Archive for November, 2009

Honolulu martial artist shares amazing life story

November 20th, 2009

Meet Henry Smalls. He is a sixth degree black belt in kendo, the ancient Japanese art of swordsmanship, and a fourth degree black belt in karate. “I am definitely a warrior. I'm the art itself, living,” he says.


He is all sweetness when you first meet him- charisma, a flash of white teeth in a broad smile, and the firm clasp of a politician’s handshake. And then you watch him wield a bamboo sword and just thank your lucky stars you aren't at the receiving end of it.


“I am also an artist. I'll be vicious but I’ll be beautiful as I do it. My objective is to show kendo in its beauty, and in its beauty, kendo is vicious. It's not boxing: you hit me, I hit you. You move, you gone. Period. It’s pure.”

He is a fighter. “You're not going to stand in my way,” he issues, as he stares down the end of his bokken. Nothing stops him- on or off the mat.


His fight started four decades ago in Philadelphia, on the train tracks near his ghetto. He was just 11. He was in a gang-related accident in which some friends were daring each other to jump onto a passing train to prove their bravado.

Nobody wanted to do it. “One of my friends said, 'Henry you do it,' and poof, that's it. He pushed me, there it was. That’s it. I guess that's my fate. I'm looking at my jeans. My jeans are ripped, my legs are mangled.”

He insists there was no fear. “The only feeling I had was that my mom's going to kill me.”

Surprisingly, Henry says this near-death experience was beautiful. He says he saw a bright light- and then, was told it wasn’t his time.

“I felt I was a part of some form of love, a bigger consciousness. I never felt any love like that. Something really special happened to me and it's affected my life the whole time. I wanted to find out why I had to come back, what it is I had to do. I have always been pushed and driven to find out what it is.”

When he came to, he was in the emergency room. “The doctor was saying, ‘Should we let him live or die?’ My aunt was saying, ‘You should let him die because the boy is not going to have a regular life.’ My mother was saying, ‘No, that’s my son. I love him. He can do it.’”

“I'm screaming, but there's no sound. Like, I'm alive! I’'m here! I'm OK! You can't say what I can't be. I'm not going to let anyone tell me what my life is going to be!”

For the next two years, Henry called Shriners Hospital of Philadelphia, home. And slowly, he recognized the real fight. “Society began to collapse on me, like, You are handicapped. I didn't understand what that meant. I took offense, like, I'm Henry!

When he returned home, he wanted to take up sports, but Henry says he often heard this: “I can teach your brothers, but I can't teach you. Talk about breaking your heart.”

Until the day he met karate sensei Jim Clark. Henry’s mother had remarried, and his stepfather moved the family up to Harrisburg, Penn. Henry had seen Clark lead a demonstration in his high school. After, Clark noticed the boy staring.

Henry recalls Clark turning to him and saying, “Hey, why don't you come down to the dojo and see what you can do for yourself? I didn't know what to say. Somebody didn't doubt me or challenge me?”

It was a turning point in his life; Henry Smalls loomed large on the mat. Martial artist Jeffrey Washington met Henry shortly thereafter. Washington recalls the first time he ever saw Henry. It was at a regional tournament. He thought, “You're not supposed to start on the floor in karate. Then I saw he had no legs. Wow. I was very amazed.”

Washington says in short order, he learned to regard Henry as a peer. “After the first time we started sparring, that handicap went away real quick. If you didn't do your best, he'd take advantage of you.”

Henry and Jeff's karate demo

Henry and Jeff's karate demo

The two would go on to become best friends as well as black belts, and tour the country doing karate demonstrations. “It's very inspiring to see a man do karate with no legs. Fifty percent of karate is legs. He overwhelms a man with legs!”

After practicing karate for decades, Henry switched to kendo in 1981. The code of honor resonated with him. “The samurai was very brave. Where I came up you have to be brave. You saw bad things you didn't want to see. It was a gift to me- that ideal, that thought.”


Henry pursued this new course of study with the same intensity he has lent every other passion in his life, to become the world’s first legless kendo black belt. His style and grace have earned him an audience with Japan’s royal couple.

Japan's royalty

Japan's royalty, watching Henry

“Two-hand style, up over top, is what we call jodan. Mine is one-hand because of necessity for how I move around. I cultivated that style to survive,” he demonstrates.

Do opponents underestimate him? “Well, they have,” he pauses. “At their peril.”

His face both darkens and fatigues at the same time; it’s a question asked way too often, to his annoyance. “When I was coming up, there were people looking at me like, ‘I can’t hit that guy. He don’t have legs.’ That would make me feel bad because this guy’s feeling sad and I don't know what to do.”

Pause for eye roll. “I got to the point where, If you feel that way, I will eliminate you quickly. Put you out of your misery fast. That's the greatest love I can give you.” My photographer and I laugh. Henry does not. It’s not a matter of arrogance. It’s a weariness from a lifetime spent fighting the stereotype of a disability.

Now he’s a kendo teacher with his own school. His seven-year-old son, Osiris, one of four children Henry fathered, is also a student.

What’s it like to learn from Henry? Student Ryan Slusher gushes enthusiasm. “You forget he doesn't have legs. Studying under him, he gives off such a strong presence you forget about that. Having sparred against him, he's terrifying. There's nothing like having a guy- you try to hit him, he dodges left, right, and smacks you in the face a couple times. It's amazing, watching him fight.”

Slusher continues, “He's very good at understanding our strengths and weaknesses. In the year of study under him, I've improved exponentially.”

Slusher even thinks Henry leverages his disability into an asset. “I've heard a lot of people say he can't teach footwork. I have to disagree with that. He’s good at doing it; he has an advantage because he sees it at a level others don’t.”

It is, by now, what this reporter has come to recognize as the hallmark of Henry’s life. When asked about it, he nods. “I'm very proud of myself. Each of us can be born at a certain place. Some may rise, others may fall. Why? It depends on choices. My choices were, I was interested in martial arts. Noone’s gonna stop me.”

Henry’s channeling his energy into new directions now. “You reach a point where there should be a blossoming of creativity outside your sport. Music touches everybody's heart. It's the greatest form of creativity.”


The man who inspires so many with his courage and strength, finds his new muse in music. “What inspired me is creativity. Meaning, each day you wake up, create your day, paint a picture of your life. Each day is an opportunity of choices, infinite possibilities. I want them,” he asserts.

There is no doubt this man will get what he wants.


Henry is working on his second CD album, and would like to one day write a book as well as shoot a documentary about his life.

Oct 22, 2009: Di and Tracy on the temporary set, the final days of KHNL

Oct 22, 2009: Di and Tracy on the temporary set, the final days of KHNL

Here's the TV story I put together on Henry with Emmy-award winning photographer/editor Tracy Arakaki. Mahalo, Tracy, for putting in 100 hours of your free time, in over half a dozen shoots, to make this piece sing. I was not on the clock either, but I did not put in nearly that much time! We had to rush to make sure it aired before we were laid off from KHNL. It ran <whew> on my second to last day at work.

[youtube Y7ddedh-vqo]

Posted in Career | 4 Comments »

Wait. Am I white now?

November 18th, 2009

For 400 dollars, you can learn what secrets your DNA holds. The consumer gene-testing service 23andMe, based out of Mountain View, California, will analyze your genetic code and your predisposition for more than 90 traits and conditions, from ear wax type to breast cancer.

The spit kit that came in the mail

The spit kit that came in the mail

23andMe isn't the only genetics testing service, but it is the one I happened to contact and use. I sent in a spit sample (make that, a LOT of spit) and in a few weeks, I got back a huge report on my personal genotyping. The report looks at 600,000 genetic markers, and translates it to a way that makes me want to better care for myself.


It also looks at ancestry. I know I'm seven-eighths Chinese, one-eighth Native Hawaiian. My paternal great-grandmother was pure Hawaiian from Molokai. The rest is intermarriage with pure Chinese. Or not...? Grandma Ako, my father's mother, had once mentioned something about some part-Caucasian mixed in, some generations back, in Grandpa Ako's family. After this test, I questioned my dad's sister, Auntie Roz. "It's a rumor floating around for decades, but nothing documented," she said.

When I got my test back, the ancestry legend coded Asian as orange, and European as blue. Do the bits of blue in my chart mean I'm a bit European? Here's the rub: maybe, maybe not.

Yes, that much spit!

Yes, that much spit!

The geneticist I spoke to said the chart is still a work in progress, and there's no code yet to identify Polynesian. It sometimes gets displayed orange, sometimes blue. Therefore, those bits of blue might be my pinkie-fingers' worth of Native Hawaiian. Or it might really be that rumored-about Caucasian.

Teeny bits of blue

Teeny bits of blue

Still, I found the test very interesting, with some results that I'll share with my doctor, just for him to have.


This testing is controversial. It's opened a Pandora's box worth of concerns ranging from how meaningful the results are (look at my own example with the ethnicity), to how to prevent genetic discrimination if the results are shared without authorization to potential insurers or employers. It's not even totally clear how all this information will be used. But one thing is certain: the door has been opened, and it can never be closed again.

Would you take a genetics test? Why?

[youtube HKdMkEW7A1k]

Who does more housework?

November 16th, 2009

The younger the kids, the more the housework. That's according to a Roper poll that shows no one does more chores than women with children under age three. This was reported in the October edition of American Baby.

I feel like that's true! For years, the ongoing bickering between me and my husband was that on our days off or free time, I dedicate myself to house cleaning and house errands. He sits and watches TV. It probably would have gotten worse after we had a child, but I was also part time so I felt more compelled to clean, in lieu of being at work.

When I was anchoring weekends, I only worked two days a week. I had five days a week to be domestic mom. When I moved to weekday mornings, that fell apart. I was constantly tired and sometimes overwhelmed.

I gave up and stopped cleaning less. The house looked like crap a lot of days. I would still spend Saturday mornings cleaning. It bothered me to walk with crumbs under my feet, etc.

I feel like I've had this conversation with a LOT of women who have a similar experience. What's yours? Do women clean more than men? Do we take it as our responsibility to think of not only ourselves, but the grocery needs, the household cleaning needs, and the childrens' needs? Is it that women can multi-task whereas men supposedly aren't set up for that, evolutionarily? Are you frustrated? How did you fix it?

New mosquito?

November 11th, 2009

Something very strange happened to me recently. I got bit A LOT over the course of several days and nights. I was so itchy, I couldn't sleep for three days. I was so itchy I was up searching for information on the internet at 1 a.m. On a work day! Apparently it's kind of hard to sleuth out a bug bite on the net. Here's what it was:

vanduzeei - Wyeomyia vanduzeei - female

This ain't your average Hawaii mosquito. This is Wyeomyia vanduzeei, which was imported to Hawaii possibly via the bromeliad trade. That's according to an entomologist I know, Lee Goff. "This is a sneaky one," he said.


Lee said he doesn't think it buzzes, and it probably came in because Olivia was opening and closing the screen doors a lot. It's also seasonal with the rains. I got so unbearably itchy because I'm not used to this particular breed of mosquito.


He said it's been making its way around the island over the years, though for more information you should call State Vector Control (a division of the Department of Health.) I must be clear: Lee doesn't want to be called and asked about this topic! I've plumbed the depths of his mosquito knowledge and have shared it here with you.


Thank goodness for Lee, because I was going crazy until he helped me figure it out. I thought it was spiders and was prepared to deep clean my bedroom. The weirdest thing is that my husband was not getting too many bites and those bites weren't that itchy. I had 30 and they were keeping me up at night. Apparently Claus just isn't as allergic (or tasty.)

My neighbors are also allergic like me and they have the same issue. Moreso, since they leave their screen open for their dog. Here is a repellant they swear by. They found this, after much searching, at Target.


They say it's better than citronella candles. It seemed to work for me the night I used it, though the candle burns out overnight.

More info from

W. vanduzeei occurs in all three islands and can be very common but it does not enter light traps readily. In Cayman Brac it can be one of the main pest species at times, biting during the day. Fay traps produced very large numbers of this species and very little else (except for Ae. mediovittatus and some Cx. bahamensis). It breeds in water that collects in the axils of the leaves of bromeliad plants. These grow in the dry woodland areas of Grand Cayman and Little Cayman and on top of the bluff in Cayman Brac. In Grand Cayman it has only been found in the bromeliad Tillandsia balbisiana and appears not to utilise other bromeliads or other plants such as sisal or banana which also collect water in their leaf axils. The small number of W. vanduzeei taken in light traps in Grand Cayman show a very distinct peak from April to June and by July numbers have usually dropped to low levels. It would appear from this that the first rains of the year produce a burst of breeding activity but further rain has little effect.

So... now you know. If you get weird bites that last for days and keep you up at night, this might be it. Hope this saves you some time and aggravation!

And I'm curious: have you been bitten like this? What repellent do you recommend?

Wild Side Specialty Tours

November 9th, 2009

We're took a walk on the wild side. There's a place on Oahu where you can swim with wild dolphins. And I got more than I bargained for when I jumped in the water.


Early in the morning, we board a boat in the Waianae Harbor, and motor towards Electric beach, in search of a big adventure.



Marine biologist Kara Benstrom describes what we’re seeking: “Hawaiian spinner dolphins, green sea turtles, and whatever reef fish we can find."


Reef fish

Reef fish

We gear up, go down, and snorkel first, checking out all the reef fish. Benstrom says, "This gives people a chance to see what nature should look like."

Dolphin 001

Dolphin 009

Then we drive over to where the dolphins play. Soon, they show up. Benstrom says, "Some days we’ve had swims for over half hour, where the dolphins want to swim, play, and check out the people. The dolphins can be tricky; if they're not in the mood we have to respect that."



But I got lucky. I was 5 feet from a pair of dolphins who were circling and playing with a plastic bag. They were treating it like a toy and trying to get me to play with them!


Elizabeth Hartford, office manager for Wild Side Specialty Tours, watched me from the boat and described what she saw after: "The dolphins came around and were dropping it in front of you and made circles around you. This was their indicator they wanted to play. Women who are pregnant and they're in the water, sometimes before they're ever aware they are pregnant… the dolphins will come and make circles around them as if they can sense the fetus.”


She says I was the person the dolphins came closest to. Are they trying to tell me something that I don’t know?

Dolphin pregnancy test aside, the rest of the guests say they had a great time.

Photographer Roger Mari

Photographer Roger Mari

Rachel Jacobson was visiting from Washington, DC. " This was adventurous to be swimming with the dolphins. I felt safe at all times and the crew was professional. It was fantastic!"

Dolphin 002

Betsy Glick was visiting from Virginia and agrees. “They were cooperative. We got to swim alongside a mother and baby. It was wonderful."

It's an adventure that certainly is... wild!


Wild Side Specialty Tours offers more than dolphin tours. There are other tours for whales, turtles, or just boat rides. It's all on its website,

[youtube _JbK6zNHtnY]

Recent Posts

Recent Comments