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Amway Hero Awards 2023: Bruce Kanegai


Bruce Kanegai has almost died more times that he can count – and gone to the emergency room and urgent care more than 50 times in his almost 76 years. It’s more understandable when one considers how he has lived his life: all in and fully committed.

Born to second-generation Japanese American parents who were sent to internment camps during WWII, Bruce learned the value of resilience early on. His father, despite being interned, wanted to contribute to the war effort, so he volunteered for the U.S. Army’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS) and ended up becoming part of the 442nd Infantry Regiment – the most decorated regiment in U.S. military history. Major George Kanegai, Bruce’s father, was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his service in the Pacific Theater.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Bruce saw his parents participate in various organizations. They emerged as great servant leaders within their community. Seeing his parents work with church and local scout leaders, several mayors, and the president of the United States made a huge impact on Bruce. “They instilled in me, ‘To be an effective leader, you need to stay true to your commitments,’” he said.

That capacity for commitment shows up again and again in Bruce’s life – in everything from setting trail running records to surviving a rattlesnake bite to reality TV show appearances to making a lasting impact through teaching.

If everybody did two or three little things, every day, our whole world would change.

Bruce Kanegai

In 1965, Bruce was introduced to Shotokan karate and began training. Because he was picked on and bullied as a small child, he was motivated to become stronger, both mentally and physically. Two years later, he traveled with the first U.S. karate team to visit Japan. Today his dojo is the oldest martial arts school in Simi Valley, California.

Teaching karate later transitioned into the classroom when he became an art teacher. In 1971, he began teaching art to high school students, where his lessons in perseverance made a difference for thousands of students.

“If I saw a student struggling,” said Bruce, “I’d say, ‘Reach inside and be the leader.’” It’s advice that many of Bruce’s students took to heart. Many have gone on to successful careers in the arts. “I have one student who’s a famous tattoo artist,” said Bruce. “Another one went into video game design. Another student – I remember going back and forth with his mom if he could go into art and design, because she wanted him to be a pharmacist or a doctor – he’s now head designer for a leading automaker.”

In addition to karate and art, Bruce has also been a backpacking instructor and set a record running the 220-mile John Muir Trail. He has also trained California law enforcement officers in arrest and control techniques. In all, Bruce estimates he has taught over 15,000 students.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bruce received many teaching honors over the years, including being named Teacher of the Year by eight different organizations and design schools. He appreciates the recognition, but is even happier knowing his students are excelling. “It’s gratifying to see someone making good use of the principles you gave them,” he said.

Asked what motivates him to keep impacting the lives of others, Bruce admitted, “I just love a challenge.” As a young karate student, he learned that struggling to overcome challenges is part of the journey. “Whenever I was ready to give up,” he said, “my instructors would whisper to me, ‘Face yourself. Push harder.’ And I was encouraged to do just a little bit more.”

As an Amway IBO, Bruce continues to impact the lives of others, and his big heart and relentless positivity is mirrored by those around him. For him, Amway’s focus on persevering, growing and contributing matches the values his parents instilled in him growing up, and it gives meaning and purpose to his life. “You’re here to touch people’s lives, to give,” Bruce said. “I try to give at least five honest compliments a day. You can change people’s lives just by complimenting them.”

Asked what he hopes others take from his story, he answered, “I hope they think: ‘That guy’s almost 76, was always the smallest, last picked, a minority and bullied, but he did all this. I think I’ll try something new.’” Whether it’s joining a sport, paying compliments or just putting the shopping cart back where it belongs, Bruce hopes his example inspires people to live life with commitment. “If everybody did two or three little things, every day,” he said, “our whole world would change.”