[Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] How His Past Shaped His Current Outlook as a Coach

 

Part 9 of 14 parts

 

The Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Forward wanted to know more about what it is that attracts men and women from widely divergent cultural and economic backgrounds to the Japanese modern martial art. We took the opportunity of the one-year delay in the 2020 Games to catch up with Japan’s national judo team men’s coach, Kosei Inoue, to ask about the role of the sport in his life, and what it takes to live by the principles embodied in the “gentle way.”

 

Excerpts of the interview are being featured daily in a 14-day series (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays). In Part 9, Coach Inoue talks about the perspective he’s gained from his experiences at four OlympicsーSydney, Athens, London and Rio de Janeiroーand how each one has helped him become a better person and coach.   

 

Excerpts of the interview follow.

 

 

In August 2004, you served as captain of Team Japan at the Athens Olympics, your second straight Olympics competing in the men’s 100-kg class. You were undefeated for five years in official matches at international tournaments leading up to these Olympics, and the favorite to win the gold. But you suffered a shocking loss by ippon in the fourth round. It took some time before you stood up after this loss. You returned to the consolation bracket and did not take a medal.

 

When I lost in the fourth round, my mind was blank. I didn’t know what had happened.

 

 

In the first round, you won by ippon by okuri-eri-jime (sliding collar strangle), but you had trouble attacking in the second round although you won by decision. You won by ippon with an uchi-mata in the third round, but lost by ippon with your opponent’s ouchi-gaeshi (counter to ouchi-gari, a large inner reaping throw) in the second round of the consolation bracket. Somehow, you weren’t yourself right up to the end.

 

From the first round, I felt like I wasn’t playing well. I felt unsettled and tried to recover, but the next match I still felt something was off. My irritation and anxiety added up to the loss. 

 

I also lost by ippon in the consolation round. I hadn’t lost in so long, but I lost by ippon twice on the same day. Honestly, I was devastated.

 

Now when I think back on that time from a place of calm, I see that I was bound to lose at those Olympics. The major reason for my loss was insufficient preparation. I was presumptuous, thinking that ‘Kosei Inoue’ must cleanly throw his opponents and win by ippon. I was forced to realize I was human.

 

I didn’t worry at all about the supposed jinx that prevents the team captain from winning. But the burden was heavy and the pressure not to lose was strong. 

 

Of course, it was a once-in-a-lifetime honor. I was chosen as flag bearer for the Sydney Games, I was a coach for London, and I was head coach for Rio de Janeiro. I have been truly fortunate. 

 

But if an athlete today came to me for advice on being flag bearer or captain, I would tell him or her to think very hard about the pressure and his or her own competition schedule.

 

 

You won the gold in Sydney and suffered a crushing defeat in Athens. Both the glory and the failure were experiences that you’ve put to work in your subsequent life as a coach.

 

In competition, you have to win. You are expected to produce results. Humans can grow when they put forth this massive amount of effort. Yet, winning is not everything. I learned a lot from losing at the Olympics, and I’ve put that experience to work as a coach. 

 

It is important that I do not take my experiences during my time as an active athlete and try to apply them to the athletes of today. Rather than force my experiences in winning gold and losing at the Olympics upon them, I must do my best to manage in a way that best suits the athletes. 

 

I try to keep this in mind as I apply my experiences to this next step in my life.

 

 

To be continued

 

Read Other Segments of the Kosei Inoue Judo Story:

 

 

Interview by: Mitsuru Tanaka

 

Mitsuru Tanaka

Author:

Mr. Mitsuru Tanaka is a staff writer for The Sankei Shimbun Sports News Department at its Tokyo Headquarters office.

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