honolulu, care of Norman Kau, 3224 Waialae Ave., Honolulu, HI 96816.
The dojo will be closed on the day of the service. Interment will be held at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Punchbowl on Dec. 2 in a private ceremony.