Satoshi Sayama, “I will continue to live my life with a gritty attitude! Special Interview | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Satoshi Sayama, “I will continue to live my life with a gritty attitude! Special Interview

An indefatigable martial artist battling angina pectoris, Meniere's disease, and other incurable diseases

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Satoru Sayama / Born in Shimonoseki City, Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1957. Debuted as a professional wrestler in 1976. Currently, he is the head instructor of Restriction Shinin-Ryu. Photo taken in his study at home, where he continues his research on martial arts and budo.

He says, “I spend all day long in my study at home, reading books and facing the computer in order to research the creation of new martial arts. Such a life has been going on for years.”

Martial artist Satoshi Sayama, 65, speaks in a calm tone. Sayama was the first Tiger Mask, a masked wrestler who enthralled pro wrestling fans throughout Japan in the early 1980s. Since then, he has worked his way through the mixed martial arts “Shuto” and the “Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF)” to establish his own martial art. We would like to look back on the life of Sayama, who has always lived a life of serious gachinko.

It was about eight years ago that a change occurred in Sayama’s body. Suddenly, his health began to deteriorate.

He said, “’15 I had surgery for angina pectoris, and after a year or two my legs began to tangle and my hands began to shake. On Christmas Eve of ’19, he collapsed in the dojo and was rushed to the emergency room. He had difficulty hearing in his right ear and became dizzy. Tests revealed that I was experiencing symptoms of Meniere’s disease and Parkinson’s syndrome together.”

Sayama was struck by major vertigo three times this year.

I was looking at my computer screen when suddenly my eyes started spinning and my head hit the keyboard with a bang,” he said. When I came to, I was lying on the floor. In February of this year, when I was getting off the elevator at the Tokyo Dome Hotel to give a speech before a match of “Strong Style Wrestling,” which I preside over, I still felt dizzy and fell down. It’s a hallmark of Meniere’s disease, and on days when I’m not feeling well, everything in my field of vision is shaking all the time. The symptoms have subsided considerably after taking medication, but I always wear sunglasses because strong light is also no good for me.”

Recently, he started a new treatment for his Parkinson’s syndrome.

In July, I began breathing hydrogen to regulate my autonomic nervous system. Until then, I used to wake up once every two or three hours even if I slept at night, but after breathing hydrogen, I can sleep eight hours straight.

Sayama’s goal of getting back into the ring while battling an incurable disease has its origins in his childhood obsession with professional wrestling. He was fascinated by wrestlers such as Antonio Inoki, Mil Mascaras, Dory Funk Jr. and Kotetsu Yamamoto, whom he saw on TV.

I wanted to be like them,” he said. I was in the judo club in junior high school, and when my opponent came to throw, I would hug him and do a back throw. It is a technique like the backdrop in professional wrestling. I once lost a foul by doing a double arm suplex and other wrestling moves. He used to throw people and play with them so much that his back strength was 300 kg in the first year of high school. I also had a spring in my body and could jump 88 cm vertically.”

Creating a New Martial Art

He dropped out of high school and joined “New Japan Pro-Wrestling,” where he served as Inoki’s valet and became friends with Carl Gotch, who was called the “God of Wrestling.

Inoki was a kind man and never got angry with me. Before a match, we always practiced together using playing cards: 10 squats when he got a 10, 60 squats when he got a joker, and so on. Even with such playful practice, Mr. Inoki was very strict with himself and didn’t cut corners.”

Gotch was a man with a “strong sense of justice” who hated anything crooked.

If you did anything even the slightest bit strange, his fists would fly at you. If you made noise while eating, he would get angry. Once, I wore a T-shirt with a picture of the Rolling Stones with their tongue hanging out, and when I went to Mr. Gotch’s place, he punched me and said, ‘Why are you wearing that? I was punched in the face. I can’t tolerate people who lose their decorum either. When I see people on the train talking on their cell phones, I want to punch them in the face.

In August 1983, at the height of his popularity, Tiger Mask quit New Japan Pro-Wrestling. In pursuit of his ideal martial art, he founded the world’s first mixed martial art, “Shooting (now known as Shuto). The man who revolutionized pro-wrestling searched for a new way to compete.

He says, “Even if it looks like the same kicking and punching, the way of doing it is different in different sports. Imagining that 20 to 30 years from now his students would grow up and flourish, he continued his research, staying up all night every night.

As he thought and worried, Sayama began to devote himself to bushido. While battling an incurable disease, he is now working to create a new form of martial arts.

There are many children who can win in the ring but are mentally weak. For example, a strong fighter may attack a girl because he is weak and cannot control his own desires. I believe that athletes should not only be taught techniques, but also their mentality should be trained through martial arts. If their spirit is trained, they will naturally know what they should do from the inside. In this respect, baseball player Shohei Otani is amazing. There is a complete difference in awareness between a baseball player like Otani, who hits a home run after deciding from the inside that he is going to hit it, and a baseball player who hits a home run after being told from the outside to do it this way. I am studying Shinto rituals, history, psychoanalysis, and even hypnosis in order to launch a new martial art. I don’t have time to rest just because I’m sick.

Sayama, who played the role of a hero who jumped out of a cartoon, is now trying to create a sublime martial art as the culmination of his indomitable fighting spirit.

As the first Tiger Mask, he won numerous titles, including “NWA World Junior Heavyweight Champion.
His specialty was a variety of techniques such as the screw high kick. Photo shows his match against Dynamite Kid.
He said that his physical condition varies from day to day, but after the interview, he showed a powerful fighting pose.
Eating his favorite fried rice at his favorite Chinese restaurant in Tokyo. He also restricts his diet to lower his blood sugar.
He says, “I am studying history, psychoanalysis, and Shinto rituals in order to create a completely new martial art.

From the August 11, 2023 issue of FRIDAY

  • Interview and text Masayoshi Kageyama (Journalist) PHOTO Photos 1-3 courtesy of the artist, Hiroyuki Komatsu

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