Oyama Family Traditions (pt 1): Japanese American Internment and my Taichi Practice

Henry “Hank” Oyama, is the man I knew as my father, but he was so many things before he chose that role.

Born as the second child to a 1st generation Japanese mother, Mary Matshushima, his father died months before he was born.  His mother knew only two languages, Japanese and Spanish, raising her children in Arizona, she chose to speak Spanish.

So Henry was raised as Enrique, in the barrios of Tucson, earthen floors, no running water and absolutely no “real”idea he was of Japanese descent, in his mind he was Chicano.  In fact it wasn’t until official orders arrived at his home, 7am Friday Morning that May 1942 that Henry Oyama ever saw “Japanese people”!

2017-10-08_09-41-40_562Hank Oyama in his early military days.

Resolutely hopeful, when asked about the experience of being imprisoned in the Relocation Camps, my Nana (grandmother)  would say, “well we had butter, when others did not” or “Rosie (her daughter) met her wonderful husband in the camp”.  My father, he would talk of the opportunity he found.  He poured his efforts into school and his job in the camp, motivated to prove his loyalty and worth.  One of his favorite sayings is that if you have the fundamentals right, it doesn’t matter if you are a garbage man or the president, you will be the best, your best in your life.  In this effort he discovered that the highest levels of success can be found working the kitchens in a prison camp.  If you could get the fundamentals, in this country, even while imprisoned for disloyalty you could succeed.  Henry Oyama left his time in relocation camp as a volunteer in the US Army Counter Intelligence program and came out a Lt. Cornel. He will always attribute his success to first, those that sought to educate him, and second the fundamentals of access to education.


My dad was born a seeker, being imprisoned actually focused him on education.   He went to english speaking  schools without knowing the language.  It was in the relocation camps that he had his first taste of education aimed at a whole population of an ethnic minority.

I thought I didn’t know this Henry Oyama, the boy who was always seeking.  I thought I only knew the educated military intelligence agent, educator and activist who was always building.

In my taichi practice, I am constantly astounded at the ties to my Dad, especially since his life was completely devoid of any such physical practice.

Hank Oyama’s life is defined by his constant bridge making, in fact, there is a school in Tucson named for him for this very characteristic.  I saw his work as “building and creating” but this was his result not his motivation, his Haves not his BE’s (see blog post  Don Hinzman’s Your Walk to Greatness click here . ) He was highly motivated to find similarities, particularly ones that aided in the advancement of education and he was tireless in his desire to share these ideas.

In my taichi practice, I share this deep motivation with my Dad.  It would seem that everything I learn in taichi is linked to everything I always wondered about and sought, yet taichi itself remains shrouded in a cultural haze, available only to those who are born into the culture or able to navigate the fog.  So I follow in my Dad’s footsteps, everyday recognizing the similarities between Kung- Fu and the world and delighting in finding ways to bridge that gap.

My Dad and his group of friends published the landmark paper “The Invisible Minority” credited with the foundation of bilingual education theory worldwide.  The work is pivotable but the concepts were not mind blowing- they were simple reflections of the human condition and how education could improve its efficacy and opportunity.

Our small group of teachers have humbly and consistently focused me on learning the basics of taichi and qi gong.  Forms were shown to be more like language, but the basics were the “thought”, that made the need for language.

The basics of taichi, ying yang, standing well, being relaxed, these are essential components of success in every arena I am familiar with, like my dad, this basic information is what I am captivated with.  Once we can find efficient ways to attain the basics, our own results will always amaze us.  The basics of taichi allow me to witness my own nature and how to follow it, this skill then allows opportunity to be discovered.  My dad didn’t care what type of education you sought.  His concern was that education was presented in a framework that increased comprehension and he championed language as a key component.  Of the many basics to champion, he chose this one, not because it was the best, but because he understood it personally.  With my spinal conditions, the effects of standing well and being relaxed are personally very important.  My focus on sharing taichi basics will always stem from this perspective.  Like my dad I share the belief that these basics, in and by themselves can form the framework for “spontaneous explosions” of amazingly unique experiences.  The idea that simple plus simple can equal miraculous defined my dads belief in education, I believe it about taichi and qi gong!

At his heart he believed, if the basic fundamental aspects of education are made available and discernible to everyone, then everyone has the chance to discover amazing results, a beautiful life.

I allowed my mind to be imprisoned by my body and pain, but like my dad I am a seeker, and this imprisonment was the motivation to seek freedom.  Taichi taught me how to stand well, initially this just helped me to stop falling down in public, but it continues to teach me how to face my life and chose to be the best at it.

The results from my taichi practice in my physical, emotional and material life is nothing short of a miracle and the most amazing thing is that all this amazing result comes from just the most simple of work.  Its like being able to be a millionaire by rubbing two pennies together.

It is safe to say that my taichi motivations are deeply rooted in my Dads experience in the relocation camps.  It was there he learned to discover and unleash opportunity then he then spent a lifetime trying to share what he learned.  He passed this sense of opportunity within darkness and the undying belief that inside we have every answer needed, we just have to cultivate the opportunity.

This is what my taichi practice is and what I seek to share.  I apply the basics, blind to intended results yet convinced that the simple cultivation of this feeling will certainly reveal the opportunities that then will define the next moment and the next, and all the while a  beautiful, healthy, bountiful life unfolds…even if you are imprisoned.



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