Persecuted Since the Day of the Attack on Pearl Harbor When He Was Nine — The Strange Life of Mack Kurihara the Champions’ Trainer | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Persecuted Since the Day of the Attack on Pearl Harbor When He Was Nine — The Strange Life of Mack Kurihara the Champions’ Trainer

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When we saw each other in Los Angeles, we were often wearing Yakushiji T-shirts!

In the early morning hours of January 21, Western U.S. time, Mac Crijala passed away at the age of 90. He was 90 years old, and reportedly died of a brain hemorrhage caused by a hard blow to the head when he fell. Indeed, in the past few years, he showed signs of age-related decline when walking.

In December 1994, Mac was Yakushiji’s chief strategist in the WBC unified bantamweight title match between Joichiro Tatsuyoshi and Yasuei Yakushiji, which drew the attention of all of Japan. I began dating him five years later. Mack called me frequently when I was living in Reno, Nevada, at the time. We once went to a box office near Los Angeles together. I interviewed him many times at a restaurant that served Hawaiian food.

Mack was born in Honolulu on December 4, 1932. He was nine years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

I remember that day vividly. It was a Sunday morning. My parents, brother, two sisters, and I were having dinner when we heard a boom-boom-boom outside. We were on the second floor of our apartment building, and when we looked up at the sky, we saw a tremendous number of fighter planes falling into Pearl Harbor one after another. I was so startled that I turned on the radio and heard, “The Japanese are attacking! It’s war! He said. “

After that day, Japanese Americans were placed in a delicate position in American society as “enemy aliens.” Mack, despite his U.S. citizenship, was looked down upon and his human rights were trampled upon.

The next day, American soldiers rushed into all the Japanese American homes and told them, ‘We’re going to confiscate your radios and cameras,’ and ‘Get them out of here.’ When I asked why, they yelled at me, ‘Shut up and FUCK YOU! We were not allowed to use Japanese in public until the war ended in 1945. If anyone found out that we spoke Japanese, they would report us to jail for spying. My parents did not speak English, so we spoke Japanese at home.

Classmates who had been his friends only yesterday began hurling “Japs” and “yellowskins” at him, and even resorted to violence. To protect himself, Mack attended judo and karate dojos.

“I didn’t want to do it, but I was in street fights every day,” he said. I was put in that situation. During the four years of the Pacific War, he did two years each of judo and karate.

In 1946, when I was 15 years old, I started going to a boxing gym. Boxing was very popular in Hawaii at the time, so I was interested. The first week I was there, I got hammered in sparring. I hadn’t even learned how to defend myself, and Hawaiian boxing made you spar first to see if you had guts. The next step was learning technique.”

In 1951, after graduating from high school, Mack enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. It was around the time the Korean War began.

“I wasn’t drafted; I volunteered. In the Air Force, all I had to do was box. I fought 40 fights as a flyweight and lost seven times. But even though I wore the Air Force uniform and visited many places in the U.S., I was scorned as a “Jap” and “Jap” every day. The United States of America is a country full of prejudice. My father told me, ‘Whatever you do, be the best at what you choose to do. ‘ I felt like a boxing trainer for that, and at 21 I started walking as an instructor.”

After being discharged from the Air Force at the end of 1955, Mack moved to New York. He was there to learn the methods of Cas D’Amato, who coached Floyd Patterson, who would later become world heavyweight champion, and Jose Torres, who would win the light heavyweight title. D’Amato is also famous for training Mike Tyson to become the youngest world heavyweight champ in history.

Every player trusted Cas and followed his teachings to the letter. They used to say, ‘Cas was my second father. I decided to follow their example and always be a part of the fighter’s family. If you build a proper relationship with them, they will take the trainer’s instructions seriously.

The training under the tutelage of Cas D’Amato was a cornerstone of Mack’s career.

“From Cas, I learned that a trainer must always use his head,” he said, “and that getting angry or yelling at someone disqualifies you from being a trainer. He was outstanding at getting me to master the combinations. He knew boxing very well, and you created the same style of infighting. I called that infighting, ‘rock and roll,’ and had Yasu (Yakushiji) do it too. I gave him those instructions a few times against Tatsuyoshi.”

Yakushiji and Mack first met at the end of 1989.

In September 2008, Yakushiji and Mack met at a fight held in Carson, a suburb of Los Angeles.

Yakushiji said. I got a call from Japan: ‘There’s a fighter from Matsuda Gym in Nagoya who wants to train with an American trainer. He was Yasu, and he started training with me in January 1991. Everyone described him as having a ‘weak heart,’ but I never felt that way. He had a strong right hand and a good left hook. In the first sparring session we did, I just told him, ‘Don’t back down,’ and put him in the ring. Then he hit a sharp jab, didn’t back down, and had some punches. I thought, “This guy is good. I knew he could become world champion.”

Mack was a trainer who did not watch videos of the opponents of the fighters in his care.

He would only watch one fight live and find holes in his opponents. I have that kind of eye. It’s a gift from God. I gave Yasu a big, tough sparring partner, so he could experience survival in the ring. That’s how I trained his mentality. I even pressured his sparing partner, “KO Yasu!” I put him under pressure every day. In the camp, we sparred every day. For example, Monday and Tuesday, four rounds; Wednesday and Thursday, six rounds; Friday, eight rounds; and Saturday, ten rounds. Of course, I also had them do a lot of road work. Many Japanese athletes say, “Mack’s camp is scary,” but it’s a menu to become a world champion. If you can’t do it, you can’t work with me.

Yakushiji became the Japanese bantamweight champion in his second fight after teaming with Mack, and won the WBC bantamweight title in his tenth fight; his fourth defense was a fight with Tatsuyoshi.

The WBC bantamweight unification title fight took place in December 1994. Yakushiji’s (right) hook catches Tatsuyoshi in the face at the Nagoya City General Gymnasium.

Ninety-nine percent of the people said that Tatsuyoshi would win. It is true that Tatsuyoshi was a great fighter. That’s why I shook Tatsuyoshi to make him uneasy. I could tell he was a sensitive guy. So I said, ‘He has six weaknesses. Actually, I didn’t have any of those (laughs), but sure enough, Tatsuyoshi was upset. I could see it in his hand that he was getting cornered. Yasu, on the other hand, had set up camp in the U.S. and was able to concentrate on his training with the noise shut out. At that time, I advised him to use his jab anyway, and to aim at Tatsuyoshi’s left eye, which had become detached from the retina. Then I put more pressure on him by telling the media, ‘Tatsuyoshi will go blind after the fight. It was a ploy to confuse and panic him. Yasu kept the pace with his jab, as planned, and overcame Tatsuyoshi. One of the judges scored the fight a draw, but Yasu’s victory would have been obvious.”

The day Yakushiji beat Tatsuyoshi was Mac’s 62nd birthday. The place where he overcame rain, dew, frost, and snow to score a historic victory was Japan, where his roots are.

I’m not American. I am Japanese.

He said this at every opportunity before his death.

Fighting discrimination against Japanese Americans

The morning after his victory in the biggest match ever seen in Japan, Mack was reading the Japan Times when he suddenly lost sight in his right eye.

“It suddenly went dark,” he said. The first doctor I saw operated on me three times, and the second doctor gave me three laser treatments. I went to seven other hospitals, but in the end I lost my sight. Perhaps that was the price to pay for my historic victory.

The man who was called a “Jap” from the age of nine has left behind a legacy of achievement in the world of boxing, and now rests in eternal peace. Please visit —– for more information.

  • Photography and text by Soichi Hayashi

    Born in 1969. Passed the professional boxing test as a junior lightweight, but suffered an injury to his left elbow. After working as a reporter for a weekly magazine, he became a nonfiction writer, and in 1996 moved to the U.S. to teach at a public high school in the U.S. He also works as an educator. He is the author of "Minority Fist," "America's Lower Level Education Site," and "America's Problem Child Regeneration Classroom" (all Kobunsha e-books), "God's Ring," "The Door to the World: Forward! Samurai Blue" and "Hohoite to Nurture Coaching" (all from Kodansha).

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