Sage Nakamura


What I learned from Sage Nakamura:

Gaman is one of those words so close to the core of Japanese culture that it’s impossible to translate. Basically it is a virtue. It means, ‘show your spirit by enduring without complaint,’ or ‘do a huge favor for someone, and never tell them how difficult it was for you.’

I love Japan, it's culture and traditions ~ so much so that I studied martial arts extensively and even went so far as to fall in love and marry a Japanese girl from Okinawa - decades later it has proved to be the best decision I've ever made in my life ~ but I digress:

There was a time I coached children in soccer - it was a very rewarding, joyful and inspiring experience to say the very least. I had two teams at the time. The primary being an all star Under 16 boys team in Texas, made up of some truly remarkable athletes. One of which was Jeff Agoos who went on to represent the United States national team over a hundred times and in a couple of world cups.

The second team was on the other end of the talent spectrum- A recreational team for under twelve year old boys -this is the one that Sage Nakamura played on. Sage was a coaches dream.

I would force the all star team to go out and watch the recreational team just to show them what spirit and will power and drive can do to inspire others - Sage was a great visual aid.

The talented boys would invariably ridicule the ability of the recreational team as talented individuals are prone to do with those less blessed but the point was valid and made nonetheless.

Sage was always first to practice and last to leave. Enthusiastic, vibrant and hell for leather in every drill he was a fireball of energy that inspired everyone around him - myself perhaps more than anyone. The team voted on their captain and it was no surprise - they picked Sage.

He would constantly poke fun at himself and his heritage, much to the chagrin of his onlooking parents, who both worked locally for Sony, by imitating a kamikaze pilot going in for the kill on every tackle. The other kids loved it as he flung himself, without fear or timidity into the fray.

His English was punctuated with Japanese words that he would play with - the most common being Gaman. He used it to encourage his teammates on as a play on "come on" probably not seeing the irony that his parents and I would share in frequent after game pizza parties. I loved the kid and his spirit.

Sage played for me for two years then one summer he didn't show up for the pre season get together. I called his parents to inquire on my dynamic little sparkplug selfishly hoping his parents had not returned to their homeland. "Hi Akiko - Is Sage coming out this season?"

In her unmistakably quiet and gentle voice Mrs Nakamura replied...

"Sage died of cancer over the summer"

None of us had a clue.

His parents returned to Japan soon after - I wept uncontrollably.

I still think of Sage every time I watch a game.

Gaman is - ‘Show your spirit by enduring without complaint,’ or ‘do a huge favor for someone, and never tell them how difficult it was for you.’

Sage Nakamura was to every one who knew him - Gaman.

None of us had a clue.


That's what I learned from Sage Nakamura.

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