My translation of an interview with and feature about Ibushi Kôta from Weekly Pro Issue 7/28 2010 No. 1534 as part of their “Wrestler’s Human Stories” series.

Original content and images © BBM.

As always, my annotations are [], and annotations by the original publication are in ().

Lead into the Promised Land
“I follow the path I believe in, no matter what anyone says”

His older brother obtained a video tape. That was the beginning of everything.

Ibushi Kôta had just turned three when he came into contact with pro wrestling. I would love to write here that he was so excited for it that it was like he was getting sucked into the TV, and that he watched it alongside his father, who loved wrestling and enjoyed the broadcasts during prime time, but that wasn’t the case. Because at the time, Ibushi’s feelings about wrestling were those of utter opposition, as he felt it was “unbearably boring”, something that seems unbelievable looking at it now.

It was in the first term of fifth grade when his fanaticism for wrestling would be born. The impetus was a video player and a single tape.

“At the time, we didn’t have a video player at home, so we bought one. But even if we had a player now, we had no tapes to watch, right? So we hurried to the rental store. I wanted to rent an anime or something, but what my brother got was a pro wrestling [tape].”

It seems doubtful now that his older brother was such a pro wrestling fan. But back then, the right to decide which tapes [to rent] lay with his brother and father, so Ibushi’s hopes for anime [videos] were but fleeting suggestions.

Since he could remember, he had associated pro wrestling with being boring. He didn’t want to watch it at all…But at the very least, it was the first video they ever watched together at home, so he shrugged his shoulders and gathered in front of the TV with his family. What do you think happened next? He discovered the intrigue of wrestling as he sat there, amazed and impressed, maybe due to the video being different from what was shown live during broadcasts.

Before he knew it, he watched the next tape his brother had rented in reverence as well. It depicted the war between New Japan Pro Wrestling and the Heisei Ishin-gun, and while following the happenings, he began to empathize [with the wrestlers] too. As the first term came to a close, he found himself totally immersed in and obsessed with the fascinating world of wrestling.

A young Ibushi, who had always so strongly admired strength, was unsatisfied with merely watching wrestling, and wanted to try it out for himself. He started play-wrestling as the summer vacation began. He mostly forced those around him [into wrestling], and a group of four good friends became the Four Pillars of Kagoshima. They indulged almost every day in the “make-believe”, in classrooms or the schoolyard or the gym.

“Around the end of fifth grade I felt like the allure of wrestling were the bumps (laughs). Everyone can dish out an attack. Everyone can think about what kind of move to do. But I thought not everyone can take a move. But that was when it came to me, and I didn’t think that way about the pros. I had no concept of the art of taking moves, and I was more impressed by just [the wrestlers] being hit with one. I thought that the ring was made out of [wooden] boards, so if I would eat [moves] like that, I would die. I knew that if I could take bumps, I would be able to become a pro wrestler.”

It was a complete 180 from his great dislike in the first term [of fifth grade]. At some point, young Ibushi decided to become a pro wrestler. Incidentally, immediately after finishing elementary school, he had wanted to join a local promotion West Japan Pro Wrestling that was based out of Kumamoto, but they sent him back home, saying to [come back] once he finished middle school.

The unshakable will to become a pro wrestler gave birth to a new feverish devotion to his everyday play-wrestling. He threw himself like a fanatic into developing better technique too, and once he mastered back handsprings and backflips, he completed [mastering] moonsaults, Firebird Splashes, shooting star presses and Phoenix Splashes…aerial maneuvers of the highest difficulty. All the same, he didn’t have the courage to try them out against human opponents. So he only did presses [and such] by landing on his feet or the ground. But because he had “wanted to give everyone a show” at least once, he gathered just twenty people around the platform for the morning address, and performed a Firebird [Splash]. The end result was that he broke every bone in the left side of his rib cage…This is where his “Firebird Curse” began.

He started watching wrestling because he was enthralled by the displays of strength, but through the “Super J-CUP” in which the Great Sasuke and Último Dragón made appearances as well, a fascination with the breathtaking side of wrestling began to pull him ever deeper into it.

It was in October of 1995, during the New Japan vs UWFI invasion, that his wrestling fever reached a new unprecedented height. UWFI, who leaned towards a martial arts-based [approach], was the clear enemy for Ibushi, who celebrated pro wrestling. He loved the violent atmosphere and the bouts. It was enough to completely electrify him.

“I think if I had lived in Tôkyô, I would have made a New Japan flag and gone to the venue. I would have brought the flag and just gone nuts. Well, I watched everything on video, and you see, in the end, New Japan won…I sobbed, until the morning hours. I watched [that tape] over and over. When Takada tapped [while] in the figure four [lock], yep, I cried! [I] was like, rewind!! (laughs). It was like I was putting it on to cry partway through. It had a deep emotional impact on me.”

When he entered middle school, he set up a makeshift ring at the beach with his wrestling friends. Once school was over, they immediately headed for the ring. He was too absorbed in wrestling, more than he was in school and everyday life, and for three years, he didn’t communicate with most of the people around him. One story that symbolizes this is this: “I was told by my classmates on the day of the graduation ceremony that they wanted to hear me speak”. Even when he was called out by the teacher during class, he didn’t speak. But it wasn’t like he was being a ruffian or a rebel. He simply hadn’t listened, so he couldn’t answer [the teacher’s question].

Caption: In his youth, he hated wrestling…The cause for his 180 turn was a video player
Bottom right: A young Ibushi, with a cute-looking, innocent smile. At that time, he had yet to discover wrestling.
Middle: Third grade of highschool. A time when he planned to get into wrestling as soon as he graduated.
Bottom left: A frame showing [Ibushi wrestling] in the ring [him and his friends] built for play-wrestling at the beach in his hometown (from video footage). Ibushi is the one being thrown, [at the time] in second grade of highschool.

“I had no interest in connecting with people. I only had eyes for wrestling. I was something else during those three years (laughs). I would swiftly end things with people who made fun of wrestling even a little bit (laughs). People around me were like, is this guy okay? Everyone knew I was a wrestling freak, even if I didn’t say a single word.”

During excessive bumping in the first year of middle school, he felt the damage to his head, so in the second year, he cut down on it. He went to the gym to build up his body. He allowed his body to recuperate (?) for a year, and by the third year of middle school, he resumed his bumping training, going crazy in trying out vertical drops.Every time he showed those in the jûdo dojo or the schoolyard, his friends who came watching him were absolutely delighted. Happy about the cheers he received, he tried again. Rinse and repeat.

“I did Tiger suplexes or sheer drop brainbusters or spinning moves in the schoolyard. I did avalanche attack after avalanche attack, using the height difference from a [tree] stump, but what I was picturing in my mind back then, was the Four Pillar wrestling [style]. That was the beginning of [me doing] anywhere wrestling. I knew I could wrestle like in the ring where there was no ring. I wasn’t thinking ‘I wanna do street fights’ at the time, but I knew I could [wrestle] anywhere.”

At one point, he had an interest in joint locks, and watched dozens of Volk Han [match] tapes.He turned overnight from a self-proclaimed power fighter into a “play-wrestler” who didn’t use throws at all. Ibushi grins: “I haven’t used a scrap of the knowledge I learned then and I’m still not doing it. I’m still not showing [those moves].”

By the time he graduated middle school he already had a foot in the wrestling [world]…or so he thought. His mother’s tears shook his resolve

Continuing his extracurricular activities from elementary school, [Ibushi] joined the swimming club. But when the club was soon disbanded and changed into a gathering of like-minded people, the only activities were in the summer. Even so, he didn’t mention this to his parents, [saying instead] that the club activities were every day, and continued to work hard in the ring at the beach. He didn’t say a word [to his parents] about his intention to continue down the path of wrestling and the bumping training and workout he endured for that.

Since he spent 360 days out of a year play-[wrestling], his body changed in the blink of an eye in these three years: his height grew from 162 cm to 179 cm, and his weight from 45 kg to 68 kg. His neck grew thicker as well.

As graduation approached and talks about what he should do after school started to come up, Ibushi revealed to his parents for the first time that he dreamed of becoming a pro wrestler. He didn’t want to go highschool, he wanted to join New Japan Pro Wrestling.

The next moment, his mother was crying in front of him. When he saw his crying parents, he was embarrassed; he had screwed up. He withdrew from joining wrestling and gave up on his dreams.

With joining a promotion off the menu, his enthusiasm for wrestling rapidly dwindled. It had already turned into apathy by the time he went to highschool in order to get into a workplace. He didn’t watch wrestling anymore, and retired from play-wrestling as well. He gathered his friends and held a retirement match, but even here things ended with him doing a Firebird Splash and injuring himself…

Despite this, he chose the rugby club as he thought it might aid him should he be able to become a wrestler one day.

“I didn’t understand the rules, but I took the training seriously. I told myself that wrestling was way harder than this, and that if I wasn’t able to endure highschool level [rugby] training, I wouldn’t be able to become a wrestler either.”

As you can already glean from this, Ibushi didn’t end up cutting ties with wrestling. Time passed and he graduated highschool. No matter what he thought about when it came to his future, he couldn’t choose anything else [other than wrestling]. Either way, he decided to move to Tôkyô to take his chance. Since he wanted a reason to move there, he would be content with any job. Speaking with his teacher about this, he started working at the airport in Narita. He moved alone to Chiba.

Caption: Getting into highschool as becoming a wrestler was out of the question, moving to Tôkyô, finding a job, encountering kickboxing, the first taste of defeat, and a setback
Right: The [kickboxing] gym he was introduced to by a senior at work at the airport in Narita was [called] “Taisei Juku” in Funabashi. This is from an article that introduced the members of the gym at the time. Ibushi was nineteen at the time of the picture.
Bottom middle: Also from when he was nineteen. A picture of him sparring in the gym.
Left: At 20, in his own apartment. A time when he got his taste of defeat in kickboxing, and got away [from everything]. According to himself, it was a time in his life when he was “a loser who only fooled around”.

He was supposed to quit working on the first day.

“When I actually went [to work], I became friends with everyone on day one. I thought, I can’t quit on my first day, so I’ll work for a month and save up and then quit. But after a month it wasn’t so bad after all, and I continued [working there]. I lived in a dorm, so I had [almost] all of my earnings to myself. I was an eighteen year-old who had just graduated highschool. I was enjoying myself too much (wry laugh). Wrestling disappeared completely from my mind at that time.”

From time to time, he remembered his dream, and sent out resumes to promotions. However, one time, he mixed up the address and when it came back to him, he mailed it one more time after forgetting to put a postal stamp on it. It was proof that his head wasn’t in the game at all. Even though he was thinking about what he should do, all that happened was that more and more time passed.

It came at an opportune time that his coworker at the airport showed him a kickboxing gym in Funabashi. After eating dinner with the head of the gym, Ônari, they visited the gym and [Ibushi] was told to try and kick the sandbag. Even though he kicked it casually and half-mindedly, that one kick was enough for Ônari to motivate Ibushi to come back to the gym.

“It was free and within reasonable commuting distance. I think in the beginning, I went once about every ten days. I hated [going] and I hated kickboxing because it was the enemy of wrestling. But I thought it would be useful if I got into wrestling and wrestled a kickboxer. I still was of the opinion that wrestling was the best. That’s why, in order to become the best [wrestler], I thought I should study those who might one day become my opponents.”

He had only gone to the gym about three times, but suddenly he was told he would be in a match. And what’s more, it wasn’t a kickboxing match, but an MMA bout, and his opponent wasn’t in the same 65 kg weight class, but in the 75 kg weight class. [Ibushi] had no choice but to do it, and the bell rang. In the end, one way or another, he was declared the winner.

Under these aforementioned circumstances, it would normally have been a cause of celebration, but Ibushi pondered [the match] in frustration, wondering why he hadn’t been able to KO [his opponent]. The single bout became the impetus for him to go to the gym in earnest. Just as his first year at his job was coming to a close, he quit. He moved to Funabashi, and devoted himself to training while working part-time jobs. He was nineteen.

Four months after he began [going to the kickboxing gym], he was given another chance to have a match, and after approximately one minute, he won via KO. He was pleased with the result and threw himself into training with more vigor than ever. One might be inclined to think it would be smooth sailing from there, but just as he was on the verge of turning 20, he experienced what can be considered his first setback. After intensive training, he took part in a match, but was unexpectedly eliminated in the first round. This was the first time for Ibushi he had ever been defeated in a physical fight.

“I was upset, so upset. It would have motivated some people, but I gave up. I sank into despair, and returned to the life I had led [working] at the airport when I was eighteen.”

But no matter how much he went out, the fun of the days when he was eighteen wasn’t there. His heart wasn’t in it. He hadn’t even tried himself at wrestling. Why had he made it this far? Being aware he was a loser weighed heavily on his entire body. What gave Ibushi the renewed strength to look forward, was the difference he noticed between himself and others at his coming-of-age ceremony.

“I was twenty and I looked around and I saw people who maybe weren’t successful, but who spend good lives. I was surprised. When I thought about myself, I realized it was messed up. I had to achieve something. I thought, all right I’m doing kickboxing right now, let’s do that.”

A decision at 20 and a victory in the K-2 tournament: his long-awaited entry into pro wrestling

Caption: A life-threatening three months that changed his life, and the path towards the present: “My goal is always ‘the now'”
Right: Taking the victory in the K-2 as an opportunity, he finally decided to enter the wrestling business. In March of 2004 he joined DDT, and had his debut on July 1st on the Kôrakuen show. Him using moonsaults and a Phoenix [Splash] right from his first match created quite the stir.
Top left: His popularity rose gradually in 2007. Something that secured his nationwide fame, was when he appeared for NOAH in a match, tagging with Marufuji Naomichi in the Nippon TV Cup Junior Tag League. After the end of all of his matches, Ibushi received the Fighting Spirit Prize.
Bottom left: Ibushi’s achievements are a big [reason] for DDT’s establishment as a household name of anywhere wrestling. Photo taken September 2009, at [the] Yamanashi Camping Ground Wrestling [event].
Bottom right:Ibushi Kôta, real name the same. Born on May 21st 1982 in Aira, Kagoshima. 181 cm, 83 kg. Debut vs KUDO on July 1st 2004, on DDT’s Kôrakuen Hall [show]. Possesses strong physical abilities that allow him easy mastery over highly difficult aerial maneuvers. As he’s also not lacking in sensitivity, it’s worth taking a look at the fascinatingly beautiful matches in which he unleashes that. Dislocated his left shoulder in the middle of a match on New Japan’s 6/13 Kôrakuen show. His absence currently extend until the 7/25 Ryôgoku show. His return match was announced to be a one-on-one with Marufuji.

One month after his 21st birthday, in April, he returned to the [kickboxing] gym. He set his sights on the K-2 tournament in July, and subjected his body to a gruesome training every day that caused him to have bloody urine and stool.

“I thought this was my last [chance]. If I made it far [into the tournament], I would continue. If I didn’t, I would quit everything, including kickboxing and return to Kagoshima. I thought, if I can’t even make it onto the winner’s list in an amateur competition, this would be the end for me. But I decided that if I got first place, I would quit kickboxing and become a pro wrestler.”

The result of betting everything on his efforts paid off, and he achieved a splendid victory. He remembers that, because he had overcome such a hard training, when it came to the real deal, he was able to defeat any opponent with ease. Ibushi felt for the first time that he became stronger by working hard.

In accordance with his plans, he quit kickboxing a couple of days after winning [the tournament], and set his mind on getting into wrestling. But as you’d expect, things didn’t go quite so well. It took about half a year for him to take the entrance test for DDT and join the promotion with the assistance of Kimura Kôichirô, whom he knew through Ônari.

However, just like with his job, he secretly made the resolve to quit on the day of his debut.

“It had been my dream to become a wrestler, so I thought I’d be satisfied once I made that happen. I thought, there’s no way that, after I had suffered through so much with kickboxing and finally gotten to the point where I’d won [a tournament], I would break into the top ranking in wrestling. Wrestling was so far above [kickboxing]. Well, turns out I enjoyed my debut match too much, and I couldn’t quit after all (laughs).”

The fun he had in his debut match reminded him of the “play-wrestling” he had done in middle school in the jûdo dojo and schoolyard. Seeing what he had envisioned, the audience was red-hot. When he was a kickboxer, he didn’t have time to take in the admiration of the crowd, but the sensation he hadn’t felt in a long time took a hold of his heart.

His great athletic ability and handsome look and the beguiling fights he put on with his unique sensitivity captured the wrestling fans. Now he’s on his way to become a wrestler [known] to the whole country, but there are things that people have been telling him since his debut.

“I was often told, if you get injured, that’s it, or, you shouldn’t do it this way. But…even so, I don’t want to wrestle in a way where I suppress how I want to move. Even if it’s generally thought that I’m wrong about this, to me, I’m not.”

This stance has stayed with Ibushi ever since his elementary school days. No matter what anyone told him, he continued doing only whatever he wanted to do now. The time that Ibushi referred to as “now” always continued to evolve together with where he was in life. That’s why he doesn’t understand what others around him refer to as “the current state”.

He only ever follows his own path. Even if at times that leads him astray, he always believes in himself. And that’s because Ibushi is a man who shines brightest whenever he continues to do what he wants to do, always having “the now” as his goal.