Global Training Report
Kitano gBeath Takeshi
Dead or Alive vol. 1
Translated by Yoko Kondo
Sakuraba: To tell the
truth, I used to watch gTake-chan manh very often when I was in an
elementary school. When asked who was my favorite, I always answered,
note: Take-chan is the affectionate name of Mr. Takeshi, who is a
popular actor and comedian in Japan, as well as an internationally
famous film director].
Takeshi: Ifm glad to
hear that. Ifm a fan of yours too. When I am watching your fights, I
feel that you are very smart. gSmarth doesnft mean intelligence at
schoolwork, but intelligence which enables you to look at the position
you are placed on objectively. There are fighters in kakutogi who
blindly make themselves high by uplifting their fighting spirits. But
they will lose themselves in that case. The same thing happens in manzai
too [translator's note: manzai is a form of Japanese comedy
involving two players]. Uplifting fighting spirit is necessary, but what
is more important is having a sense that there is within you another
self that controls the self that is actually fighting, a sense that you
can coolly observe yourself standing in the ring with the eyes of a
second or spectator. That is, you can explode if you want, and you can
brake yourself if you want.
Sakuraba: To be sure,
too much excitement makes my view narrow. What comes into my sights is
only my opponent. If he attacks, I will attack back out of anger. If I
am very excited, I will attack his face. If I can coolly observe the
situation, I will see there are other parts I can attack other than his
face, such as legs or waist.
Takeshi: Like sumo and
judo, kakutogi requires imagination, with which you can judge the power
and ability of your opponent merely by touching a part of his body.
Sakuraba: I think so
Takeshi: You showed up
with two fellows putting on the same mask all together in the fight with
Royce Gracie at Tokyo Dome in May. I thought it was not merely a gag,
but a kind of psychological strategy. It seemed to me that you were
intentionally driving yourself into the corner by showing up like that,
namely, you tried to put pressure on your opponent, but at the same time
on yourself too.
Sakuraba: I thought it
would be embarrassing if I lost so easily after such an extravagant
Takeshi: It seems that
you were making fun of them all along.
Sakuraba: They made a
lot of demands about the rules before the fight. It annoyed me off, so I
tried to make fun of them a little bit (laughing).
Takeshi: If an opponent
complains about a rule or something before the fight, a fighter in
general tries to mess him up in the fight out of anger. But it happens
that the fighter loses because of unexpectedly higher power brought by
that anger. I had the same experience in a four-round boxing match a
long time ago. I fell down within two minutes from the start. I punched
and flailed recklessly, my mouthpiece fell out, and I punched my
opponent until I couldn'tf t open my hands anymore. It is like a
100-meter sprint. It can not be possible to keep such a pace until the
end. A blind fight out of anger doesnft last even two minutes, does
Takeshi: You have
fought with foreign fighters with very muscular bodies. Have you ever
felt that your victory was assured from the first moment of contact?
Sakuraba: Yes, I have.
Takeshi: So you found
him not so strong as he looked?
Sakuraba: Yes. gOh!
It will be easyc.h
Takeshi: You must be
filled with a lot of joy in that case!
Takeshi: When I became
well-known as a comedian in Tokyo, I was told that I wouldnft be able
to make audiences laugh in Osaka [Translatorfs note: people in Osaka
have a little different sense of humor from people in Tokyo]. So I was
very nervous when I went to Osaka for the first time. I was restlessly
pacing back and forth in a waiting room, or looking at the stage from
the wings. Then I went onstage. When I did my first bit, the audience
started giggling. gOh! I caught them!h, I thought. I was so happy,
and started thinking about what I should do next, or how I should finish
Sakuraba: It is exactly
the same as kakutogi.
Takeshi: After that, I
can manipulate them the way I like. They already know my routine from
TV, so itfs not a good idea to use the same bits to make them laugh
there. I surprise them by intentionally using different bits from their
expectation. It was a great moment for me. I felt as if I found their
weakness at that moment. In the same way, I have a moment to feel in
your fighting, gOh! youfve seen through your opponent!h. You must
have a sense like gOh, the time has come!h.
Takeshi: In the fight
with Royce in May, you were standing back with your face pushing out of
the rope, and were getting punches from the back. I was watching it on
TV feeling that you were enduring with knowing from which direction the
punches would come.
Sakuraba: Yes. Royce
was standing on the left side, so I knew powerful punches would come
from only the right side. I didnft get any damage from his punches.
Takeshi: You observe
things coolly like that. Were you sure of your victory then?
Sakuraba: Yes, I had
such a feeling. He was so excited and just pushed me to the rope. I
hoped he would run out of stamina. The brain doesnft work properly
without stamina, because of lack of oxygen. I was saving energy to avoid
that condition. By the way, when did you start watching pro wrestling?
Takeshi: I started it
from Rikidozan. [translator's note: Rikidozan was a Korean pro wrestler,
immensely popular in Japan after WW II. Rikidozan teamed up with judo
champion Kimura (the one who defeated Helio), for tag team matches
against American and other opponents, and was later stabbed to death in
1963 by a fellow Korean for being insufficiently patriotic]. My family
bought a TV set to watch him. A masked wrestler named Mr. Atomic was so
sensational. But I gradually realized that pro wrestling was a show.
Then my interest turned to boxing. But I was using pro wrestling as bits
of manzai for some period.
Sakuraba: The beginning
of my pro wrestling history is Tiger Mask. I watched him in a comic book
at first when I was the first grade of middle school [that would be 7th
grade in the American system]. Then I lost my head over him who in
reality showed up in the ring. He was cool. Butcher or Sheik pair vs.
Funks [the names of American pro wrestlers] are still vivid in my
memory. Pro wrestling program was broadcasted mainly at midnight in my
home town in the countryside, and I could seldom watch it. There was an
evening program, but I was attracted by a cartoon program (laughing).
Takeshi: I see.
Sakuraba: I was an
amateur wrestler before becoming a pro wrestler. In the case of amateur
wrestling, there was no spectator. All I had to think about was my win
and my teamfs win. Thatfs all. And then I joined U-inter as a pro
wrestler, where I had to think about attracting a lot of spectators to
make a living. I was taught there like this. gIt is important to show
my enthusiasm for fights at first, rather than try to respond to the
expectation of spectators. As long as I do it, a result is the second
matter. After that I should start selling my name little by little, and
then showing my techniqueh.
Takeshi: Pro wrestling
in the Rikidozan period was so to speak W. Kenji of manzai. They
got a big response by showing just what the audience expected. But my
style was vale tudo, that is, anything was OK to make the audience
laugh. When the mood of the audience was down due to a boring manzai
performed before me, I started my show by saying how bad that manzai
was. I was scolded at back stage later, but that was exactly what the
audience felt. Then when their mood was up, I segued into my shtick. Pro
wrestling, in the meantime, had changed a lot after the Rikidozan era.
Getting into the era of Mr. Inoki, it started to show its dark side,
with conflicts between groups or various factions before getting into
the ring. And now it has become real fighting.
Sakuraba: Compared to
the old days, there are many changes in pro wrestling including
environment. I think it is changing for the better. When I see it from
the viewpoint of spectator, boring is boring.
showed a big reaction on only one motion of a Gracie [Royce] who
faltered by getting a kick on his leg. They are maniac [hard core fans]
with trained eyes, so they react to each motion fighters do by
interpreting their strategy.
Sakuraba: They know
well about technique. The technique we used is interpreted in magazines
too. For example, even if I am on the top over my opponent on the
ground, my position will get bad if he holds me with both of his legs.
So at the moment when I pass over one leg, the fans react with a big
shout. It is good for fighters that the fans are acquainted with
technique. It is very interesting to watch the video made around the
second year since my debut. It was so quiet there, because spectators
didnft know anything about technique and I was a new fighter at that
time. I canft stand that mood.
Takeshi: No matter how
good you are, it takes time to be recognized by the public, doesnft
I thought I was
performing a good manzai a long time ago, but only a few maniacs
were laughing then. Once we were recognized as a manzai pair
named "Two Beat", however, the audience laughed at anything we
did regardless of quality. In fact, our act became worse and worse
under this situation, because we didnft practice much, and didnft
think up any new material any more. We could manage to do it somehow
simply by improvising. The manzai boom was finished at the moment
we thought it easy to make the audience laugh. I consider the audience
the most fearful. The best people in our side is the worst enemy.
Sakuraba: When in a
boom, a lot of people come and watch kakutogi, even people who donft
know anything about it. To be sure, I have to do my best, but all the
fans might be gone some day (laughing). It was a good experience for me
that the fans were gone and I lost the group I belonged to. I always
keep it in mind from that experience and try to give the fans a good
show, a fight which remains in their mind as the most impressive fight
compared to other fights. Otherwise, I canft leave my name in kakutogi
and I canft make a living either.
Takeshi: There are two
or three styles in both kakutogi and TV programs. First is so called
gMitokomonh style. Namely, it shows the same thing every time with a
happy end. [Translatorfs note: in a TV series based on the life of the
Edo period character General Mitokomon, the hero defeats his evil
adversaries every time by showing them his inro (a case
which indicates his noble position) at the end of the show.] It is a
style in which the hero defeats every opponent in the end. The outcome
is obvious, but people continue watching it for many years to see
Mitokomon showing his inro. Second is to show a different
technique every time, which is harder than the first one. It is like
Sawada Kenji [the Japanese singer], who changes his costume every time.
Third is neither of them, a style in which you ad lib. But in the case
of kakutogi, you have to change your style according to your opponent
every time, donft you?
Sakuraba: Whoever my
opponent is, fighting is the same to me as long as there are no special
demands about the rules from their side.
But when I fight with a no-name
fighter, I have to think about showing something unique to give the fans
their money's worth.
Takeshi: But now you
are getting to be a target of all the fighters. Who will defeat you is a
big matter to everybody. By the way, I heard that your training is very
unique. Donft you do too much weight-training?
Sakuraba: Well, maybe
it looks unique to others, because I primarily do only sparring every
day. I spend only 20 or 30 minutes on weight-training.
Takeshi: Speaking of
training, Mr. Yokoyama Yasushi [a comic dialogist] was famous for
disliking practice. Mr. Nishikawa [Mr. Yokoyama's partner] criticized
him for it. But Nishikawa was wrong, because Yokoyama's private life
itself was a form of constant practice. That is what is amazing about
him. He was practicing from the moment when he got in a taxi, or when he
met somebody. gIdiot! Move on! The light is green!h, says Mr.
Yokoyama to a taxi driver. Then the driver answers, gNo, itfs
redh. gIsnft the next light green?h, he closes it like this. He
brought his life to the stage as it was. He is a genius in that sense.
Mr. Nishikawa asked him to do some practice together offstage but Mr.
Yokoyama answered, gI never practiceh. He was really smart, so he
never stopped digging into conversation with a hostess having drinks.
And he brought it to the stage as it was. Maybe he was most diligent for
practice, I think.
Sakuraba: My sparring
might be something like that (laughing). Each person has a different
uniqueness in the function of body, such as which side is stronger in
holding down according to right-handed or left-handed. Naturally it is
easy to do it with the right arm. I usually hold down my opponent with
my right arm. In my training, however, I try it sometimes with the left
arm. Interestingly, my opponent escapes from it by a different way from
Takeshi: An opponent
for me is the audience, isnft it? Practicing without the audience is
useless, because there is no reaction. I would rather talk to a taxi
driver or hostess in front of me. They are my audience, and it turns out
to be a good practice after all. In the same way, it seems more useful
in kakutogi to train with a live opponent than to spend two hours on
abs. So when you touch his body, you can sense how powerful he
really is, or how he will react to your move. If you continue this
training, it will give you a better result.
Sakuraba: My training
partner is chosen in order by gjyankenh [a Japanese
finger-flashing game of paper-scissors-stone] among the fighters who
happen to be there at the time (laughing). I donft have any special
sparring partner. It is better to spar with various kinds of people,
because every fighter has a unique style and personal strengths. If I
spar with the same person all the time, I will become strong in his
uniqueness, but not in others. I spar for about 90 minutes. Then I have
lunch, and take a little break. I do weight-training for 20-30 minutes
after that. Otherwise my weight will go down. And if there is a class
for ordinary students in dojo, I join it. If not, I go back home and do
the same routine as an ordinary salaried man, like watching TV while
drinking beer or shochu [a powerful gin-like concoction] and
playing with my child. I shouldnft drink alcohol, but I drink almost
every day (laughing). I donft care about diet so much.
Takeshi: Havenft you
ever tired of training?
Sakuraba: Yes, I have
(laughing). I donft feel like going to the dojo occasionally. But it
is my job, so I have to go. Moreover, consistent training gives rise to
a good result in a real fight. Even if you train hard every night one
week before a fight, nothing will come out well. It is much better than
that to train every day in the gym the same way you are going to fight.
And if you get relaxed in a real fight, you can show your ability
exactly the same as in your routine training, I think. I take two days
off a week. If not, my brain doesnft work properly.
Takeshi: Donft you
mimic somebodyfs move in your training? For example, the Gracies?
Sakuraba: I do
Takeshi: It must be
interesting if you beat an opponent at his own style.
Sakuraba: Actually, I
don't mimic their style. Instead, I form an image of the style of a
strong attacker in my mind, and then I imitate his move. It often comes
out well. It seems to be difficult for a fighter who lacks the power of
imagination to have a sense of how to position his body when he attempts
kansetsu-waza [joint lock, submission].
Takeshi: A person who
is good at imitating is a good player in baseball or golf too. By the
way, your opponents, especially foreign fighters, are very muscular,
arenft they? If anything, you are typical Japanese with a white skin.
Judging from appearance, they look very much stronger than you
Sakuraba: I feel the
same way before a fight. But once we go on the ring, we are even. It
sometimes happens that even a very muscular fighter turns out to be
unexpectedly weak when we grapple with each other. A muscular body is
not relevant to its real power. Royce, for example, was thin but quite
Takeshi: When I went to
Europe for my movie for the first time about five or six years ago, I
was interviewed by foreign reporters from famous French magazines and
newspapers like gLe Mondeh and others. I am a mere Asian movie
director, so I was very nervous. But I carefully listened to their talk,
and realized that they were not so smart (laughing). I did as much as I
could at the interview then, but I got used to it lately. When I went to
Venice a little before, I thought in my mind, hwhat an idiotic
question is that?h Once I got to know their real ability, I realized
that an idiot is an idiot no matter how famous is the university he
graduated from, like Harvard or Oxford. If I say, gStop the stupid
question!h to him while smoking with indifference, thatfs it, I
think. To be able to do this, of course, I have to get used to it by
going through many reporters. It is hard in the beginning, isnft it?
Sakuraba: Yes, It is.
Takeshi: Well, your
entrance scene is really funny. You come out trudging, just like a
farmer working in the fields (laughing). But once you get in the ring,
you are strong. I canft help laughing at it. Foreign fighters, on the
other hand, come out showing off their fighting spirits like gI am the
star!h or gI am strong!h
Sakuraba: I feel
embarrassed while walking to the ring. Besides, the spotlight is shining
Takeshi: And a Japanese
ring announcer calls your name in a loud voice. You are trudging along
under the light. At first I thought it was a maintenance worker coming
to repair the ring (laughing).
Sakuraba: I always look
at my feet not to stumble.
Takeshi: Why donft
you stumble one time, hit on your face and bleed at nose, something like
that. It would be funny (laughing).
Sakuraba: But Ifm OK
once I get in the ring.
Takeshi: I have the
same experience too. I felt anxious when I stand in the wings,
especially when a comedian before me was doing good. But once a back
music played, my look suddenly changed to the professional and went
onstage greeting the audience. My teacher did the same way too. He was
turning round and round at the wings. When I got near to him once, he
was mumbling, gI am funny, I am the most funny in the world!h
(laughing). It was funny to see that even my teacher felt like this .
Sakuraba: Some people
are like that. I know a younger fighter who was getting angry at
something banging on a table, saying gOh! Shucks!h I soothed him,
Takeshi: What are you
doing in the waiting room?
Sakuraba: Well, I get
some sleep (laughing). I donft like the waiting time before a fight. I
lie down and concentrate on falling asleep, then start to fall into a
Takeshi: How many
minutes before a fight do you get up?
Sakuraba: I donft
sleep just before a fight. I slept only one time until just before a
Takeshi: How was your
brain? Did it work properly?
Sakuraba: No, it
didnft until the time of entrance. My body was dull. But once the bell
rang, I felt alright.
Takeshi: Even baseball
players get up around six ofclock in the morning when they have a
day-time game, and do warm-up before the game.
Sakuraba: In my case, I
can relax myself by sleeping. I was told I shouldnft do it, because
the body gets dull.
Takeshi: Let me ask you
the last question. Donft you ever feel like giving up out of fear
during a fight?
Sakuraba: No, I donft
during a fight. In training, however, Ifve felt a deadlock when I
couldnft move at all under my opponentfs control.
Takeshi: How do you
feel before a fight?
Sakuraba: I have a fear
coming from a feeling that I would be miserable if I lost.
Takeshi: When I talked
with Tatsuyoshi [Japanese boxer] before, he said, gI am a coward, in
fact. But I have enough courage to run away from the waiting room in the
world title matchh. It didnft make sense to me then. I thought too
much punches on his head made him say something odd (laughing). But it
seems as fearful as he said so.
Sakuraba: Is he in fear
of getting punches?
Takeshi: Well, losing
must be the biggest fear.
Sakuraba: If I lose in
spite of a hard training, I feel all I have done so far will be wasted.
It is just feeling though. Nothing goes to waste in reality.
Takeshi What is most
fearful for you?
Sakuraba: Ifve never
thought about it.
Takeshi: Then how do
you think about death?
something like it canft be helped.
Takeshi: It canft be
helped (laughing). Kakutogi is the most dangerous sport, isnft it?
Donft you have a fear of death?
Sakuraba: No, I donft
fear anything during a fight. I think when it comes, I die. I might die
of a traffic accident on the way back from this interview (laughing).
But I have a feeling of sadness about death. I would miss my family
members and friends.
Takeshi: Arenft you
interested in religion?
Sakuraba: I donft
believe in god.
Takeshi: Donft you do
gkurushiitoki no kamidanomih [pray for divine aid in your
hard time] at all?
Sakuraba: Well, just
occasionally, when I have a stomach ache, or something like that
(c) 2000, Yoko Kondo, all rights