|Charles J. Kalani Jr.
|January 6, 1930
Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.
|August 22, 2000 (aged 70)
Lake Forest, California, U.S.
|Professional wrestling career
Professor Toru Tanaka
|5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)
|280 lb (130 kg)
|United States Army
|Years of service
Charles J. Kalani Jr. (January 6, 1930 – August 22, 2000) was an American professional wrestler, professional boxer, college football player, soldier, actor, and martial artist who, in fighting rings, was also known as Professor Toru Tanaka, or simply Professor Tanaka.
Kalani was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, the son of Charles J. Kalani and Christina Leong Kalani. Charlie began studying judo in 1939. He graduated from Iolani School in 1949. His wife, Doris Kalani, later credited Kalani's time on the football team and Kenneth A. Bray's influence with keeping him away from trouble. After graduating from high school, Kalani attended Weber Junior College (now Weber State University), where he met his wife in 1952. Together, they had three children: Cheryle Kalani, Carl Kalani, and Karen Kalani Beck.
In 1955, Kalani was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he rose to the rank of sergeant. Kalani left the military in 1966 and moved to Monterey, California. He ran a Judo and Danzan-ryu Jujitsu academy with Professor John Chow-Hoon. San Francisco promoter Roy Shire asked Kalani to wrestle in 1967, launching his wrestling career.
Kalani got into professional wrestling in 1958, making his debut in his home state of Hawaii during his service with the military.
In 1966 after retiring from the military, Kalani began wrestling full time. He worked for World Championship Wrestling in Australia.
One of the characteristics of Kalani's wrestling gimmick was that he threw ceremonial salt in his opponents' eyes after "blessing" each corner of the ring, a tactic that is most commonly associated with Japanese villain wrestlers. Kalani did play the stereotypical Japanese villain with the requisite knowledge of martial arts. He employed a combination of power skills, martial arts, and his feared Japanese sleeper submission hold. Kalani's most famous tag team partner was Harry Fujiwara (better known as Mr. Fuji), whom he knew from high school in Hawaii. In his book, Listen, You Pencil Neck Geeks, Freddie Blassie explored the relationship between the two "Japanese" heels.
From Tanaka's point of view, he was passing time with Fuji because it made sense to team up with another Japanese villain. The two certainly had no great admiration for one another. Tanaka was a by-the-book guy, who looked at wrestling as a means to make a living. He wanted to work his match, shake hands with everyone afterwards, and save some money. He was a professional.
If you wanted to talk about an angle beforehand, you always went to Tanaka. He was the ring general, who'd lead everyone else in the match. Fuji was certainly a good performer, but you couldn't control him. So, in addition to worrying about their opponents, Tanaka had the responsibility of making sure that Fuji didn't get out of hand. I guess he did a pretty good job because, years later, when Tanaka was relegated to working these tiny independent shows to earn a few extra bucks, Fuji himself had become a manager.— Freddie Blassie, Listen, You Pencil Neck Geeks
Tanaka had a long successful run with the WWF in 1967, including being #1 contender to champion Bruno Sammartino. Sammartino was the one who requested Tanaka (who was working in Australia) to the WWF's owner at the time, Vince McMahon Sr. In their first Madison Square Garden meeting, Tanaka was disqualified for throwing salt. He was pinned by Sammartino in a rematch six months later, and Tanaka occasionally teamed with Gorilla Monsoon. Tanaka also main evented the Garden in tag matches, twice with Gorilla Monsoon vs. Sammartino and Spyros Arion (Tanaka and his partner winning the first via disqualification; losing the second in a Texas Death Match); a year later with Monsoon against Sammartino and Victor Rivera. Monsoon & Tanaka had other Garden matches, including victories over Al Costello & Dr. Bill Miller; and Bobo Brazil and Earl Maynard.
Tanaka subsequently teamed with Mitsu Arakawa in the WWF in 1969, acquiring the International Tag Team Championship; losing it at Madison Square Garden to Tony Marino and Victor Rivera. The team of Tanaka and Mr. Fuji won three WWF World Tag Team Championships, with Blassie as manager for the third reign and The Grand Wizard as manager for the first two. They first won the belts from Sonny King and Chief Jay Strongbow on June 27, 1972, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at a House show. They lost the belts to Haystacks Calhoun and Tony Garea on May 30, 1973, again at a Hamburg house show, but regained them on September 11, 1973, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before losing them again to Tony Garea and Dean Ho on November 14, 1973, again in Hamburg. Their third win came on September 27, 1977, at a Philadelphia house show when they defeated Tony Garea and Larry Zbyszko in a tournament final for the vacant belts, holding them until March 14, 1978, when they lost the titles to Dino Bravo and Dominic DeNucci in Philadelphia. This third reign set a record for number of championship reigns which would be equalized by The Wild Samoans in 1983, Demolition in 1990, Money Inc. in 1993, The Quebecers in 1994 and The Smoking Gunns in 1996, but not bettered until The New Age Outlaws won a fourth reign in 1999.
After WWWF, Tanaka returned to Japan, Hawaii and other territories until retiring in 1986.
Professor Tanaka was also featured in a television commercial for a brand of rice in Puerto Rico. His other appearance in a commercial was for Colgate toothpaste with Pat Morita. Tanaka was seen as an extra in a few of David Lee Roth's music videos in the mid-1980s.
By the early 1980s, Kalani's body could not handle the beatings in the ring any longer, and he moved into the film world on a more permanent basis. His first film was the 1981 Chuck Norris vehicle An Eye for an Eye and his last film was 1995's Hard Justice. He appeared opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Running Man "Professor Subzero", the red-armor clad "stalker" who is a sadistic hockey-samurai with a scythe that "slices his enemies limb from limb into quivering, bloody sushi". Other notable roles include Missing in Action 2: The Beginning, The Perfect Weapon, 3 Ninjas and Pee-wee's Big Adventure.
Tanaka was one of three semi-retired professional wrestlers to compete in a tug-of-war match with two other wrestlers teamed up against a large group of children on the Nickelodeon series Wild and Crazy Kids in the early 1990s.
Kalani died of heart failure on August 22, 2000. He was given a full military funeral.
1Records do not show which NWA affiliate Tanaka worked for when his two reigns with the title began. While usually defended in Southeastern Championship Wrestling, it was occasionally used in other promotions.