Each week, we bring you a Q&A with a Ravens player to help you get to know him better. Today's guest is safety Haruki Nakamura, 24, a third-year veteran who grew up in a family of judo champions and played football to forge his own identity in the family.
Question: How far back does you family's judo tradition run?
Answer: It started with my father (Ryozo). He was actually being shuffled around the world to teach judo. He came from Japan to the United States in the 60s and ended up being one of the top referees in judo. So he really made his mark in judo here in the United States. He finished as an eighth-degree black belt.
Q: He came to the U.S. to teach judo?
A: That's what he loved to do. And that's where he met my mother [Karen]. My mother's also a fourth-degree black belt. They met at a judo clinic in Rhode Island. That's how that kicked off. There was no messing around in my house. Even after my father passed away, my mom was still laying the law down.
Q: What was the atmosphere like in your house?
A: It was a very, very disciplined household. He let us develop our own skills as far as judo goes. He always taught us hard work, strong work ethic. He had all of us start judo at 2 years old. My mom really carried on the same tradition, the same work ethic, because after my father passed away, she was it, that's all we had. We had four kids in the household and she never missed a day of work. Every day she got up, went to work, whether she was sick, felt like she was dying, the depression phase she was going through. Every day, she said, 'I have a family to take care of. This is my responsibility.' But she never complained, she never harped on her situation. And the thing is, she didn't realize she was teaching us life lessons at that time. … I always looked at kids who had so many different things, whether it was a toy or brand-new bike or a Play-Station, and I looked at my mother and said 'That stuff doesn't matter to me,' because whatever my mom gave to me, I appreciated that much than anything else she could have done for us. That's how we all felt. That's why my brother Yoshi works on Wall Street, I'm here in the NFL, my brother Mako has been asked to be a principal in an elementary school in Pennsylvania. My sister Kimiko was a volleyball player at the University of Cincinnati and now she's starting her coaching career.
Q: How many of your siblings were judo champions?
A: We were all national champs. My brother Yoshi was an eight-time national judo champion. I was a national judo champion, my sister was a champion, my older brother Mako was a national champion. We have a very competitive background. The reason people don't know too much about it is that we don't talk about it. We're very proud of it, but we don't want to be like, 'Hey, look what I did.' That's not what we were raised to do. We were raised to work hard, and do things the best we can.
Q: What happened to your father?
A: He died of lung cancer. He was the type of guy, he would fall asleep with a cigarette in his hand. He was a big-time smoker. He also dealt with stomach cancer. He actually beat stomach cancer, then eventually lung cancer took his life at 61. I was 5 at the time.
Q: Where did football fit with all this judo?
A: We were not allowed to do any sort of contact sport other than judo because my father was so worried about us being injured in another sport. His ultimate goal was to have us compete in the Olympics in judo. There has yet to be an Olympic gold medalist in the United States in judo, and that was his ultimate goal for us, especially for my older brother Yoshi. When he passed away, my mom tried to keep us on the path of judo, [but] we started realizing there was other sports out there. I really started liking baseball, and I started developing a little more of an aggressive attitude. My brother Yoshi realized it and he snuck me into a Catholic Youth Organization [football] league. My mom had no idea whatsoever. She didn't want me to play football. Next thing you know, I'm coming home with a pair of shoulder pads and my mom says, 'What the hell are those?' I said, 'Ma, I got a game on Sunday.' Ever since then, she's been my biggest fan. So my mom goes from the person who didn't want me to play football to the person, when I broke my wrist that first year, she said, put a cast on it and go play. I played running back then.
Q: Were you ultra competitive with your brothers?
A: I was. Nothing was ever said. But when I was going into high school, Yoshi had been a two-time state wrestling champion. His senior year he was unbeaten, and he didn't have a point scored on him. I realized I was not as good as him. I knew my future was in football.
Q: Have you ever been to Japan?