Hatsumi Sensei VS. Pro Wrestler Rikidōzan

During a recent Sunday class at Hombu, Hatsumi Sensei was showing techniques  against a double lapel grab. He made a point of demonstrating these techniques on some of the largest foreigners in the room. He tossed them around easily and made them groan or whimper in pain.

He then said that all of the Jugodans in the Bujinkan should be able to defeat any pro wrestler. He wasn't talking about the kind of pro wrestling we see now that is full of theatrics and largely staged, but he was referring to the kind of athletes and matches that were common during his youth.

Hatsumi Sensei then told us about a story from his past when he had accepted a grudge match against one of the most famous of those wrestlers, Rikidōzan.

Soke shared with us the surprise ending to this event, but first let's learn more about this legendary fighter. From the Rikidōzan Wikipedia entry:
Mitsuhiro Momota (百田 光浩 Momota Mitsuhiro?), better known as Rikidōzan (Japanese: 力道山, Korean: 역도산 Yeokdosan, November 14, 1924 – December 15, 1963), was a Korean Japanese professional wrestler, known as the "Father of Puroresu" and one of the most influential men in wrestling history. Initially, he had moved from his native country Korea to Japan to become a sumo wrestler. He was credited with bringing the sport of professional wrestling to Japan at a time when the Japanese needed a local hero to emulate and was lauded as a national hero.
Here is more about Rikidōzan from a Wrestling Revue article in 1964:
"Though born in Nagasaki in Kyushu, Rikidozan was of Korean descent. And in Japan, Koreans are usually objects of contempt, often discriminated against. Rikidozan fought hard to overcome this stigma. In the process he developed a trigger-like temper, rebelled constantly, against authority. "Nobody tells me what to do," he used to boast."
"Riki, who was given the Japanese name of Mitsuhiro Momota (literally, "Bright Child of the Hundred Ricefields"), never dwelled on his early years. But he was known to have been a sullen, bad-tempered youth who, shunned by his prejudiced schoolmates and deserted by his parents, left home at the age of 13 and journeyed 800 miles to Tokyo.

Seeking a living-and an outlet for his repressed hostilities-he enrolled in a sumo training gymnasium and after three years of incredibly arduous training was ready for his first match. All the bitterness erupted out of him as he tackled his opponent. Riki now weighed 300 pounds, with the big, blubbery but tough-as-steel belly characteristic of sumo wrestlers.

Despite his weight, blown up from downing 18 rice bowls and four cases of beer at a single sitting, he was as fast and agile as a cat. He could run the hundred yards in 11 seconds flat and was so superbly trained that he could write a letter by holding a pen between his powerful toes. Riki pounded his foe savagely. with every blow, every kick, he avenged the hardships he had suffered in the gymnasium-getting up at 2 A.M. to work outside in the freezing cold...smoldering at a thousand humiliations...absorbing insults and beatings from advanced classmates... Well, things were going to be different from now on, he vowed, as the fans hailed his victory.

With dynamic drive, he battled his way up in the sumo ranks. At 23, he made the sekiwake grade and was on the verge of entering the ozeki domain which would put him in line for the grand championship. Then he destroyed a brilliant future by quarreling with a gymnasium official over a technical decision. In a rage, he quit sumo forever.

Out of a job and missing the adulation of the fans, Riki was at a loss in the big metropolis. But not for long. Tokyo was starting to boom-it was during the MacArthur occupation-and he easily found work as a construction laborer. Swallowing his disappointment, he worked for a year.

In his spare time, he continued to train hard, concentrating on karate, the deadly art of open-handed fighting that later became his trademark. Then, with a small nest egg, he rented a hall for wrestling exhibitions. In no time he built up a rabid following. As his fame spread, he accepted an offer from promoter Al Karasick in Honolulu. Riki was a sensation there.

He followed with other triumphal tours, capturing a fistful of titles all over the world, beating Haystacks Calhoun, Fred Blassie and even the great Lou Thesz. He was now down to 250 pounds. A siege of illness had melted off 50 pounds and Riki decided to stay that weight after he saw what happened to Tamanishiki, a prominent sumo wrestler. Tamanishiki, a 400-pounder, joined his honorable ancestors when doctors were unable to cut through the mountain of blubber during a stomach operation. 
Except for Thesz, Riki had nothing but contempt for American grapplers. He sneered at their hippodrome showmanship, called them soft compared with the Japanese. He called Blassie the "dirtiest wrestler" he had ever met. In the boxing and wrestling stables that formed part of his vast business empire which also included hotels, night clubs, golf courses and apartment houses, Riki was a hard taskmaster, demanding the utmost from his men and whipping them with a bamboo stick when they failed to measure up to his stringent standards.

By December of 1963, Riki had successfully defended his "International Title" 19 times."
Around this same time there was a Ninja boom going on in Japan. Ninja were appearing all over the media and Hatsumi Sensei was in demand for TV interviews and sought out for demos and his expertise. Sensei has never hidden his idea that real budo and sport fighting cannot be compared. Maybe he said something in an interview, maybe Rikidōzan was simply seeking publicity by challenging and criticizing the legendary Ninja.

There were exchanges of words and letters back and forth. Rikidōzan basically calling Hatsumi Sensei out to a challenge. Hatsumi Sensei wrote to Takamatsu for advice. Takamatsu being a veteran of many such matches in his youth, told Sensei to accept the challenge and began coaching Hatsumi Sensei on how to handle this opponent.

A week before the fight was to occur, Riki was killed by a Yakuza in "the chrome-striped restroom of a plush Tokyo night club." Here are two versions of the murder,
"On December 8, 1963, while partying in a Tokyo nightclub, Rikidōzan was stabbed with a urine-soaked blade by yakuza Katsuji Murata who belonged to Bōryokudan Sumiyoshi-ikka. Reportedly, Rikidōzan threw Murata out of the club and continued to party, refusing to seek medical help. Another report states that Rikidōzan did indeed see his physician shortly after the incident, and was told the wound was not serious. He died a week later of peritonitis on December 15."
Another account:
"On the night of December 8, tragedy struck. Riki, whose business interests brought him into contact with one of the numerous gangs which dominate Tokyo's night life, was in the restroom of the New Latin Quarter when a gangster approached him. The gangster reportedly warned Riki to "stay out of this territory." Riki, who never took any lip from anybody, told him to go to hell. They tussled. A switchblade flashed, And Riki collapse, spilling blood. Rushed to the hospital, Riki was told the wound was minor and would soon heal. But a week later, after bleeding copiously, he died of peritonitis at the age of 39."
Hatsumi Sensei simply stated to us that the wrestler was knifed by the yakuza. Sensei went on to tell us that it was a lucky break for him because he would have likely been destroyed by the wrestler in the fight.

Lucky indeed. I have also heard him say that Ninjas make their own luck. If you subscribe to my training notes (if you aren't a subscriber yet, you miss a LOT of free Bujinkan notes), you can get even more stories Hatsumi Sensei shares during my classes with him. 


Zacaría Omar

I'm sorry, but I don't know what to conclude of this story?

Michael Glenn

You may conclude whatever you like.

Hatsumi Sensei was very amused when he shared this story with us one day at the Hombu Dojo, and I was amused while learning more about it and retelling it here.


Is it possible takamatsu may hav had contacts in the yakuza?


Bujinkan Santa Monica

*''Lucky indeed. I have also heard him say that Ninjas make their own luck. ''
You gives the impression that Hatsumi sensei or Takamatsu Sensei was involved in the murder?*

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