Training Body, Mind, And Spirit

Josh Mori can leap several feet into the air and carry hefty rocks while running in the sand with little effort. His athletic prowess is astounding. And just as strong as his commitment to maintaining his physical endurance is his passion for creating healthier lifestyles for Westside keiki.

Pakahi Academy in Kekaha, founded by Mori and his fianceé Marie Kielczewski, offers fitness classes (akin to CrossFit) that incorporate Hawaiian culture. It’s a youth-mentoring program that uses sports to help high school students become more self-aware and build stronger futures.

“It helps them open up their minds to see that they can do anything,” says Mori.

“It’s about being well-rounded as people,” adds Kielczewski.

The training not only gives them a chance to build their physical and mental health, but also assists them in achieving a college education by increasing their chances of using athletics as a mechanism to obtain scholarships.

“Because there’s so much money out there,” says Mori.

What makes the classes special is the inclusion of native culture in the workouts. For example, Mori takes his students to the lo’i to help harvest kalo one day, then takes them to Kekaha Beach to lift pohaku (but not before asking the rocks for permission) in the sand the next.

“I want to create young, local kids who are invested culturally – no matter what their ethnicity,” he says. “If you’re from here and you live here, you have a kuleana to take care of this place, and I want the kids to really feel that.”

By adding a cultural element to the training and establishing a connection with the aina, Mori hopes keiki eventually will return home after receiving a higher education and help make the island a better place to live.

“We need plenty help,” he says.

As far as the physicality of the workouts is concerned, Pakahi (meaning “one at a time”) Academy isn’t just about building muscles and bigger athletes; it’s about developing areas of the body that aren’t always so predominant.

“The stronger you can get all around, the better an athlete you’ll be,” explains Mori. “Just being bigger shouldn’t be the focus.”

The focus is instead on functional body awareness and strengthening an athlete’s core. Mori knows this is an asset for students, as colleges are seeking more athletes who are quick as opposed to big.

“We want to make kids body-aware so the quickness is there and they can handle their body and space,” says Mori.

He admits he was “tiny” after graduating from high school in Oregon. However, he says, “no one could touch me.” These factors made him an exemplary athlete who excelled in sports.

A Molokai native, Mori has been visiting Kauai for a decade, but only recently made the Westside his permanent residence. Prior to moving to the Garden Isle in August 2013, he was teaching at Montana State University, where he attained a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a master’s in Native American studies. He chose Native American studies because of some of the culture’s similarities to Hawaii’s and his background in activism. Mori had a desire to understand the system better so that, “we can negotiate our way through the next 100 years trying to figure out our identity and our sovereignty,” he says.

Mori is excited to put his passion for activism to further use with Pakahi Academy by expanding the program to include circuit training. Presenting an exercise program that encompasses Hawaiian culture for visitors, for example, will help build allies outside of the Islands. When people sign up for classes, Mori will bring them to different locations for their workouts, and educate them about the areas and why they need to be preserved.

“There’s so much history, even on the Southside, where all those hotels are,” he says.

It’s obvious Mori’s heart is in the right place. He loves what he does and says he would “do it for free if I didn’t have bills to pay.

“I love working out and I love being fit. I’m a nut for it. If I don’t do something physical every day, I get stir crazy.”

Being able to channel that energy and focus it on giving back to the community and sharing his skills with the Kauai community is an honor for Mori.

“We live in a total digital world where everything is put on a computer or a video game. But to see kids use their bodies and accomplish things, that’s a cool feeling.”

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