Since December 1, 2001, after I returned to Tokyo from New York City, where I was volunteering during the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy, schools, cities, and corporations started inviting me to give motivational speeches.
Japanese television stations and newspapers ran stories about my founding of Japan’s first neighborhood watch program called “Peacemakers.” I started it in June 2001 due to rising crime in the streets of “The Land of the Rising Sushi.” I gave over one hundred lectures a year, in schools in Japan, the United States, and in Europe. My presentations drew curiosity and attention since my lectures were often titled “A Boxer Seeking For Peace” or “A Boxer On Nonviolence.” Perhaps it was because my title was as disconcerting as a “Hawaiian skier.”
Schools sometimes call me up and say, “We have very bad students. We don’t know what to do.”
Some classes were terribly behaved, and the teachers would apologize before the classes, saying, “Sorry. This class is impossible. Very rough. No one listens.”
It’s interesting that most of the time I find out that the “bad students” are the ones with good hearts. They listen to the stories I tell with their eyes shining like diamonds, welling up with tears that run down their cheeks. Later, after the lecture, they not only follow me to the principal’s office, but also go with me to my car, carrying my big bag of boxing gear. To me, they are the “best students.”
From my nursery school days to the last day of my high school, I received the “Perfect Attendance Award” at every school. I didn’t miss a day or a class–not even one second. No day off, never late, and never left early. I saw how much Japanese schools make every student into a “same-looking cookie” just to pack them up like a sushi bento box. Students are not supposed to say anything back. At the door to the teachers’ room, there’s an instruction sheet on how you open the door that reads:
Knock on the door twice (never three times).
Tell your grade, which division, registration number, full name.
Say clearly, “May I enter please” and wait there till the permission is given.
Don’t say anything more than necessary and make it as brief as possible.
Open the door again quietly, with your hands behind your back.
Say, “Sorry I disturbed you. Thank you very much for your kind attention.”
Bow forty-five degrees.
Leave quietly and quickly.
I see the same instructions now, in 2015. I’d like to liberate children from chains, shackles, and cages. That is my drive to keep touring. My message is, “Children, you are not born to repeat the ‘same old same old.’ You are here, living under the sky, to change and create.”
In one Japanese junior high school that is notorious because of the poor quality of its teachers, one PE teacher walked into my waiting room next to the principal’s office without knocking. With no words of greeting he said, “Don’t criticize teachers.”
He was in charge of the baseball club. A mother who was an art teacher and whose son was in the baseball club emailed me a few times after that and wrote: “You’re bad. You die. You die. Banzai, baseball teacher!”
Around Christmas time last year, I gave a presentation at a high school in the eastern part of the United States. When the students came into the classroom some girls jumped on the desks and hopped from one to another. The teacher said, “Today, we have a guest from Japan. No phones. No headphones. No talking. No sleeping. Everyone, listen very well.”
But no one listened to that announcement.
I gently spoke to them, as if I were talking to myself:
The students who were jumping on desks are of course bad. I don’t think that they’d do that to their own desks at home. Those who didn’t drag them down, or said nothing about it were all accomplices that helped the germ to spread. To end the world, more than an atomic bomb, “apathy” would do the job. If my classmates were to behave like that, I’d make them regret what they did.
I said to them that boxers have no excuse for losing fights. It’s not because of the ref or coach or audience or anything else. It’s always yourself. The quality of yourself will be the quality of your life, I told them.
Luckily, they all listened without a sound. By the end of the class, the badly-behaved ones were converted to be good, and the good ones got even better. The kindhearted student said he was bullied because he was kind. When I heard about his being bullied, I said, “Those who bully are cowards because they always attack the defenseless. Shame on them. If you are a man, bully Mike Tyson.” The students and teachers loved it.
I said that we need to stay super clean like spring water, because if you’re dirty, but smart in the head, you could make super-powerful bombs and nuclear weapons. Clean humans wouldn’t do that. I stressed that their dreams are for their own lives and they shouldn’t let anyone determine their future. Only dreamless sheep join the herd.
The ones with dreams said that they had been told by their parents to forget about their dreams. They told me that right after the class they’d register again for their singing, guitar, piano, and art classes. So that they wouldn’t waste their upcoming eighty years of life by carrying broken dreams in their hearts.
As I was sharing that by opening up their hearts, other people’s hearts would start reaching theirs, one girl stood up. She burst into tears as she revealed to everyone in the class that she’d been fighting a disease.
Another girl, active in community service, said, “Eiji is not just a motivational speaker. He is a life changer. He is changing lives for other people. He is our hero, because he travels many thousands of miles just to remind us to believe in ourselves. He is trying to tell us that we can do more.”
Before leaving the class, some brave ones stood up and gave everyone a lecture to be respectful and decent to others. The students laughed a lot during the class, and many also cried, as their hearts were touched deeply.
I am extremely lucky to have had a number of opportunities to meet students with pure hearts. Fifteen years ago, I started touring schools and towns with the hope that I could be of help to them. The fact is, I’ve been helped by many “clean” and good people. (Click to see larger images.)
Photos used by permission of Eiji Yoshikawa.
Eiji Yoshikawa is a retired Pro Boxer who majored inFrench literature and did his thesis on Jean Cocteau and
Cinematography. He founded the "Peacemakers", Japan's
first neighborhood watch, and spends much of his time
visiting schools and communities teaching children about
non-violence. In 2004,
Japan Inc. Magazine
called him the "Compassionate Pugilist". We are proud to offer
"Letters from the Compassionate Pugilist" as our first guestcolumnist. Contact Eiji at
or via email.