Part 3 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 3, Coach Inoue talks about judo mentors who helped him in primary and secondary school, and the hard lessons of winning, losing and leaving home behind.
Excerpts of the interview follow.
In the sixth grade, you won two straight national championships. Then in April 1991, you entered Omiya Junior High School, a public school in Miyazaki. In your third and final year of junior high, competing in the boys over-78-kg class at the national championship, you won all your bouts by ippon (decisive one full-point win). Isn’t that when you became a household name around the country?
Once I was in junior high, there were not many boys my age in Miyazaki Prefecture that could compete with me. So, I began practicing at my older brother's high school.
The school had a powerful team that performed at a high level nationally, so at the time I thought I would go to that same high school. However, I soon realized that if I went there, during my first year I would have older boys to practice with, but once I became a second- and third-year student and they graduated, my own personal growth would surely come to a full stop. I needed something more, because, honestly, I was a bit of a softy.
You attended Tokai University Sagami High School, a prestigious school in Kanagawa Prefecture and the alma mater of Yasuhiro Yamashita, gold medalist in the open-weight division at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and nine-time consecutive All-Japan champion (current Japanese Olympic Committee President). Is Yamashita Sensei’s background why you chose it?
A senior co-worker of my father's, who he had gone up against when he was competing, was a Tokai University classmate of Kazutaka Hayashida, who was coaching judo at the high school. So there was that connection as well. Hayashida visited Miyazaki to scout for recruits. At the time, I wanted to win the national high school championships, not only in the individual competition, but in the team competition as well. So, I decided to go to Tokai University Sagami High School so I could improve myself.
In reality, there was some discontent in judo circles in Miyazaki due to my leaving. As an adult, I understand the circumstances, but at the time it was hard for me to understand why some would not want me to go where I wanted to go.
As a result, I couldn't practice locally the way I had until then. But my father came to the rescue. He told me not to worry, and found places for me to practice at police stations and prisons. So I practiced here and there before moving away.
You left Miyazaki and headed to Tokai University Sagami High School. Was that a big step for your family?
My father and mother must have had a difficult time in Miyazaki after I left for high school. However, I took refuge in my father's words of advice. He told me,
You owe what you are today to those who have helped you at your dojos and schools up to now. Never bear a grudge. You made the decision yourself, and you'll face difficult decisions again in the future. Instead of bearing a grudge, make sure you are the first to greet them when you meet at tournaments. Go with a strong will and become stronger.
I took my father's advice and always went to greet them at high school events.
When I returned to Miyazaki for the New Year's holiday, my father took me around to the homes of dozens of people to pay our respects to those who had assisted me in some way in the past. Slowly they began to cheer me on again.
My mother was a kind-hearted and caring parent who always looked out for me.
And while my father was strict, I couldn't help but feel his love for me at times like those. He taught me by example the importance of reaching people's hearts.
When I took the gold medal in the men's 100-kg class at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, my old teachers in Miyazaki were so happy for me. I finally felt like I'd been able to repay their kindness.
To be continued
Read Other Segments of the Kosei Inoue Judo Story:
- Part 1 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] What it’s Like Being National Coach in the midst of COVID-19
- Part 2 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] The Attraction of Competing Against Someone Bigger and Stronger
- Part 4 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] Continuing On Through Slumps and the Pain of Personal Loss
- Part 5 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] Lessons Learned from Competing Against My Brother
- Part 6 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] Getting to Sydney: It’s the Way You Perform Judo that Matters
- Part 7 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] The Thrill of Becoming a National Champion
- Part 8 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] The Responsibility that Comes with Winning
- Part 9 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] How His Past Shaped His Current Outlook as a Coach
- Part 10 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] Overcoming the Physical and Mental Demons of a Major Injury
- Part 11 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] Knowing How to Make a Comeback and When to Call it Quits
- Part 12 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] The Turning Point for Judo’s Revival in Japan
- Part 13 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] Reaching Beyond Home to Strengthen the Team and Bring Results
- Part 14 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] ‘I Love Coaching - I’m Determined to Give It My All’
Interview by: Mitsuru Tanaka