humility

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Amos Kotomori

 

Amos Kotomori designs fashion, jewelry, building interiors and more – you can even see his creativity at work in the set design for Long Story Short here at PBS Hawai‘i. From working in advertising, with modeling agencies and with top fashion designers, his career successes have taken him all over the world. However, his most inspirational attribute is how he has dealt with life’s challenges. This Honolulu and Bali-based designer shares how his life values and no-fear attitude have helped guide him through obstacles in life with grace and humility.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, July 28, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Amos Kotomori Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Facing fear, I think, is one of the things that I love, because it’s an adrenalin rush for me.  It makes me realize what I have to conquer, so that it’s no longer frightening. And I think in today’s society, everything is based on fear.  And I really feel for artists today, only because there is no place to fail.

 

This artist and designer has shut down fear many times in his life, whether it was in walking away from a successful business, or dealing with life-threatening illnesses.  Each time, he had no idea what was going to happen next.  Amos Kotomori, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Amos Sadamu Kotomori of Honolulu and Bali has about him a kind of mystique.  He inspires ardent admiration on the part of many of those who work with him or who hire him.  That’s because he can take an art design and elevate it with touches that nobody else thought of, and which are inexpensive.  Or, as one of his colleagues said, he can even make something out of nothing.  He designs fashion, jewelry, building interiors, and more.  In fact, he designed our Long Story Short set at PBS Hawai‘i, as well as this Hawaiian Victorian parlor stage for our Nā Mele TV show, that time featuring Tony Conjugacion.  He says the spiritual values that his parents passed on to him while he was growing up have always been at the heart of what drives him to dream and to create.

 

Being Japanese, we believe that like, our destiny is created with our name.  And part of it is that I was named after Amos Cooke.

 

He actually came here to be a missionary.

 

Exactly.

 

And became an educator and a businessman.

 

Right.  His daughter gave me his name.  My dad was the first Japanese osteopath in the islands, and Margaret was his patient. She came and said: I would like for him to have my father’s name.  And so, that’s where Amos came from.  And Sadamu came from the temple, and it means never-failing, like the daruma that always pops up.  But with that, my parents always made it a point.  It’s not about never-failing; it’s about learning from failure, it’s about having expectations and sometimes lowering them to learn the lesson.  You know.  So, that’s all part of it.  But the most important one, I think, is my last name, which is Kotomori, which is a forest of musical instruments.  And I always hear the music in everything.  I mean, it makes life so much easier.  You know, my dad really believed in service.  He loved what he did as well, as an osteopath.  It’s a nerve and bone specialist.  But he was a country doctor, in the sense that it wasn’t the money.

 

I see.

 

It was about people coming, and they would give us food.

 

In payment.

 

In payment.  And that was fine.  I remember one Thanksgiving, someone gave us a live turkey.  It was really mean.

 

But, you know, what do you do with a live turkey; right?  You just kinda go like: Okay.  And then, it disappeared, and all of a sudden, it was meat.  ‘Till today, I can’t see buying avocados, bananas, mangos, because they’re supposed to be free.

 

Mm; lychees, too.

 

Lychee; yes.  You know, all of those things, you know.  But that’s what growing up in Hawai‘i is, is that everybody was Auntie, Uncle, Halmeoni, Halabeoji, Popo, Gung Gung.  You know, all of those things; it just meant that they were family. And I think that’s what is the difference here.  And that’s why I think when I look at people, I don’t look at them as, oh, this is a cohort of work and a peer.  You know, I just think we’re all working towards moving in one direction.

 

When he saw you interested in art, was he worried?

 

Many parents do get worried when they see that art compulsion.

 

Yeah.  You know, art just kind of came by, because my mom was the creative side of it.  And you know, she made my shirts, she printed my shirts, she sewed all my clothes for the first two weeks of the school year. So every day, I had something new to wear.

 

That was unusual.

 

That was unusual, but I didn’t know it.  I really didn’t know it.  So, my love for textiles grew from that.  But you know, it’s like we are who we are because of all the experiences, you know.  And I think part of my DNA comes from that strength of being independent from my dad. And he died when I was in my early twenties.  And he left me an obi, which I love.  I got a print from his office.  But more than that, he left me messages of how to survive, how to really see value in everything around me.  So, it wasn’t about money.  It wasn’t about, you know, never failing.  It was always about doing more, and maybe serving.  My first memory that I have visually, ‘cause I’m a visual person, is my dad holding me next to the volcano.  And it’s like I can still see him there, and always pointing to the sky. And so, I always look to the stars. And the message really is that if you have a dream, if you have something that you really want to do, it’s possible.  And the song, you know, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star actually turns into A, B, C. And that is the next message, is that with education, and I was brought up this way, that you can do almost anything you want.  But the key is, I think, what my mom always told me; I was born under a lucky star.

 

Do you believe that?

 

And I believe that.

 

Designer Amos Kotomori has enjoyed career successes that have taken him all over the world.  He worked in advertising, modeling agencies, and with top fashion designers.  Eventually, he designed his own line of men’s aloha shirts. He says he was often in the right place at the right time, but his no-fear attitude is what really opened doors for him.

 

I was working at Parks and Recreation.  I was the one who did the summer art programs, working with all the parks and the schools, and you know, doing that.  And someone walked in and said: Would you like to apply for a Rockefeller fellowship?  And I said: Oh, what’s that?  It was thirteen states wide, and only ten got it.  And I was one of the lucky recipients, and so, I got to go to San Francisco and study, being museum curator in community arts.

 

All that from Parks and Recreation?

 

Parks and Recreation.  And I was one of the, you know, say top fifteen positions.  And I left that because I didn’t know what that offered, in terms of the next step.  And so, I did.  And I met the promoter for Issey Miyake, which is like a dream.

 

Explain Issey Miyake.

 

Issey Miyake is a Japanese designer that is internationally known for his fabrics, pleatings.  Just an avant-garde designer.  And he invited me to Paris to see his show.  I was in the Rockefeller Foundation, and I asked for a week off, and they said: Mm, no, you can’t go.  And I thought: Hm.  That was a Friday.  I walked in on Monday morning, and I said: I’m leaving the program.  And they said: You don’t leave Rockefeller.  And I said: I am; I have a plane ticket this afternoon, I’m going to Paris.  You know, it was the fear that they were trying to instill in me that you don’t do this. And the don’ts, don’t work with me. I think sometimes you just have to challenge it, and see what’s out there.

 

And you’re prepared.  What if this thread goes nowhere?

 

You know, it didn’t have any place to go when I went there.  And when I got there, I didn’t have clothes to wear to the designer shows.  I went to Printemps, which is a department store. I bought men’s underwear, and I layered it.  I took a kimono, I took the sleeves off, I made a scarf.  I had a friend who made a jacket for me out of Japanese sex banners. I wore that.  I got invited to Issey’s show, then to Kenzo’s.

 

How many pairs of underwear was involved?

 

I wore three different layers of shirts, which was like long-sleeve, three-quarters, and a short-sleeve, and a tank.  And it just was that, you know, with jeans.  And no one was wearing jeans at that time, I think. It was okay, but not really acceptable to go to a designer show.

 

But you looked like an avant-garde kind of guy.

 

Well, it’s the best I could do, and I had fun doing it, putting it together.  And for whatever reason, from there, I was invited to Dior.  And said: I really want to coordinate shows.  So, the coordinator actually had me go to the House of Dior, and I watched them put on a show.  They put a full-length fur coat on me and said: Now, you walk the ramp, ‘cause you have to know how to be a model, you know, know what it feels like.  And that was my training.

 

It sounds accidental, but is it?  One, you’re willing to go.  If somebody invites you to something, you’re willing to go.  But I mean, it seems like you’re getting an awful lot of special treatment.

 

It sounds like that.  But you know what?  This is me.  I mean, this is my ordinary life, ‘cause that’s the only life I knew.  It’s like, doing an agency, there was a need for it. And I wanted to serve that for our people here, the local people, you know, just to be represented in national commercials.  But even that, I gave the agency away, and basically, it was one of the hardest things to do.  And someone told me: You’re giving up the agency because you’re afraid of success. And that really hurt.  But at the same time, when I went away, I left and I went to England, and it took me a while before I realized that success sometimes is knowing when to stop.  And it’s okay, ‘cause there’s something else to learn.

 

What tells you it’s time to stop?

 

You know, it’s like … again, from the heart to the gut.  And that’s it, and following it.  What happened when I left the agency was that I ended up in Morocco.  A friend built a kasbah there, and he said: Come.  And he’s been saying come for years.  And when I went there, I realized that in third grade, I had done a painting, and I called it Hot Fudge Sundae Mountains. And I can still see it; the valley like this, the cream coming down a lake, and hot fudge sundae mountains. Because I had never seen snow, I didn’t know what it was, but I knew what a hot fudge sundae was, and it looked like that, with the whipped cream.  Many years later, I give up the agency, I end up in Morocco in Marrakesh. And I look out the window of this car … I see Hot Fudge Sundae Mountains.

 

Exactly what you drew in third grade.

 

Exactly what I saw in third grade.  The only reason I remember that painting is because at Royal Elementary, it was sent to the Art Academy as an example of third grade art.  But that’s the only reason I remembered it.  But all of a sudden, bam, the image was there.  And I thought: If I hadn’t let go of the agency, I wouldn’t be here. I’m back on track.

 

So, that’s a dot.

 

It’s a dot; I’m back on track.

 

You’re connecting the dots.  What about money, though?  I mean, you know, you were running a successful agency.

 

You know, to this day, I don’t know what my balance is.  I really don’t.  I’ve never put an emotion on money.  And the reason for it is because it’s a number.  I feel like a number needs to be met at the end of the month, to meet all the bills, and somehow, it’s there.

 

Somehow, you were this town kid, who became a—you know, you’ve rubbed shoulders and had projects with top fashion designers internationally.

 

M-hm.

 

And you’ve been able to choose between successful projects as an artist that pay the bills.

 

M-hm.

 

I mean, like you said, there’s a reward in creativity.

 

Yeah.

 

But often, there’s not a reward financially.

 

Right.  I think when you get stuck on a number, you know, it makes it really, really difficult to succeed.  Because for me, let’s lower my expectations.  You know, because I’m getting there, I know I’m getting closer to it. But then, sometimes the dots don’t connect, and when they don’t connect, it means that I’m drawing the wrong picture. It’s really meant to go here.  And that’s okay.  And when I start from there, I can do another one.

 

It’s all about resilience.

 

I don’t know if I am, but I think I believe in good things.  I believe that good things happen for its own reasons, and that belief has given me life.

 

Who is the most interesting top fashion designer you’ve worked with?

 

I think it would have to be Dior.  I’ve never met him, but I worked with the people.  I don’t speak French.  But what happens is that art is universal, it’s a language of its own.  And they wanted me to do their silks, their batiks and silks, and I couldn’t stay in Paris anymore, because I got the call from my mom a year after my dad passed away, and she said: You must come home; I need help.  You know, family first.  I came home.  Paris would send me fabric and say: Just do whatever you want, and send it back to us. And I did for a while, and then, you know, it was one of those things where you go like: Wait, I can do this myself. And so, I took the chance, and responsibilities took on another thing here, you know, when you’re caring for someone, when you’re trying to survive in different ways.  Maybe that’s why I changed professions, in many ways.  But it always led me to where I am.

 

I see a lot of men wearing your shirts.

 

Oh, thank you.

 

They’re very distinctive.  And I just wonder; what’s your thought in creating a shirt, that kind of shirts? What are they like?  You know, what’s your thought process?

 

It took me two years to really develop the shirts in terms of finding the fabrics, and doing the designs and the textile process. You know, it’s like from silk screening to abstraction, to hand painting, to embroidery; all of those things. But for me, wearing a shirt that I’ve worked on and designed is wearing a prayer.  Because it stems from a story, and when people wear it, hopefully, they feel that prayer.  They become happier, or maybe more determined.

 

You designed the shirt you’re wearing now. 

 

Yeah.

 

Is there a message in the shirt?

 

Basically, what this is, is it’s almost like spirit writing, in many ways because it’s calligraphy.  I don’t really know how to do calligraphy in written form or standard form, but I think there is a message in it which is, stop and connect the dots. You know, sometimes you gotta live long enough to get enough dots to collect, you know, and connect them up and doing this.

 

Oh, that’s why they don’t connect sometimes.  You gotta live longer.

 

You gotta live longer.  You know, but for me, it’s like the shirt is basically to see messages, everywhere.  We hear it, we see it.  Things don’t just happen for no reason.

 

Honolulu and Bali designer Amos Kotomori has had many successes in his life. But it hasn’t been easy.  He got past many obstacles along the way.

 

What was the worst hit you’ve ever taken?

 

The unexpected, not knowing was basically when I was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.  Came out of the blue.

 

You didn’t feel bad?

 

I didn’t feel bad, except I was peeing blood. Not a good sign.  So, that was my first thing.  But that was a good thing, because it made me, obviously, stop and take care of it.  But it was Stage 4 cancer of the hip bone, my bladder, and colon.  And you know, I didn’t know it then, but when I came out, they said: You’ve got six months.  That was eight years ago.

 

Wow. What a devastating diagnosis.

 

But you know, it’s like, I went to the doctor’s, I left Queen’s, I made it to Safeway Kapahulu.  I got the call: You’ve got cancer, you’re going in on Monday.  This was a Thursday.  I was going to a camp on Kaua‘i to cook for fifty people; it was a music camp.  And I thought: I can do that.  So, I left on Friday morning, came back Sunday afternoon, cooking for fifty people, and went off to surgery the following morning.  But you know, things don’t stop because things happen to you. You know.  But I think from it, I learned to be a better caregiver, I became a better listener.  Because rather than asking, How are you feeling?, when someone’s recuperating, I always ask, What can I do to help, is there something you need?

 

But often, people don’t know what they need, or they don’t want to say.

 

Sometimes then, it’s basically just sitting there with them and keeping company.  And that’s okay.  You know. But what I also learned is that like, people think that when you go through heart surgery—‘cause I had five bypass, working on ten percent.

 

Ninety percent blockage?

 

Blockage; yeah.  It was pretty amazing.

 

When was that; was that after your cancer?

 

After the cancer.  My chemo was so intense; I did fifty-four sessions of chemo, twenty-four hours long each of them.

 

I can’t even imagine that.  So, you had surgery, and then you went into intensive chemo.

 

Chemo.

 

And was the cancer eradicated?

 

I still go to see my oncologist every three to four months.  And I love that, only because they’re keeping on top of it.  So, you know, every day, every moment, every breath, is certainly a blessing.  And so, you appreciate that.

 

What happened after your heart surgery?  I mean, ten percent, you must have been operating on such little …

 

I didn’t know.  And what you don’t know doesn’t hurt you.  That week, I had done ten fashion shows, and it was the longest fashion ramp in America.  It ran from Macy’s, all the way down to Sears at Ala Moana Shopping Center.  We laid a carpet out there, and you had to walk it ten times with the models.  And that just happened days before, and I didn’t feel it.

 

You weren’t wheezing?

 

Nothing.

 

Wow …

 

You know, your body acclimates.

 

For a while, I guess.

 

Yeah.

 

So, then did you have stents put in?

 

They went in for a stent, and I got up after that, and they said: Mm, so little bit more major.  So, what happened is, I said: Okay.  You know, so it was gonna be in a couple days.  I checked myself out of the hospital, continued doing my meetings and everything.

 

Your doctor had a few words with you after—

 

Well, he called me the next day, and he said: Where are you?  And I said: I’m in a meeting.  He says: You’re supposed to be here resting for your operation.  I said: Well, if you want me to rest, I need to do these meetings so that I can feel better about, you know, not being available for about a month.  And I set it in my mind that even for cancer, thirty days.  Because I was taking care of my mom at that point, too, and she had Parkinson’s and dementia.  And I told her, I said: I’m going for surgery, and I’ll be gone for thirty days. And to the day, I was back with her. So, you know, you can.  It’s a number.

 

But you know, you do take a moment to think things through, and you had to contemplate that you might not make it through.

 

You know, it’s like, the way I looked at it, when you’ve only got such short time to organize, and as they say, get things in order—

 

M-hm.

 

Which is a nice way of saying: You’re gonna die, so you know, make it easier for the people that are left.  The way I looked at it; it’ll be like Zorba the Greek, where everyone crawls through the windows and claims whatever they want in my house.

 

And that’s fine, ‘cause I’m not gonna be around. You know.  But it’s like, every piece that I have in my home has a memory, and that’s what I surround myself with, is those memories.  But I don’t hang onto them because it’s about making new ones every day, creating new ones, and meeting new people, and challenging. You know, there’s been moments where not knowing the challenges and facing fear, I think, is one of the things that I love, because it’s an adrenalin rush for me.  It makes me realize what I have to conquer, so that it’s no longer frightening.  And I think in today’s society, everything is based on fear.  And I really feel for artists today, only because there is no place to fail.  You know, whereas before, we did it because we needed to do it.  It wasn’t wanting to do it; as an artist, I needed to do this. I needed to.

 

And if you failed, then you said there was a place for that?

 

There was a place for that, because not everything worked.

 

Well, what was the place?  I mean, how did you bounce back from a failure in a very tough occupation to support yourself?

 

Well, you know, it’s like, it comes down to, it can be worse.  It’s that simple.  You know, when things are really bad, and then I go: It really can be worse.  And when I stop and think about that, I go: I am blessed.

 

You said artists don’t have room now to fail.  But actually, life is materially better.  I mean, you know, when you look at what we have, compared to what we had a generation ago.

 

I agree with you.  I mean, I think I’m here because of medical, you know, developments that certainly saved my life many times.  I think that like, life is better with the computer, the cell phone, all of these things.  But I just think that one of the things that we’re missing is the basic element of kindness, being able to listen to each other, being able to care for each other in different ways.  I think that really changed my life, but that’s the way I was brought up.  I start and end every day, you know, with a prayer of my own.  And it’s basically time for gratitude.  And I think about all the things that I’m grateful for, for the day, when I start. And at the end of the day, some things may not go well, and I think about it, but I’m still grateful for it. And it makes me believe that I’m blessed.  It confirms that I’m born under that lucky star.

 

Honolulu’s Amos Kotomori now spends much of his time at the serene retreat he built in Bali, Indonesia called Villa Bodhi.  Like most of his projects, it started with a dream.  And while he says Hawai‘i will always be home to him, it’s a place where he finds possibilities in thought.  Mahalo to Amos Kotomori for sharing his life stories with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

I kinda want to get a sense of how your mind works creatively.  ‘Cause I know if this table were filled with textiles, or just various objects, I know you could create something from it.  What’s your artistic process?

 

You know, if I were to look at this table, I see the stripes, I see that they’re organic.  But more importantly, I see the light reflected on the surface.  And with that, I see a lot of scratches.  And, you know, like, it’s almost like there’s ring marks from a glass, or you know, just simply putting their ring on it and doing this, you know.

 

I think there’s a Hawaiian bracelet mark somewhere. 

 

Bracelet marks, and all of these things.  And that’s what fascinates me, is the scratches. Because those were made by people; they’ve left their mark.  There’s different momentums to it, there’s different depth to it, you know.  I see that, and I go, like: That’s what I want to capture.  So, I’m motivated to do something like that.

 

You also picked this very table for this very program.

 

You know, this is an example of how a thought can manifest itself.  Because in my mind, when I was doing the set many years ago, I thought a triangle table would be perfect for this, because it makes us closer.

 

M-hm.

 

We’re not sitting further apart.  It’s, you know, not a rectangle.  It was always odd to have a rectangle.  And I had it in my mind, went down to C.S. Wo, and there it was.

 

On sale, yet.

 

On sale, and affordable on your budget.  And you know, so we got that, we got the rest of the set, we got the chairs, everything.  And it worked.

 

[END]

 

 

 

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
The Big Burn

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: The Big Burn

 

In the summer of 1910, an unimaginable wildfire devoured more than three million acres across the Northern Rockies, confronting the fledgling U.S. Forest Service with a catastrophe that would define the agency and the nation’s fire policy for the rest of the 20th century and beyond. The film provides a cautionary tale of heroism and sacrifice, arrogance and greed, hubris and, ultimately, humility in the face of nature’s frightening power.

 

Preview

 

 

 

HIKI NŌ
Episode # 910: Top Story – Kyle Quilausing’s motto: “Stay Humble, Pray”

 

TOP STORY

Students from Waiākea High School in Hilo on the Big Island introduce us to a man who’s spreading his motto: “Stay Humble, Pray.” This philosophy grew out of Kyle Quilausing’s experience during a decade in prison. He now shares his story of drug addiction and the consequences – with Hawai‘i high school students in hopes they can avoid his fate. “Quilly” puts on shackles when he visits schools because he believes showing has greater impact than just telling.  He says his greatest accomplishment is the feedback he gets from students who tell him he has persuaded them not to try drugs.

 

ALSO FEATURED

–Students from Wai‘anae High School on O‘ahu show us how a varsity wrestler is excelling at his sport when the small sophomore may look like he is in way over his head.

 

–Students from McKinley High School on O‘ahu explain their “Ignition” mentoring program, and how it is helping anxious incoming freshmen make a smooth transition to high school.

 

–Students from Island School in Līhu‘e on Kaua‘i introduce us to two of their fellow students – brothers who are pushing the boundaries of business and technology as high-tech entrepreneurs.

 

–Students from Kamehameha Schools Maui Middle School in Upcountry Maui teach us to play the ancient Hawaiian game of konane.

 

–Students from Ilima Intermediate School in ‘Ewa Beach on O‘ahu profile mural artist Hilton Alves who is giving back to Hawai‘i schools while fulfilling his own goal to create 101 waves on walls.

 

–Students from Moanalua High School on O‘ahu profile a fitness buff and nutrition advocate who keeps motivating others while going through her own battle with cancer.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Ralph Aviles

 

Before his current career as a bus operator with O‘ahu Transit Services, where he’s been for more than 30 years, Ralph Aviles was a professional featherweight boxer. At one point, he ranked third in the world in his division. Aviles says boxing helped him develop confidence, discipline, humility and respect – traits that he now strives to nurture in local at-risk youth.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Jan. 2, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Jan. 7, at 4:00 pm.

 

Ralph Aviles Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Do you miss the connection when you knock somebody out? Do you miss that?

 

No, I don’t miss it. I just miss being in the ring and, you know, raising the hand that you win, you know. You know when your hand go up. I miss all of that.

 

And the crowd goes wild.

 

Oh, yeah. You know, it all pays off; yeah? Because hard work.

 

For you, what is it to be a tough guy?

 

Humble, quiet; but yet inside, you know what you can do. That’s the most important. I don’t need to prove to anybody what I used to be, or what I was before, and stuff, you know.

 

He was once one of the top professional boxers in the world, in the junior lightweight class. Today, he teaches what he’s learned in and out of the boxing ring to at-risk youth in public housing. Ralph Aviles, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program

produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Ralph Aviles of Ewa Beach, Oahu is a former professional boxer who reached the rating of Number 3 in the world in the junior lightweight division during the mid-1980s. However, he received only modest press coverage. As a boxer, Aviles overcame obstacles and learned how to deal with adversity. But his challenges in the ring paled in comparison to the struggles he faced as a child growing up on the West side of Oahu.

 

First that I can recall was living in Nānākuli when I was very, very young, at the age of probably two or three; Nānākuli. I was born down Mākaha side. Then we moved to … Māili, and then we moved to Mākaha.

 

And what was your family like?

 

My family was like … we was pretty much close at the time, because we had very, very hard time. My mom wasn’t working.

 

What about your dad?

 

We never had a dad at that time. Yeah.

 

Never met your dad at that time?

 

No.

 

So, just your mom. Your mom wasn’t working, but she was having babies?

 

Yes. We was on low income at the time; yeah?

 

Did your mom tell you why you didn’t see your dad?

 

No; she didn’t explain. My mom was a lot more to herself. We had to live more on our own. You know, survive on our own.

 

She kept to herself.

 

Yeah; she kept more to herself.

 

So, how many of you lived together at the same time with your mom?

 

About seven of us.

 

What do you recall?

 

I recall we didn’t have a table to sit on to eat. So, we would sit on the floor and eat. Yeah, we would go out and play. And you know, we never have so much toys, but then, we would make our own toys one way or another. Play under the house, and you know, just entertain our own self. You know. We had a … hard time.

 

Living conditions for Ralph Aviles and his family improved when Able Aran entered his life and became his stepdad. Aran was the first father figure in Ralph’s life, and began to coach him in boxing when he was five years old. The large family would eventually move to an even more rural place, the sleepy village of Pahoa on Hawai‘i Island.

 

My stepdad, he started to move in with us in Nānākuli. And then, he moved us out of Nānākuli, into Māili, in a regular home. Whereas, Nānākuli was a low income place; yeah?

 

And then, when did you go to Pahoa?

 

After living in Mākaha for a few years.

 

What was Pāhoa like?

 

Very, very slow. You know, everything just went stop. When we got there, everything was like, okay …

 

You know. It’s like, in the beginning, when we first moved there, for a few years, you know, we never like there. We never like it. We didn’t enjoy being there. You know, everything was just different; was just … nothing was surrounded, everything was just spread apart.

 

But you had each other, still.

 

Yes.

 

And then, your stepdad took an interest in the boys’ boxing.

 

Yes. He created a boxing club up in Pāhoa. Then we used to come down, fight for the Golden Gloves, and you know, amateur boxing. And we used to compete a lot, ‘cause we had our own club.

 

So, was it always disciplined fighting like boxing, or did you guys get in trouble too?

 

No, not very much, we was in. We was always disciplined, you know. We was never in trouble; yeah?

 

That’s pretty good.

 

Yes. I mean, you know, now you brought that up, you know, I’m like, wow, you know, yeah, I never realized that. But you know, I guess because of the Police Athletic League, they was always, you know, emphasizing to all the clubs and the districts, you know, Stay out of trouble; yeah? That’s what it was. That’s what it was helping; yeah?

 

And they were helping you use your energy up in a disciplined way.

 

Yes; yes. They was really backing us up back then, the Police Athletic League. They used to supply us with all the equipment.

 

You probably had to learn a lot of … there’s a lot of mental attitude; right? I mean, you know, it’s not just the physical, it’s really about how to control your psyche as you fight.

 

Yes. People think when you get hit, you get mad; yeah? No; it’s not like that in the ring. Yeah. I’m talking about boxing; I’m not talking about you know, MMA, UFC. I’m talking about boxing. You know, boxing, you have to stay in control, you know.

 

It’s very strategic.

 

Yes; you have to be always thinking. Yeah? And you cannot get mad, ‘cause once you lose your temper, you know, the guy is gonna take care of you. He’s gonna do a good job on you. Because you’re not focused.

 

They say that some of the best boxers are those who come from very tough circumstances, and they have kind of a nothing-to-lose attitude. Like, I want to get out, and this is gonna get me out. Would you say that’s motivated you?

 

Well, what really motivated me was my stepdad. You know, he would always push me. Even when I was trying to play another sport in school, high school basketball, you know, football … when came time for events, big events in boxing, he would pull me out. And I would get very, very upset about it, but then, you know, today, that’s the right thing he did for me, you know, I think.

 

Under the strict guidance of Abel Aran, his stepfather and coach, Ralph Aviles became a professional boxer at age eighteen.

 

When I turned eighteen, my first fight was in Japan. I fought the world champ kickboxer.

 

Kickboxer?

 

Yes. But he became a professional boxer. But he was a world champ kickboxer. And we fought eight rounds.

 

And? You won?

 

Yes; I won. Was in Japan.

 

That was your very first professional bout?

 

Yes. And then, from there on, it just took off. You know, I was main event here, ten rounds.

 

Who did you fight?

 

Many different fighters from the Philippines, Mexico. They would always bring down a fighter; yeah?

 

And where did you fight? What was the venue? Was it at Blaisdell?

 

Blaisdell. Was HIC at the time, yeah?

 

HIC; right.

 

Yes.

 

Good crowd?

 

Three thousand, four thousand. You know. Five thousand; it all depends, yeah? It varies.

 

Any names we would know of the folks you fought?

 

No; they was all from, you know, different states, different countries. Yeah. Mexico, Philippines.

 

Your mom was involved too; right?

 

Yes.

 

What did she do?

She was the manager.

 

The momager?

 

She was my manager for a few years when I turned professional.

 

How many other women were involved at the time?

 

She was the first in Hawai‘i. And still the first, I believe.

 

And how did she manage you? What were her skills as a manager?

 

Well, she would do a lot of cooking for me, and wherever I would go, she would be next to me, you know. She like, was a mentor to me; yeah? We was close; me and my mom was very close. Yeah; no matter what. You know, whatever she did, I would never look at her in the wrong way. I was always—you know. I had a lot of respect for her. ‘Til this day.

 

So, all of your brothers wanted to do more with boxing? I mean, you went professional. Did they, too?

 

No; I was the only one that went professional.

 

Okay now; why is that?

 

Because my brothers … couple of them went to the military, you know. They went their own separate ways; yeah? The sport is very, very challenging; yeah? It’s very hard work. Not everybody can really maintain it, you know, for so many years; yeah?

 

Yeah.

 

It’s hard.

 

Yeah; you get beat up too, sometimes. Right?

 

Yes.

 

It’s not a one-way street.

 

Yes, yes; you do. You know, I gotta admit that; yes, yes. You know.

 

What were you known for?

 

I would love to throw a left hook to the body; yeah? Yeah. And movements; defense. Yeah; that was very important to me. If you don’t have defense, then you know, it’s hard to … move up in the game; yeah? I’m not one that … even though the hand is raised, I’m not one that likes the win if you’re all cut up. So, you know, that’s why I advertise a lot about defense. Yeah.

 

What did you learn from other fighters? You know, everybody has their style and their stance, and their approach. What did you learn from others that came up against you?

 

There’s a little respect for each other. When you’re in a ring, and you hit each other, you have a little respect, you know.

 

That you could get to each other.

 

Yes; for each other. And you can kinda sense it, you know.

 

What was the hardest time you had in the ring?

 

My hardest time was … wasn’t in the ring; was in the locker room.

 

What happened?

 

My real dad approached me.

 

Your real dad?

 

Yes.

 

Whom you’d never met before.

 

Yes. And … it was really devastating because … I was just getting ready for the fight. Was intermission, and I was putting on my robe, putting on my gloves. And my manager said, Ralph, I have a surprise for you.

 

Your manager said that?

 

Yes.

 

Oh …

 

Not my mom manager, but my other manager, who was Larry Ichinose. He said, Ralph, I have a surprise for you. And then, I looked by the door.

 

You knew what he looked like?

 

Yes; I kinda knew what he looked like, you know. Then when he stand by the door, I was like … I was in shock, because I wasn’t sure of myself. Should I go and hug him, or should I just stand here and stay here? Because my stepdad was standing right me. Should I show emotions? I never know what to do.

 

Yeah.

 

I was just confused. And I was getting ready to fight in fifteen minutes. Putting on my gloves, everything, you know.

 

Kinda wondering about Mr. Ichinose’s timing.

 

Yes; yes.

 

So, what did your father say?

 

He didn’t say anything.

 

And you didn’t say anything?

 

I didn’t say much. I just said, Oh, hi. And Larry Ichinose, you know, just all of a sudden said, You know what, Ralph, I was putting up posters Downtown, and he came and approached me and said, That’s my son. And Larry Ichinose said, What, that’s your son? So, Larry Ichinose asked him what was my mom’s name. And he mentioned all that to him, so he knew that this guy wasn’t joking. He knew that this guy was for real. That’s why he brought him to the fight, for the first time.

 

Did you have a conversation with him?

 

No, I did not.

 

So, he never said much, you never said much.

 

No.

 

And then, he just walked away?

 

I just gave him kinda like a hug. You know, not real big hug, but just a hug, and you know, it was time to get into the ring. But my mind was already just going. I lost my determination.

 

And you lost the fight?

 

I lost the fight.

 

Ralph Aviles says for years, he did not know that following that surprise appearance, his birth father suffered a beating by people protective of the newly-successful young boxer, and was warned to stay away. Ralph never saw his birth father again. In 1992, ten years after their brief meeting, Ralph found out more about Esperanzo Aviles, the father he never knew.

 

He was homeless. You know, he was alcoholic, homeless, pushing wagons. Living down Chinatown. I never know, until the coroner’s office called me.

 

And how did they know you were his son?

 

They found some paper clippings of my fights in his wagon.

 

He carried clippings of you … in his life.

 

Yes.

 

So, that sounds like love.

 

They found him in … found him in the ocean; Chinatown.

 

Mm.

 

Drowned.

 

Yeah; hard to get past things like that, right? I mean, it’s just something you never … could have known about, and you just have to accept. Couldn’t know the man, and … he died … probably wanting to get to know you.

 

M-hm.

 

Although Ralph Aviles never knew his biological father, he had several positive adult male influences besides his stepdad.

 

Remember any names of people who helped you out?

 

James Takushi.

 

James Takushi, the State labor negotiator?

 

Yes. Yes.

 

He was a boxing fan?

 

Very much. Yes. His son is also a boxing fan too, and the son is my age, too. So, you know, me and him, we get along real fine. We’re good friends, we’ve been friends for years, and years, and years. You know, back when I first started professional.

 

How did he help you?

 

He got me a job when I came down, when I was on the Big Island, then I moved here, back here. Moved back over here, he got me a job, part-time job so that way, I can work when I’m not fighting, and when I’m fighting, I can take off easily. I had no problem, you know. So, he did a lot for me, and you know, he was always checking up on me, and you know, make sure that I’m on track, that I’m not banging the guardrails; right? Once you start banging the guardrails, you know that you’re not on track, so you know you gotta re-track yourself again; yeah? And I had Ted Kimura. He was the owner of Island Termite at that time. Island Termite was a big termite company at that time. He was also helping the younger generation, the younger kids. He was doing a lot of donations, too. Yeah. And he helped me out a lot, too. You know, not financial, but mostly, you know, physically and just talking. And letting me know the rights and wrongs.

 

Of the game, or of the sport?

 

Of the sport, and what’s out there; yeah?

 

Or what not to get involved in.

 

Yes; yes. Yeah.

 

You were way up there in the world of boxing in your class. Right?

 

Yes. Yes; I was number three in the world. Rated number three in the world.

 

How long did it take you to become number three in the world?

 

Just about eight years.

 

In what division?

 

Junior lightweight. So, hundred thirty pounds. Yeah. Of course, now, I’m not hundred thirty pounds.

 

Who did you fight to get there?

 

Well, actually, I fought couple fighters that fought for the title, but they also lost the title. I mean, not the title, but that match; you know. So, I fought couple of them. One was from the Philippines, and one was from Mexico. And then, I beat them, so that’s how I moved up in ranking; yeah? And you know, back then, the WBC was very strict too, so you know, you really had to perform and earn your position.

 

So, from eighteen to age twenty-six; that’s how long you fought professionally?

 

Yes. I had thirty-three fights, professional. Twenty-eight wins and five losses, with eighteen knockouts. I retired in 1986.

 

And why did you retire?

 

My good friends offered me a good job.

 

Which was?

 

Driving the City bus. And to this day, I’m still driving the City bus, after thirty-one years.

 

So, how did they make their case for the City bus versus number three in the world boxing?

 

Because Sad Sam Ichinose wasn’t around to promote fights anymore. You know, I was just fighting here in Hawaii, and not moving up in rankings and stuff. I was looking for a title fight, but I never did have a title fight.

 

You have to be offered the opportunity; right?

 

Yes, yes. Well, you know, you had to become number one before you get a title fight; yeah?

 

Yeah. So, you could see it wasn’t going to a good place.

 

Yes.

 

It wasn’t going in the right direction.

 

Yeah, yeah. And you know, I was getting up in age, too. Well, you know, twenty-six years old, then I figure, you know. And I said, You know what, if I have a job, I might as well just take this, and just … ‘nough already.

 

So, after you finished boxing and you started bus driving, did you start a family?

 

Yes. Start a family, and you know, I got two kids right now, a boy and a girl. They’re twenty-five and twenty-three.

 

Since retiring from professional boxing in 1986, Ralph Aviles has lived a quiet life as a City bus driver and family man. Aviles volunteers with Matt Levi, a private investigator and journalist, to help him work with at-risk youth. Matt founded the nonprofit Lawakua Kajukenbo Club that operates at public housing complexes.

 

We work out. I teach them, you know, striking, self-defense, and how to keep your hands up. It’s just basically boxing, you know. And you know, they enjoy it. I hold the mitts for them, you know, I teach them combinations. They love it. They like that, you know. They can let out their anger, let out their frustrations.
Okay; one, two, three.

 

Good. Then come back again, with your left hand. One, two.
Three.

 

Back with your left hand.

 

One.

 

One, two.

 

Some people would say, Oh, my god, these kids are at risk, and you’re teaching them how to hit people. Why is it a good thing to teach them boxing?

 

We never bring up hitting people; yeah? We don’t bring that up. And you know, these kids as they’re going, they’re not thinking to themselves that they are hitting people, and going out there and hitting people. Because we’re teaching them self-respect, you know.

 

So, they think of it in terms of self-defense and self-respect.

 

Yes.

 

They can protect themselves.

 

Yeah.

 

They can be strong.

 

M-hm. And they get confidence, no matter where they go, you know.

 

Okay; because he’s throwing… throwing, and all you did is blocking, blocking, blocking, which is good. But what we need to do now is move side-to-side, too; yeah?

 

Getting him tired by just moving back and forth, and all over the place. Okay? So, use your hands; let your hands do all the work. Okay? …right there.

 

What’s a situation where this would help them?

 

This will help them. At least they can … instead of get into one major fight, instead of getting into trouble, they can try to avoid it. And why I say try to avoid it is because they know self-defense. You know. So, they can easily block and say, You know what, I don’t want to fight. You know, I told them that, you know, we need to grow and have some self-esteem, and some confidence before you can get out there and share whatever you want to share with others. Because if you don’t have confidence, you know, you tend to get off track and do the wrong things.

 

Do you see yourself in them?

 

I never thought about that, you know, if I see myself in them. But I always thought, even when I was young, that you know … I think respect was always first on my list.

 

How to get respect?

 

Yes. So, you know, I always carried that around; yeah? You gotta have respect for yourself before you can show respect; yeah?

 

So, how wonderful; it’s good for the young people you’re training, and it’s good for you.

 

Yes. No, it is. That’s why it’s good now that I’m doing this, because it’s like a wakeup call; yeah? Even my wife said, you know, It’s good that you’re doing this, you need to do this, you know.

 

Retired professional boxer Ralph Aviles says he was emotionally isolating himself, turning inward. It’s brought new light into his life to connect with young people, and pass along lessons he’s learned the hard way. He feels he’s benefiting just as much as those he helps. As of this conversation in June of 2017, you’ll still find Aviles humbling driving his City bus through the neighborhoods of Central Oahu. That’s another definition of being a tough guy; doing what it takes to support oneself and care for family day-after-day, year-after-year. As he said, thirty-one years so far. Mahalo to Ralph Aviles of Ewa Beach for sharing your story with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie

Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with

Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

[END]

 

Where Everyone Knows Your Name

 

CEO Message

Where Everyone Knows Your Name
A Surprise for Our Board Chair


Where Everyone Knows Your Name: A Surprise for Our Board Chair

Left: PBS Hawai‘i outgoing Board Chair Robbie Alm and PBS Hawai‘i President and CEO Leslie Wilcox. Right: The newly named Robbie Alm Board Room

 

It’s not my practice to keep secrets from my outgoing Board Chair, Robbie Alm. I’m doing it this once, because it’s a one-of-a-kind secret that really should be a surprise.

 

By the time you read this, the cat will be out of the bag and Robbie will have retired from the Board following a long and successful tenure. Among his many achievements as leader: diversifying our revenues, investing in revolutionary tech advancements, founding the nation’s first statewide student news network, and building a new $30 million home on time and on budget.

 

Even before he was a Board member, Robbie was a champion of public broadcasting. He’s been involved in supporting this station, in one way or another, for more than 30 years.

 

So, of course, Board and Staff are having a party for him. We’ll give him lei and an engraved keepsake, and there’ll be a special song from former Board member, Hoku Award-winning performer/composer Kawika Kahiapo. Robbie also will have to endure a few speeches.

 

And – here’s our secret. PBS Hawai‘i’s handsome Board Room, which doubles as a second TV/video studio and has a view of our large studio below, will be named after him.

 

Robbie displayed both battle-hardened confidence and quiet humility in getting our new home built. He likes the results so much, that he’s known to stop by when he could simply make a phone call. He enjoys the natural light, the openness of the floor plan, the cheerful colors, the way the space accommodates work flow.

 

And now his name will be on the room where he presided over high-level governance decisions. We hope he continues to stop by and enjoy – without any worry.

 

In next month’s guide, I’ll write about PBS Hawai‘i’s incoming Board Chair. We’re proud to have our first ever Chair from a Neighbor Island: Jason Fujimoto of Hilo, an accomplished executive whose family-founded, employee-owned business is nearly a century old.

 

A hui hou – until next time,
Leslie signature