My translation of a feature on and an interview with Ibushi Kôta that appeared on the Da Vinci website starting on 7/6 2017.
As always, my annotations are in , and annotations by the original publication are in ().
Original text and images © Kadokawa Corporation.
Note: pull quotes may differ from actual answers. This is part of the editing in the original.
The Secret of Ibushi Kôta’s Beautiful Body—Mangaka Sakamoto Shinichi Also Gives His High Praises! (Part One)
Please see the URLs linked below for any images.
Ibushi Kôta: a Beautiful Body Built by Wrestling
Why are those who watch him so fascinated by his physique and the form of him crumbling down? We hunt for the answers in a feature by established Ibushi fan and mangaka Sakamoto Shinichi (“Innocent”, “Innocent Rouge”), and an interview with Ibushi Kôta (Ibushi Research Institute) himself.
This is the complete version of the interview published in our magazine, which contains a previously missing anecdote. [Ibushi] talks about the surprising reason for his weight gain, the mysterious five hours after his match with Nakamura Shinsuke, and much more.
At the time of the photoshoot, Ibushi was worried about the burn marks from his fireworks he shot off during his tour in London (he stood on top of a car and fired the fireworks off at his own chest) showing on his chest, asking if it was all right. The beautiful scars of battle remaining in the photos are [not the only thing that] draws the eye.
The Beauty of a Martyr’s Perfect Body
I first learned of Ibushi in 2006, when I heard that a pro wrestler was going to participate in the K-1MAX [tournament] (due to the absence of his opponent Andy Ologun, he ended up not participating, after all). Since then, I’ve watched many of [his] matches, but the artist known as Ibushi Kôta hasn’t left my thoughts [since I saw him] do a moonsault from up high without a hint of hesitation during a match in the Saitama Super Arena in 2015. This was when I wondered whether he felt no fear at all. At times I was downright glued to the insanity he put on display! The nervousness [you feel], not knowing what he’s going to do next, is addicting.
With my drawings, I seek to [depict] strength and beauty, by adding the supple and tender lines of the female [body] to the sturdy lines of the male body. Ibushi’s physical beauty is appallingly perfect, trapping you in the illusion that he jumped right out of a Renaissance painting. He so lithely leaps about and strikes, and at times gets hit, crumbling down to the mat…it’s just like art.
I think the attraction of Ibushi lies in his “heroic deaths” as well. The moment a move hits is what’s impressive in wrestling, but it’s also true that the moment when [the wrestler] crumbles down to the mat is eye-catching too. The consciousness leaving [the body] as they’re hit by a move, the hair, released from gravity, standing up the wrong way, the look that could be interpreted as ecstasy on the face, the scattering of sweat. The four limbs losing their sense of direction as they get cut off from the impulses of the brain. In that brief instant, the body so gracefully loses its strength, and falls down…! I watch [wrestling], anticipating seeing those sights too.
I have sympathy for the unlimited expression of potential in the limited space of the ring. [Drawing] a manga too, [means] making the reader feel [a lot of different] emotions within a limited number of pages, but it also makes you feel the limitations of [artful] expression. But Ibushi was exciting [for me to watch], defying all conventions, turning every place into a battlefield. [I too] strive to create fiction, mustering all my courage to rush along the path I chose, not shying away from it no matter who criticizes me, [showing] that it’s okay to draw with unbound ideas.
In my manga, suffering and pain are big themes. We tend to look at the scenes of great triumph and happiness, but for the most part, until we arrive at such scenes, we go through a great many hardships. Wrestlers sink down on their hands and knees onto the mat again and again, and relentlessly muster up moves until they can seize victory in the end…Wrestling is just like a microcosm of human life. I think Ibushi has the power to give us a beautiful and captivating look at the human way of life.
I have three questions for Ibushi:
1) Every day, your wrestling defies any category. But are there rules of your own making or something along those lines? Things you won’t allow and such?
2) What do you value in your relationships with your opponents during a match?
3) Are you afraid of pain and things like that during a match? How do you overcome that?
I’m hoping Ibushi is going to show us sights we have never seen before!
Everything I do in the ring is an expression
Ibushi Kôta read the glowing praise given to him by Sakamoto about his physique and the way he takes moves. After he [expressed] his astonishment and gratitude for a while, he looked at the bodies drawn in “Innocent”, and nodded, [exclaiming,] “Ah yes!”
“Somehow, this looks similar to the expression [wrestlers have] when they get done in, after they take a move. I think not just the movement of the body, but also the muscles of the abdomen called oblique muscles are similar to mine.”
He has used the word “expression” before to describe taking moves.
“I think everything I do in the ring is an expression. Of course, it happens that I really get done in by a move and fall over by myself, but everything’s an expression, including that.”
It felt like, since his time as a young boy being completely absorbed in play-wrestling, onlookers would get fired up when they saw him taking moves.
“I decided on becoming a pro wrestler in 5th grade of elementary school, and since then I’ve always pursued the art of taking moves. For about 6 years until I entered highschool, by falling from and being thrown from high places over and over, my body had by itself become such that I could take bumps in the least painful way. The ultimate form of that was probably something like this picture (the panel from ‘innocent’).”
He knew the way to take moves as taught to him in his first promotion, DDT Pro Wrestling, didn’t feel right, compared to the way of taking moves he had already learned and perfected before.
“How your body should best fall down is different depending on the move. But there was only one way of taking [moves] that was taught to me…That one was tough for me, and it hurt a lot. Since I thought that the best defense is [doing it in such a way as] to not hurt and get injured, I told the President (Takagi Sanshirô) to let me do defense in my own way.”
In a world where the senior-junior relationship is so strict, it was naturally taboo for some newbie who had just entered [the promotion] to say something like that.
“[He was like,] ‘Huh?’ That was only bound to happen (laughs). ‘The hell is that guy talking about?’ But in the end, he told me that I was good with that. I refused the joint training that involved everyone as well, [saying,] ‘If I do the same practice, my wrestling will turn out the same as everyone else’s.’ That time too he said I was fine [doing that] (laughs). I’m lucky that he was so open to the idea. He often listened to me.”
And that’s how Ibushi formed his own unique wrestling.
My body’s probably become purely dedicated to wrestling
A video of Ibushi training by himself was uploaded to New Japan’s channel. From that, it’s clear that he doesn’t train to create an impressive body, or a touch body. The sole purpose of him lifting up barbell [plates] is to toughen the muscles he uses when he lifts people up.
“I don’t work out for a model body. It’s more like, when you work out so you can use it for pro wrestling, it naturally turns into a body like that…My body’s probably become purely dedicated to wrestling. You’ll not be able to do any other sports if you specialize too much in wrestling. In a 100 m race I get tired after about 20 m (laughs). A runner’s body and a pro wrestler’s body are completely different.”
Pro Wrestling also means running in the ring, though…
“A ring’s no bigger than 6 m, and there aren’t many times when you run from one end of the ring to the other anyway. Since you mostly fight in the middle of the ring, it’s only about 3 m of running to the ropes. More than for running, you instead need muscles that’ll let you bounce back from the ropes. You need upper body strength that resists the ropes, or rather, push you back from them. I think if a normal person ran at the ropes with the same speed as we do and bounced back, they’d probably break their bones.”
He decides his training schedule each day based on his intuition.
“Somehow I always understand what I need that day, or what would be good to do, the moment I arrive in the dojo. In the video, I practiced using an exercise ball, so on that day, that was probably what I needed to do (laughs). It’s enough to do that once, so I never do the same training twice.”
He completely understood it by doing it once. That has to be another one of Ibushi’s amazing skills.
Jumping is scary. Even so, I jump.
As Sakamoto alluded to, the reckless and vulnerable high-flying moves outside of the ring are where Ibushi Kôta truly shines. He flies not just from the 2nd floor [balcony] of a venue, but at times, during anywhere matches, from vending machines and utility poles and a variety of other high places too (“flies” is more accurate than “jumps”). Sakamoto asked this question: ”Are you ever terrified of feeling pain or getting injured in a match?”
“Yes. I’ve been injured many times. Even so, I jump, because I know the fans will enjoy it.”
It’s not that he isn’t scared. But he jumps, for the people watching, even though he’s scared. Sakamoto next asks how he overcame this fear.
“When I get injured, I do the same movement immediately once again.”
The interviewers freeze in their movements for a moment. He does the same movement once again…? With an injured body?
“Yes. While injured, I move the same way I did when I sustained the injury, and go through the pain again. I’ve really done this, [even] [with an injury that] [went] up to a broken bone. Right after [an injury], I’m in agony from the pain, and can’t move. But if I wait for about a minute, I can move again, and I climb up to the same place again, and jump again. I do it immediately, before I can get scared. Then the fear disappears. I know it’ll be all right because I was able to do it one more time with the pain. And if it turns out I can’t do it in the match, I repeat it one more time during practice.”
A way of conquering [fear] that normal people could not ever hope to imitate (or think up). Why on earth did he end up doing it this way?
“In elementary school, I used to jump from high up into a river. I hit the rocks and there was this hellish pain, and I became unable to move. I thought, no, I can’t let this immobilize me, I haven’t even become a pro wrestler yet! So I immediately jumped again. I was confident then that with this, I could overcome the fear, and ever since then, I’ve continued doing that, even after becoming a wrestler.”
Politely put, Ibushi keeps talking with a smile, as though [he was talking about] something [completely] mundane. It makes you understand the meaning of the word “madness” that often gets used to describe the appeal of the wrestler known as Ibushi Kôta.
I couldn’t control my need to be active, so I couldn’t gain weight
Ibushi held on to his dream of becoming a wrestler ever since he was in 5th grade in elementary school, but in actuality, he took quite a lot of detours on his way to making that a reality. After graduating highschool, he found employment in a normal business. While working, he joined a kickboxing promotion. He went so far as to becoming champion, and then with 21, he finally knocked on DDT’s doors.
“But I’m glad that’s the way it happened. When I debuted, I thought I had wasted the 10 years (counting from when he was in 5th grade in elementary school), but after three years passed since I joined [DDT], I came to look at it as not having wasted anything. Thanks to kickboxing, I was able to have matches for MMA-style wrestling promotions. The range of my wrestling opened up enormously. Not only that, but I think it was good that I jumped into the river and hurt myself once. Everything is connected to my current [wrestling] style.”
While Ibushi was in DDT, he also joined New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2013, and became the first wrestler in the business to secure a double full-time contract. After he achieved success among the junior heavyweights in New Japan, which is a division [for wrestlers] under 100 kg [about 220 lbs] (going so far as to become champion too), he increased his weight and ascended to the heavyweight division. Accordingly, he changed his body as well.
“I became bigger but…I was still a junior heavyweight. At my heaviest I [weighed] around 86 kg [about 190 lbs].”
At the time of his entry into DDT, he weighed a mere 68 kg [about 150 lbs]. When you consider that he is 181 cm [about 5’11] tall, he was fairly skinny.
“I had never done weight training until then. Kickboxing is fundamentally a sport in which you lose weight [rather than gaining it], you know? When you get heavier, your weight class changes, so you can’t let yourself gain weight.”
When he entered the world of wrestling, he learned how to do weight training, but he says he struggled while not really gaining any weight. The reason for that is most interesting.
“Of course I ate a lot and such, but I exercised more volume [in calories] than [I ate]. I couldn’t control my need to be active (laughs). And also my metabolism was really good…”
It seems that once he was injured, his weight increased.
“I found a reason to not work out (laughs). I think finally my daily burning of calories was lower than my intake.”
However, for Ibushi, who prides himself on his aerial maneuvers, he found he could move most easily when he was at 68 kg.
“If the wrestler I’m fighting is around 15 kg heavier than me, I can manage [to outmaneuver them] with speed some way or another. But if my opponent weighs 120 kg, the difference is 50 kg, and then it really becomes tough to defeat them. I feel right now that weight is really important for pro wrestlers.”
If the fans are happy, I’m happy as well.
“The most important thing is making the fans happy.” During the interview, those words left Ibushi’s mouth more than once.
It’s evident bringing out such beautiful moves feels good for Ibushi himself too, but everything was for the sake of the fans watching.
“To me, it was never about making myself feel good. If the fans are happy, I’m happy as well.”
To Sakamoto’s question “Is there something in wrestling you find unforgivable?”, Ibushi, just like the [wrestler] who values the fans above all else he is, answered with a heavy weight in his voice: “If they’re my opponents…wrestlers who only do what they want to do are absurd to me.”
“If my opponent gets like that during a match, I take things at my own pace, without going along with that. Regardless, as long as I jump, it will definitely [get the fans] excited, and anything can happen. Sometimes it even feels as though I’m doing [the match] by myself. The ultimate form of that, I think, are my matches with Yoshihiko (sex doll and apparently wrestler for DDT).”
[He said,] so, oozing with confidence. [It] led naturally to the [next] question from Sakamoto: “What do you value in your personal relationships in a match?”
“In the ring, the most important thing is bringing out the best in each other. Also…I change the way I do moves depending on my opponent. Sometimes I research my opponent in advance, but for some wrestlers it’s more exciting to do it on the spot without any research. It’s like that especially with wrestlers who have martial arts experience. Wrestlers are all about building yourself and each other up and then doing the moves, but those with a martial arts background, their way of working is intuitive, right? I click with them the most when they move like they do during martial arts sparring.”
When I wrestle Nakamura, I’m already angry from the get-go
Ibushi can bring the fans joy no matter who he wrestles, but the feeling of fighting a wrestler with whom he is compatible, with whom he is on the same wavelength, so to speak, is special. A match he remembers well in this regard, is his bout with Nakamura Shinsuke (formerly New Japan Pro Wrestling, now WWE), in August of 2013.
“It’s likely the match I’m most glad I had.”
The match, which saw both combatants draw out the strength from each other until their utter limit, and showed that they were truly feeling and joy and fun while doing so, received the Best Bout [Award] in the Puroresu Awards. Ibushi was taken over by a mysterious sensation in this match.
“I remember being really mad and that I was about to strike at Nakamura in earnest, but at the same time, I was really calm and composed. I get that feeling in other matches as well, but at that time it was incredibly strong. Our movements looked like two screens in my head, of Nakamura’s face and me being about to hit him. I have never [experienced] something quite like that. It was a new sensation.”
After the match, in the interest of saving time, he returned to his hotel in full gear, and there, he had a new experience as well.
“I sat down on my hotel bed without changing out of my gear…And everything from the match, from beginning to end, repeated in my head again and again. From when my opponent came into the ring and we faced each other, and then what we did next, and then what [and so on]…[It was like] a camera screen taken from one of the two screens I saw [in my head] during the match. I thought I continued sitting there for about an hour, but in reality 5 hours had passed. I must have been buzzing with excitement.”
Later, he watched an actual video of the match too, but that was a different video [from the one he saw in his head].
“It was different from a properly edited video…It was like the scenes were interconnected, one coming on after the other.”
He says that he thinks the reason he was able to have such a match with Nakamura was probably that it felt the same as when he was watching wrestling.
“It’s [about] the way of watching wrestling. I think there are people who simply watch wrestling, going, oh this spot is amazing, and so on. But ever since middle school, I haven’t watched wrestling straightforwardly [like that]. I’ve come to consider what the wrestler may be thinking about as they’re doing what they’re doing, and such. When the Great Sasuke (a wrestler Ibushi admires) jumps, it’s not because he wants to jump, it’s the emotion of putting his life on the line, or an expression of [his will] to continue no matter how much he gets broken. Things like that. I always watch wrestling with that feeling. I think Nakamura is probably the same. I think maybe the expressions [in our match] turned out like that because in that part we overlap.”
When Ibushi heats up in a match and starts to forget himself, he grins and laughs. Often, this moment will be described as “Ibushi having snapped”, and it looks like in this match [with Nakamura], Ibushi had exactly a moment like this. However, as Ibushi says, he apparently [didn’t have that moment].
“It wasn’t like I snapped in the middle [of the match] or anything…When I wrestle Nakamura, I’m already angry from the get-go,” [he said,] laughing.
Are there any other wrestlers aside from Nakamura with whom he felt a kinship?
“It feels different with Nakamura, but there are many. When I clashed with Sekimoto (Daisuke) from Big Japan Pro Wrestling, I felt he was similar to me too. His style is completely different, but I think we are similar in that we both think pro wrestling is ‘the best’. I feel a little bit of that with New Japan’s Shibata (Katsuyori) as well. However, I think that we all differ in how we think [of wrestling] as the best. Because right now, the type of [thinking about what is the] best has changed for me. I used to think that what makes a pro wrestler good is physical ability. No matter what I did, that was most important to me. But these days, I think pro wrestling excels the most in its power of expression.”
The things I love about wrestling only increase over the years
Last year in January, you quit both New Japan and DDT at the same time. You [personally] said, “After starting the Ibushi Research Institute, things greatly changed.”
“I answer every offer, not just from within Japan but from abroad too, myself. I didn’t think that negotiating would be that hard (laughs). Like I said, I wasn’t quite able to get matches going. But maybe what I’m doing right now will lead to something later down the road. Maybe the dissatisfaction and the want [I’m feeling towards] this situation where I don’t have a lot of matches will lead to an expression of emotion in the ring I haven’t done before. I said this before, but nothing is pointless. I don’t know what the things I’m doing by myself right now will be useful for in the future, but I do know for certain that they will be useful.”
What kind of thoughts does he have about the subject of this special feature, “Thank you, professional wrestling”?
“I too am nothing but grateful [to wrestling]. I never thought about a life outside of [being a] professional wrestler, and I still don’t. I never hated wrestling, either. On the contrary, the things I love [about it] only increase over the years. Even now, whenever I have a match, I discover something new you can do with wrestling.”
What interests us most are his future matches. It’s been two and half years since he last stood in a New Japan ring. There are a lot of fans who eagerly await his [return].
[Ibushi] hinted at something: “Right…At this point, I don’t have anything I can reveal, but…I think there’s one thing you can all look forward to this year.”
One month after the interview, it was announced that Ibushi would take part in New Japan Pro Wrestling’s hardest and hottest tournament, the G1 CLIMAX, which begins on July 22nd.
What kind of exquisitely insane battles will he show us, and with whom? And will he show us the emotional expression of “want” that he spoke about that he learned for the first time when he was alone? This summer, you cannot turn your eyes away from even one move of Ibushi Kôta.