Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Japanese MMA Fighters to Watch Out 2017

It's baaack! This is the 2017 edition of the annual Fighters to Watch For series.

Yoshitaka Naito is excluded from this year’s list because he fought for One FC and won their world title, but will we see his long-awaited match against Mitsuhisa Sunabe? I hope so. Tatsumitsu Wada competed for Rizin and defeated Kai Kara-France, so I left him off of this prospects list as well.

Since UFC Fight Pass has added Shooto and Pancrase, I think that you'll enjoy this list even more than before.

Ishiwatari's 2016 campaign was defined by avenging his loss to Jonathan Brookins. He defeated Brookins in spite of Brookins missing weight, which is worth more than an average win. Ishiwatari was continuously taken down and lost a decision to Brookins in their first fight, but he defeated his overweight opponent with sprawls in the rematch that showcased his improved takedown defense.

Takumi Tamaru vs Kohei Haruka

Tamaru earned his biggest career win in 2016 against Yasuhiro Urushitani. He did not allow Urushitani to use his striking pressure and submitted Urushitani with an armbar. Even though Urushitani is in the twilight of his career and declared that he will retire after his next fight, Tamaru needed just one round to become the fastest man to ever finish him.

Kanbe battled injuries throughout 2016, but he did engage in a semi-brawl situation with Jarred Brooks. I look forward to major promotions building strawweight classes so that they can face each other.

Mizuki continued her winning streak with three finishes in 2016 before suffering a knee injury. She is not yet in the UFC rankings due to being outside of the organization, but we all know she should be in there.

Naoki Inoue vs Naoyuki Kato

Mizuki's little brother scored his biggest win to date in 2016 when he defeated Yuya Shibata, who is a former DEEP title challenger. Of course, the Inoue siblings are best known as strikers, but Naoki has used his excellent submission skills to finish seven of his nine professional opponents, and remains unbeaten.

Suzuki’s lone fight in 2016 ended in a first-round submission victory over Seok-Yong Kim. We need to see him compete for higher stakes this year. Hopefully the rumored Rizin Flyweight Grand Prix picks him up.

Kurosawa captured Shooto gold in 2016 when he defeated Ryuto Sawada again. He is a teammate of Yoshitaka Naito, who is One FC champion. I expect Kurosawa to face international opposition this year, which will hopefully help to develop and showcase atomweight competition around the world.

Even though she lost to Rin Nakai, Murata is still very early in her MMA career. I do not think that she was in the best physical condition against Nakai, and I expect that she will face appropriate opponents in fights that allow her to develop her skills this year.

Big thanks to Robert Sargent  (MMA Rising) for English editing.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em. Syncopation and Combination

When you watch a fight, do you ever wonder why a strike did or did not land? Sometimes, when a fighter's skill level is too low, he or she may not see an opponent's punch coming because of poor reflexes, but most times fighters are matched up against a similar level of opposition.

As a result, fighters use tricks in order to land strikes. For example, fighters use combinations. A jab grabs an opponent's attention, followed by a second strike that is designed to try to KO the opponent while they are unaware that the strike is coming. Of course, if the competition level is high, combinations will be more common and prevalent.

For example, combinations are used in order to see how an opponent will react in defense. Then, with the next combo, when the opponent thinks they know which strikes will come, perhaps the first punch is the same jab but the second kick is to the head rather than to the body, which the opponent does not expect.

What I ask is do you realize how physiological reflexes work between these moves? Essentially, people think in expectations about what we will do in the future. When you type a sentence, you unconsciously type on the keyboard. You don't think about how to type. Memory and reflexes work there.

Such a thing works in striking defense, too. Fighters are trained to use combinations in order to trick opponents' reflexes. They use mixtures of strong-weak, fast-slow strikes in order to affect opponents' physiological reactions. Sometimes, fighters get hit by the second shot in a combination even if it is slower, which is because physiological reactions can matter more than simple reflex speed.

This type of strike's trick is resembled by music's rhythm. When you listen to music and feel a groove, there is a gap between slow-fast, weak-strong beats that makes your waist move like syncopation.

When you watch beautiful combinations or defense in fights (like Anderson Silva), you should take note of which moves are fast or slow, and which weak or strong. This will improve your ability to identify the beauty of the skills used in fights.

Big thanks to Robert Sargent  (MMA Rising) for English editing.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Japanese MMA Fighters to Watch Out 2016

We're back with the 2016 edition of Fighters to Watch For.

The most pleasant thing from last year's list was Hisaki Kato's knockout of Joe Schilling in Bellator. I mentioned Kato in the 2015 list and he was quite unknown beforehand due to the fact that his fights in HEAT were not well-known. I personally believe that I contributed to increasing his recognition.

Hisaki Kato is now in Bellator, so he is excluded from this list. Ayaka Hamasaki (Invicta champ) and Yuki Motoya (Rizin) should get attention without my inclusion, so I excluded them this year. I hope you enjoy watching rookie fighters grow like I do.

Koyomi Matsushima

Matsushima debuted in February and he fought five times in 2015. He finished all of the fights and four of them ended in the first round. He has not had any competitive fights yet, and I want him to have good striking training because I think there is danger if he can't get a proper striking coach. Other than that, he is physically the best rookie since Kyoji Horiguchi.

See video of his slam KO in PXC:  and his KO in Shooto:

Tatsumitsu Wada

While Motoya had a no contest in Rizin, Wada had two fights against Korean fighters in 2015. He has not recently faced quality opponents in Japan besides Motoya and Ogikubo. He will face Jae Nam Yoo at Deep: 75 Impact.

Shintaro Ishiwatari

Ishiwatari suffered an injury early this past year. He fought Victor Henry in December and it was Japanese MMA's Fight of the Year. He has been unable to win against some of the elite opponents in his career, but I still want to see him in the major MMA scene because his fights are almost always very entertaining.

Kento Kanbe

Kanbe was crowned as the Pancrase light flyweight champion this past year with a one-sided beating of Yukitaka Musashi. He needs to change divisions now since Pancrase adopted the unified weight classes. I'm looking forward to watching him face the champion in a different weight class.

Yoshitaka Naito

In 2015, Naito beat younger strawweight fighters like Ryuto Sawada, and I previously named Sawada as a fighter to watch out for. Naito is always looking for takedowns and ground and pound to set up submissions, and he engages in fun scrambles during fights. I hope he appears in a major promotion to help build a new division. He has the gimmick of "Nobita," which is derived from the famous manga character "Draemon."

Mizuki Inoue

Mizuki had a rough 2015 with a loss against Alexa Grasso and a difficult fight against Emi Fujino. She began 2016 with a win against Lacey Schuckman, but I hope that she improves her physical power and wrestling.

Hayato Suzuki

Suzuki is not well-known as a prospect because he fights for Grachan, which has a small fan base, but his win against Shooto ranker Yosuke Saruta definitely gave him recognition in the JMMA world. He was crowned as Grachan champ in September. I hope he will face other organizations' champions in order to further elevate his status.

Ryohei "Ken Asuka" Kurosawa and Ryuto Sawada

Kurosawa was knocked out by Junji Ito and Sawada was submitted by Yoshitaka Naito in 2015, but both are young and talented. Sawada is only 20 and Kurosawa is 22.

Kanako Murata

Murata has not yet debuted in MMA, but she is the first Japanese female athlete with such a high amateur status to convert to MMA. She had a wrestling match against Saori Yoshida and almost won the match before losing it in the late stages. Of course, I don't know how well she can adapt to MMA, but I can't hide my anticipation.

Big thanks to Robert Sargent  (MMA Rising) for English editing.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Sneak Peek into the Reversal Gym Yokohama Ground Slam with Shuichiro Katsumura and Seiichiro Ito

What best reminds you of Shuichiro Katsumura? His work at Tohoku for earthquake charities, or perhaps his Ninja Choke against Masakatsu Ueda?

I will discuss another side of Katsumura today. He is also known for owning his gym, Ground Slam, where he has taught Michinori Tanaka. His teaching and cornering was highly valued by many fighters. Hideo Tokoro has had him in his corner and Michihiro Omigawa had Katsumura corner him for his UFC fight.

Katsumura did Shinici Kojima's corner

I brought my anonymous customer to receive teaching from Katsumura. I had only offered Katsumura for teaching, but surprisingly there was another fighter at the gym who provided additional assistance. Katsumura's student, ZST flyweight Seiichiro Ito, arrived for personal training.

Shuichiro Katsumura

Katsumura said that he needed an assistant in order to demonstrate grappling, but he has many students, so my customer was very lucky to get to work with both a Shooto champ and ZST champ at the same time.

Katsumura taught his Ninja Choke, which is hard to set up, and he showed my customer variations of how he sets up Ninja Chokes depending on the situation. He also demonstrated how to escape from mount as well.

Katsumura and Ito

Katsumura's personal training costs 7000 yen per hour. He requires a translator for teaching people who do not speak Japanese.

Big thanks to Shuichiro Katsumura, Seiichiro Ito and my anonymous customer. Also big thanks to Robert Sargent  (MMA Rising) for English editing.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Sneak Peek into the Alliance Square with Katsunori Kikuno

Here is the continuation of my annual "Gym Sneak Peek" series. This time, the personal trainer is Katsunori Kikuno, an Okinawan Kenpo Karate fighter who currently competes for the UFC.

Of course, some of his fans might ask, "Isn't he a Kyokushin Karate fighter?" Kikuno tries to maximize his striking damage like the "Ichigeki" philosophy does now, which involves new karate, but Okinawa is where karate evolved and he learned from the oldest karate style.

Yamashiro teaching his karate with Kikuno

Kikuno was taught new tsuki (strikes) by Yoshitomo Yamashiro, who is an Okinawan Kenpo Karate master. Kikuno's KO victories against Luiz Andrade I and Takafumi Ito were both created by his new tsuki.

Kikuno taught my customer in a very friendly manner and he explained the details of his strikes. He demonstrated what he has done recently, but also taught his trademark crescent kick as well.

If you're a traditional martial arts fan, nothing is more fun than learning from Kikuno, who tries to adapt ancient skills to modern combat sports. He has not shown his tsuki KOs in the UFC yet, but I am one who enjoys something different in MMA and I'm waiting for that moment.

Learning from Kikuno costs 10,000 yen per hour. He requires a translator for teaching since explaining karate techniques in English can be quite difficult.

Big thanks to Katsunori Kikuno and my anonymous customer. Also big thanks to Robert Sargent  (MMA Rising) for English editing.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Mitsuyo Maeda's biography tell us old world and old fight world relate to early MMA

If Mitsuyo Maeda had not visited Brazil, MMA may not exist. If it did, it would be very different.

"A Lion's Dream (Conde Koma)" is the biography of Maeda. Written by Norio Kouyama, this book was honored with the Shogakukan Non-Fiction Award. Kouyama is not a martial arts specialist, so in this review of the book I evaluate how much merit it has as a biography.

Jigoro Kano was ambitious about education. He had dedicated himself to developing judo in Japan, but at the same time he was known as an educator. During this time, Japan was not valued as an equal by the western world, and martial arts were regarded lightly because of western culture and its guns. Martial arts were treated as strange samurai tactics that were not useful (against guns) during the Meiji period in Japan.

Kano believed that education could change the perspective about martial arts and of Japan itself. Therefore, he believed that he needed to expand traditional martial arts by introducing them to the western world. He dispatched many of his students around the world. Tsunejiro Tomita was set to be dispatched, but he was already more than 40 years old and Kano felt that he needed to recruit more of the younger active martial artists for this task. Luckily for Maeda, his other mentors were sent to Butokukai and he was able to travel abroad.

Butokukai Head Quarter

Before two judokas began the trip, one was recognized in America. That man was Yoshitsugu Yamashita, who impressed Theodore Roosevelt with his judo. Roosevelt wanted to bring a judo class to Annapolis, but Annapolis did not like that idea. After further discussion, Yamashita was permitted to compete at Annapolis. He fought a wrestler, Lieutenant Joseph Grant, who was roughly 10 years younger than Yamashita. Grant stood 2.0 meters tall and weighed 160kgs. Yamashita was 1.6 meters tall and weighed only 68kgs.

Yamashita had already spent one year in the United States and he knew how wrestlers fought. He countered Grant's forward movement with a throw and immediately went for a rear-naked choke. Grant stood up to try to flip Yamashita, but Yamashita secured an armbar when Grant used his left arm to stand. Grant gave up the fight and that made Yamashita the new judo coach at Annapolis.

Tomita and Maeda arrived in New York and were invited to West Point due to Yamashita's success at Annapolis. Maeda fought a school wrestling champion who took top position early in the match. The audience believed that that was the definition of victory, but Maeda rose to his feet and threw the wrestler before submitting him with an armbar. The audience still believed that the wrestler had won by pinfall.

Even at his advanced age, the audience believed that Tomita was better than Maeda since he was Maeda's mentor. As an athlete, Tomita was past his prime, but West Point arranged for him to compete against an even better fighter than Maeda had faced.

Tomita lost that fight and that made his and Maeda's evaluations lower. This is why Maeda went on to challenge many other martial arts fighters for money and recognition. He made trips to many countries to challenge other martial artists, and he understood judo's merits and faults against various disciplines.

During his breakdown of wrestling, Maeda noted that he would only accept fights against clothed opponents. He felt that he would still defeat unclothed wrestlers who were the same size as him, but he could lose to heavier opponents simply due to a power disadvantage. He recommended the Tsurikomigoshi technique against wrestlers because catching an arm would benefit the judoka and also defend against an opponent's attacks if a throw failed.

Maeda broke down tactics for competing against a boxer as well. He tried to challenge Jack Johnson, but Johnson refused to take part in a cross martial arts battle. The author of "Conde Koma" points out that this was similar to how proud Helio Gracie was when Joe Louis refused his challenge.

Maeda's foes were not billed as the strongest martial artists. Each one would simply be presented to him as a boxing champion or a wrestling champion. Maeda was confident that he could beat all of them, but there was a level of respect from both sides and his opponents did not proclaim to be "masters" at boxing or wrestling.

Maeda gained fame among Japanese immigrants in the United States due to the martial arts contests that he won. At the time, a movement had begun in America against Japanese immigrants. Maeda was conscious of the respect from immigrants and also of the social circumstances. He used the ring name "Yamato Maeda" to encourage people and himself.

During his trips all over world, Maeda spent time in some countries where Japanese people had comfortable lives. Brazil was undeveloped compared to America, but Maeda felt that there were still opportunities for Japanese immigrants to thrive.

I have omitted Maeda's time in Japan and in Brazil from this review because that should be read if and when it is presented in book form. "Conde Koma" is more about the social situations that Maeda faced and it includes almost nothing about his relationship with the Gracies or his education. Still, it is interesting because it explains how he encountered cross martial arts fights and how his journey resembled that of the early Gracies. It also educates newer MMA fans who are not familiar with the lineage of martial arts.

Yoshizo Machida, who manages Maeda's grave, shows a copy of "Conde Koma."

My other artcile about Judo's advance to the world

Big thanks to Robert Sargent  (MMA Rising) for English editing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Roxanne Modafferi interview

Some MMA fighters experience a career turnaround following a losing streak, and Roxanne Modafferi's resurgence was one of the most impressive to date. She once had a six-fight losing streak, and as I watched her fight for Valkyrie and Jewels, I worried along with other people about the coaching and training that she was receiving. Following a move to the United States, Modafferi drastically changed her MMA career after a stint on TUF 18 that included a submission win over Valerie Letourneau, who will challenge Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 193. Since signing with Invicta FC, Modafferi has shown rapid improvement in the striking department.

While asking her questions, I thought about the language barrier that she endured when learning MMA techniques in Japan. When explaining the nuances of a technique, coaches often use slang or abbreviations, which can be difficult to understand for people from other countries (I feel this often, too).

I believe that Modafferi's knowledge of Japanese is better than 95% of foreign Japanese learners, but she still admits to a language barrier and that says a lot about the difficulties of learning MMA techniques in a second language.

This is an interview with an MMA fighter who has trained in two countries and knows the difficulties of cultural differences. She has persevered through these struggles on the path to the happiest day in her career.

When you began your career in Japan, there were no stable MMA organizations that could provide consistent fights for women outside of Japan. Many western female MMA fighters could not find enough fights in the early era and either retired or stayed in the sport for many years and fought way past their prime. You have had a long career and, after a tough losing streak, you seem to have now entered the prime of your career. How do you feel about the course of your career and how did you make it through the difficult situations?

I feel that my career has been exciting and full of adventures.  I trained very hard every night while working during the day. In the beginning, it was enough. Then MMA continued to evolve as a sport and my working full-time plus training became too much. I also had a hard time learning how to strike.  I love grappling but struggled for a long time to do kickboxing effectively. I started on a losing streak. That changed once I decided to move back to America to fight full time, and I joined the gym Syndicate MMA in Vegas. I can't say that I regret moving back sooner because I loved my life in Japan. I'm still fighting and climbing my way to the top!

While you were still in Japan, which fighter impressed you the most? Was it someone you fought or just someone who taught you something important?

When I was living in Japan, I looked up to K-Taro Nakamura because he could take everybody's back and choke them out. I eventually bought his book on RNC. He used to teach at Keishukai every Saturday. I learned the single leg back control from him.

During your TUF 18 elimination fight against Valerie Letourneau, you took her back and finished her with a rear-naked choke. I got the impression that what you learned at Wajyutsu Keishukai worked during the turning point in your career (taking the back and finishing with a rear-naked choke is a common move at that gym). Is that a technique that you learned from Wajyutsu Keishukai? If not, who taught you that move?

It's true that I loved doing rear naked choke at Keishukai. However, I learned the move years ago way before moving to Japan so I forget who actually originally taught me.

You have shown rapid improvement in your striking since joining Syndicate MMA. You control distance, use a variety of combinations and have great elbow attacks now. How has John Wood taught you these things and what convinced you to accept his teachings?

I'm an "audio" learner rather than visual, so that means I need someone to explain details of techniques to me, not just show me, or I can't understand. In Japanese, that was really difficult. Even though I did private mitt sessions with a trainer, I don't feel I advanced a lot. Syndicate owner and Coach John Wood has the ability to really explain striking to me and "train me" through repetition so I can understand. Knowing my learning style, I tried out his gym for a week, decided that he was the guy I could entrust with my new hope for my career. I said to him, not "I'd like to join your gym," but rather, "Will you be my coach?" Starting the next week, I've done extra mitt sessions every week for the last two years in addition to the well-run MMA classes. That's how I was able to improve so much.

UFC does not currently have a 125-pound division. They only have 135 and 115. How do you feel about your division's absence in the UFC? Do you feel that Zuffa should add a 125 division?

I'm sad my weight class is not in the UFC. I hope it is soon.

Invicta FC does have a 125-pound division and DEEP Jewels has also recently created that weight class as well. Of course, you want to challenge Invicta FC champion Barb Honchak, but how would you evaluate the DEEP Jewels 125-pound division? Did you watch champion Ji Yeon Kim's fight? Please provide your impression of her if so.

I haven't been able to easily watch Deep Jewels since I moved back to the U.S.  I haven't seen Ji Yeon Kim. I remember last year seeing a few fights and being disappointed in some technique. That was due to my new perspective - I recognized a bunch of techniques the fighters didn't do that I had just learned at Syndicate. I found myself thinking, "if only they could train with me at Syndicate!" I think JMMA has been surpassed in certain ways.

You are known for your hobbies: Anime, Manga, gaming, movies, music and so on. What are some of the current "hot things" in your hobbies?

I've been trying to catch up on old anime that I've fallen behind in, like One Piece and Naruto and DBZ Kai. I've gotten into new ones like Attack on Titan. I'm SO excited that I can see the live-action movie during my Japan visit! I also try to study Japanese in my free time. Thanks to Skyping with my friend Goto-san and him correcting my Japanese blogs, I haven't lost my language skills.

Your nickname is Happy Warrior. What makes you the happiest? Fighting itself, conversations with coaches and training partners, interacting with fans, everyday life or something else?

I try and look at everything in a positive light, and I try and find the good things about every situation. I appreciate everything. Talking to people makes me happy, training and challenging myself makes me happy, seeing other people smile makes me happy!

Please share a message for your fans about your fighting career and future.

You may not realize it, but as my fans, you play a big part in my motivation and happiness. When you cheer for me, or send me an email or Tweet or Facebook message of encouragement, it inspires me to try harder if I'm feeling down or hurt or tired.  I feel like my life has some more meaning than simply me fighting for fun. It makes me think that there's no way I can let the Happy Warrior retire any time soon! I still have so much more positivity to spread!  I want to make friends with EVERYONE, and show that fighting can be an honorable athletic contest, not an angry brawl where someone enjoys inflicting pain on another.

Roxanne Modafferi

Roxanne Modafferi Official Twitter

Big thanks to Robert Sargent  (MMA Rising) for English editing.