Veteran Badminton Coach Shares Passion With Newcomers

Andrew Tanabe never realized the rewards badminton would provide him when he was first exposed to the sport 60 years ago as a youth living in Wahiawa.

“It was on the pineapple plantation when I was 9 or 10 years old, when my uncle gave me a badminton set,” said Tanabe, a Pearl City resident.

Now 68, Tanabe serves as president of the Hawaii Badminton Club and also volunteers as a coach at Aiea District Park gym for badminton training classes. His work is primarily with beginners. (More advanced players at Aiea District Park are taught by instructors Wesley Lin and Tui Nguyen.) Newcomers to the sport always are welcomed with open arms by Tanabe, whose own progression in badminton has come in increments.

“I never had any lessons for the first 35 years I played,” said Tanabe, who also has been teaching badminton at the University of Hawaii as part of the school’s Campus Leisure Program. “I never knew that there were different shots – I just thought you had to keep hitting the bird. The start of my education was from 1970 to ’73 when I was in the Air Force. And when I started taking lessons while living in Japan in the ’80s, that’s when I realized all the things I never knew. I learned about the discipline and conditioning while living there.”

Indeed, for Tanabe and other badminton enthusiasts, the sport offers a splendid mix of mental and physical tests. Badminton also is a sport for people of all ages and sizes, Tanabe believes.

“I was more of an intellectual than an athlete when I was going to Punahou,” he recalled of his high school years. “I had to accept my size and go with it. I’m 5-2-and-a-half, and after the fourth grade, I stopped growing … Badminton did not require a lot of strength or height, so it seemed to be a reasonable childhood activity. I was fairly good because I was quick. I was nicknamed ‘the grasshopper.’ I never get tired.”

Tanabe, who is shy by nature, spent more than 30 years working for IBM. He is a graduate of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“It was the most mental abuse I had to live through – it was a lot of work,” he said of his time at M.I.T., “but that degree opened a lot of doors for me in Japan.”

Tanabe becomes more extroverted in the badminton environment.

“What I get out of playing badminton is great cardiovascular training. It relieves stress; it gives me a chance to compete nationally, and it carries over to other sports. I now compete in NSGA track – in the 100-meter and 200-meter (sprints).”

As a badminton instructor, Tanabe’s focus is on eight key factors, he said.

“I emphasize in training class calmness, control, focus, power, precision, quickness, speed and stamina,” he said. “Goals that I have for my students include proper physical conditioning, preventing injury, improving self-image and improving badminton skills – both physical and mental. I like working with the people just beginning to play. Some just need to know that they can do it.”