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Yoko Yamada

by Judit Kawaguchi

Yoko Yamada, 27, nicknamed Iron Beauty, is the 2005 women’s arm wrestling world champion in the 45-kg weight class and has won more than 35 gold medals, in both the Left- and Right-Handed Divisions. Yamada failed to qualify for the 2006 world championship because the minimum weight was raised to 50 kg, but she is currently gaining muscle and weight for this year’s world championship. She is also the undefeated All-Japan Women’s Arm Wrestling Champion, a title she has held since 2002. A pioneer in a sport dominated by men, Yamada is revered by fans for her combination of awesome power and cute looks, which have given arm wrestling a much-welcomed boost in interest.

Always look up. Being on top means I have to look down, at the contestants gunning for my spot, which feels more negative than positive. It is almost like bullying others, which I really hate, so I remind myself of how I felt years ago when I was at the bottom.

Don’t live life for yourself. Dedicate yourself to the service of others. I cannot win for myself. I do it for my dad, who is sick, my friends, my trainer and my fans.

Effort is not enough. I don’t think I train more than other people, yet I usually win. The day before every event I meditate for two hours in a Buddhist temple. Also, one hour before my bouts I call my monk to get his encouragement. The one time I didn’t call him I lost.

Being last was more fun than being the champ. Having achieved my goal, I am scared of losing. I must always remind myself of the hunger I felt when I started out in this sport.

Protect those weaker than yourself. I have never bullied anyone, but I was bullied a lot in junior high school. Good. Now I know how it feels to be hurt. At that time nobody saved me from my tormentors, so since then I think it is my duty to help those weaker than me.

If you talk behind others’ backs, you will never succeed. Being mean creates negative vibes and prevents you from succeeding. Just be nice.

All kinds of lifestyles are fine as long as children feel loved. Kids don’t know what is normal. My parents were busy at the clothing boutique they ran, so my two siblings and I led our own lives. I always ate alone and I never received any pocket money. None of this bothered me at all.

The good times cannot last forever, so enjoy them while you can. In elementary school I was very popular and had many friends who used to grab onto my arms as we skipped to the school ground. We arm wrestled each other and I always won. Other girls kept my nail clippings and strands of hair as good luck charms. Every day was fun. It all reversed in junior high school, where I was suddenly bullied so much that I stopped going to school at all.

Boredom is behind many crimes. I hung around Shibuya in my teens. We didn’t think fighting was bad. After I beat up the leader of a girl’s gang and four of her friends, I was sent to a juvenile correctional facility.

One encounter can change your life. In 1999 I was 20 and had had enough of fights and stupidity. I was in a restaurant when the guy next to me said he was an arm wrestler. He inspired me to begin training. Six months later I won the silver medal at the world championship.

We should get over the idea that being skinnier is better. Having muscles is much healthier.

Be straight about everything. Why lie? Years ago I told my mom that I was in love with a woman, but she still thinks I will get back to guys. People only hear what they want to hear, it seems. Actually, she might be right about me. As long as somebody has a great spirit, man or woman, I am interested.

Know your weaknesses. I know I get stupid and bad if I drink alcohol, so I just stick with tea.

I am sure I can raise a kid alone. I raise the bar for myself every day, so why not have a child. It would be ideal to find a great man to share my life with but it seems unlikely. It is easier to find a wonderful woman than it is to find a good man.

Angry people are the scariest. When I get mad, my eye color changes and I turn into Raijin, the thunder god. Luckily, I can control myself — although I might lift my hand I will not strike.

Animals never lie. They show exactly how they feel, and they are in the best mood all the time. I love them. We have five dogs, a cat, three parakeets and five hamsters. Our house has been like a zoo since I was born.

Love is forever. My parents divorced, after which my father disappeared for five years because he had some money trouble. He loved gambling. I really missed him. One day three years ago I got a call that he was hospitalized. He had a stroke and now has difficulty comprehending what is happening around him. Since then he has been living with me. We have fun together! I cook for him, put him in the tub, wash his hair and dry his body. I can do plenty of heavy lifting at home.

Don’t lean on others. They will move, and you will lose your balance and get hurt.