Jack Matsui recently announced his retirement from the Big Island Boxing community where he had become an icon in the sport.
Matsui had been involved in boxing for more than 60 years and had trained some of the best fighters to ever take to the ring from the Big Island and Japan.
At age 87, and in frail health, Matsui decided that it was time to step down. “My health is declining and my legs are bothering me so much that I need to use a wheelchair,” Matsui said from the Hilo Medical Center Long Term Care Facility.
Matsui, who was born in 1922 and raised at the Waiakea Mill, received his first taste of boxing at the age of 12 when he began to learn to box.
“Every camp had a boxing club and I needed to learn to defend myself,” Matsui said. “Boxing and self defense was just a part of learning to grow up.”
Matsui became a flyweight at 112 pounds and gained the attention of the Honolulu Catholic Youth Organization who felt he had a promising career in the sport.
“The CYO brought me to Honolulu to train at their gym on Fort Street,” he said. “It was during my training in Honolulu that I saw former professional boxers cleaning the gym, talking to themselves and not knowing what was going on.”
Through his experience with seeing “punch drunk,” brain damaged former boxers, Matsui made a promise to never allow his fighters to get hurt.
“I went back to Hilo to teach kids not to get injured. I’ve always believed that kids should box one or two years to learn the necessary skills to protect themselves, then quit fighting in the ring,” Matsui said.
Over the years Matsui had started both novice and amateur boxing clubs on the Big Island and has trained some of the island’s best.
“I’ve always believed that we can help the kids to learn to make a positive contribution to their community through boxing,” he said. “Over the years I’ve been asked many times by the juvenile department to help work with certain kids and to steer them in the right path by teaching them self-discipline through boxing.”
Matsui’s coaching list of former boxers is a who’s who list of some of the very best that has ever come out of the Big Island.
Matsui coached and trained the Asuncion brothers, George, Gerald and Dennis, all of which were good fighters during the late 60’s.
“George (Asuncion) was the first boxer from Hilo to make the Olympic team in 1968,” Matsui said.
Matsui also trained Charles Cabral, Frank Flores, Fred Mensha and Ralph Aviles, just to name a few. Mensha went on to become an all-Japan boxer during the 1970’s, while Aviles headlined a professional card and was ranked, at one time, eighth in the world.
Matsui was also recognized as an outstanding boxing coach/trainer and was invited to go to Japan eight times to help train their fighters.
The highlight of Matsui’s Japan connection came in 1988 when he was asked to help train the Japanese boxing team for the Seoul Olympics.
“I loved going to Japan as they treated me very well and paid for my expenses while I was there,” he said.
Matsui also speaks fluent Japanese, holds a fourth degree black belt, yodan, in judo and has received countless accolades for his lifelong dedication to the sport that he loves.
Along with keeping boxing in the forefront for the Big Island community Matsui has also been instrumental in founding the Big Island Athlete of the Month Program, with the help of Hugh Clark, and is the founder of the Big Island Sports Hall of Fame.
“I’m not happy with retiring from boxing,” Matsui said. “It has been a part of my life for so long that this is hard for me to give up. My whole life has been boxing.”
Girls today have a lot to be thankful for in our Title IX program where they are not only encouraged to participate in sports, but are given an equal footing gaining recognition and scholarships.
Most mature women today will tell you that things were a lot different for them when they were growing up.
“When we were young, hardly any girls played sports,” Netlie Yokoyama said. “It wasn’t until I went to college that I got exposed to a variety of sports.”
Yokoyama was lucky because as an education major in college she was required to take four activity physical education courses as part of the curriculum.
“I took tennis, bowling, badminton and dancing, and I really loved it!” Yokoyama said.
Yokoyama went on to teach her first ten years at Hilo High, then twenty-four more years at Waiakea High School where she retired in 2002.
“I was a science teacher for more than half my career and spent the last 15 years as Waiakea’s Student Activities Coordinator, which I loved,” she said.
Along the way Yokoyama found time to raise two daughters, Jill and Kim, and a son, Don. “I would follow my three children along in their sporting activities, the girls in tennis and my son in baseball,” Yokoyama said.
“I had absolutely no time to exercise when working afternoons, weekends, just so busy. I started to play a little bit of tennis just as my last child was graduating from high school, but not much until I retired,” she said.
Now, six years after her retirement, this 62 year old has improved her lifestyle by maintaining a regular physical exercise routine coupled with improved eating habits.
“I get up early and walk for about an hour everyday as I look forward to it. I even walk when I travel,” she said. “I also play tennis two to three times per week, sometimes even four. Tennis is not only exercise but great fun and fellowship,” Yokoyama said.
Her tennis has evolved into playing in four different leagues throughout the year, adult women, mixed-doubles, seniors (over 50) and super seniors (over 60).
And for the past seven years Yokoyama has discovered the value of eating healthy along with a regular exercise routine.
“I’ve always battled with a weight problem, ever since I was young,” she said. “I tried many fad diets, but they never seemed to work. Somehow I knew that the fad diets wouldn’t work, as whatever I would lose I’d gain it back and more.”
Then Yokoyama listened to Oprah one day and began to take her advice. “It was something Oprah said on her show soon after I retired that really got me going in the right direction,” Yokoyama said.
“Oprah talked about how we owe it to ourselves to live a healthy life. She said that we are often so busy doing things for others that we don’t make time for ourselves,” Yokoyama said.
Oprah’s advice really hit home with Yokoyama as most of her life was spent dedicated to family and school.
“It wasn’t easy learning to do for myself, but I did. Now I eat healthy and exercise regularly and I’ve been doing it for about seven years, and it feels great,” she said.
Yokoyama has lost between 15 and 20 pounds since retirement and would still like to lose another 10 pounds, but says that isn’t as important to her anymore.
What Yokoyama has learned in the past several years is now transferring to her family as she has become an advocate for healthy living.
“My granddaughter, who is in kindergarten, has a teacher who teaches her about healthy living and I try to re-enforce it at home and help her to be active and select healthy snacks. She already swims, plays tennis, soccer and basketball and enjoys being active,” Yokoyama said.
Yokoyama is also hoping that part of her healthy lifestyle rubs off on her husband. “My husband plays tennis, which is great,” she said. “But I’d love for him to join me on my walks and especially eat healthier.”
Yokoyama believes that her exercise and eating habits has helped her maintain great blood pressure and cholesterol numbers and believes that her husband could reduce his need for medications if he would eat healthier and exercise more.
“I’d like to travel with him for many years to come, and I know we’ll be able to continue only if we remain healthy,” she said. “I will continue to get up and walk everyday and play tennis as long as my body will allow me to, and I will eat healthy by eating cooked oats for breakfast, whole wheat bread, brown rice, lots of vegetables and healthy snacks.”
Netlie Yokoyama is well on her way to taking good care of her body through regular exercise and a diet rich in healthy foods.
“Life is precious! I do what I enjoy and it makes me happy with my family and dear friends.” she said.