Masafumi Kawaguchi is not interested in the past. Not even in his brilliant American football career.
What he values are his experiences, which have helped him establish his unique training method.
“European and American athletes use their bodies in a completely different way from Japanese athletes,” said Kawaguchi, the representative director of JPEC (Japan Physical Education & Culture), a personal training gym in Tokyo’s Minato Ward, during an exclusive interview with The Japan Times. “Our focus is to train Japanese athletes so that they can utilize their bodies as effectively as Europeans and Americans.”
“Trainer” is a new title for Kawaguchi, one of the all-time best players in American football history in Japan and a popular, colorful commentator for NFL programs on all three Japanese TV stations that broadcast games. He turned to sports training after retiring from football after the 2008 season.
As a hard-hitting linebacker, Kawaguchi led Ritsumeikan University to its first national collegiate title in 1994 before continuing his career in the now-defunct NFL Europe.
While playing for the Amsterdam Admirals (from 1996-2002), Kawaguchi was invited to the San Francisco 49ers’ training camp in 2002 and 2003. He recorded a special teams tackle in a preseason game in 2002, becoming the first Japanese to have recorded stats in a preseason game played in North America.
He failed to make the final roster in San Francisco either year.
“From Day 1 in Europe, I noticed the difference of bodies between Americans and Japanese,” Kawaguchi said. “After the squad training, I had sore quadriceps. But an African-American player said he had soreness in his hips despite the fact we did the same training, using the same machines.
“That was amazing. I was almost panicking. I could not understand what made the difference.”
His surprise continued on the field.
“During the scrimmage, an American guy I was going to tackle just disappeared from my sight by making only one cut. That never happened to me in Japan,” Kawaguchi said. “Japanese athletes tend to use their knees a lot. They bend their knees to stockpile power and explode before contact. The power runs from knee to hips and upper body. But Americans can produce the same power by using only the hips. They can make contact on tempo quicker than Japanese.
“That was when I started to study how Americans use and move their bodies and apply it to myself.”
Since then Kawaguchi learned about the human body and paid attention to the pelvis’ movement. Changing its movement helped him improve as a football player. He was eventually named to the All-NFL Europa team in his fourth season in the league.
Though he fell short of making it to the NFL, his ultimate goal as a football player, his experiences in Europe and the 49ers camp helped form the basic concept of the method his gym currently uses to train athletes.
“Many of the Japanese trainers instruct solidifying the body trunk and then moving hip joints,” the 43-year-old said. “But our method is moving the body trunk itself. You can move the body trunk by using sacroiliac joints, and that is the movement Europeans and Americans do naturally to make the best use of their athletic abilities.”
The sacroiliac joints connect the sacrum, the center part of the pelvis, and an ilium on both sides of the body. According to Kawaguchi, Japanese can bring out their potential ability better and get closer to that of Europeans and Americans by moving the sacroiliac joints properly. And the effect of using sacroiliac joints is obvious.
“With a (little) instruction, you can feel the effect soon,” Kawaguchi said. “It is like you get another gear in your body. You use hip joints, knees and ankles to move your body. If you have one more joint, your body movement improves.”
For example, a high school athlete that Kawaguchi declined to identify, improved his record in the shot put by about 1 meter during Kawaguchi’s two-month instruction. Another athlete’s legs got longer from 93.3 to 95.1 cm despite his height staying at 190 cm in a two-month span.
“The use of sacroiliac joints changes your body shape,” he said. “Your hips get higher and your legs get longer. As a result, your body gets closer to that of Europeans and Americans.
“Our method not only helps the top-tier athletes improve their performances, but also helps ordinary people get better body shape.”
It’s been almost 13 years, but Kawaguchi still remembers the moment he gave up his dream of becoming an NFL player.
“I was lying on my bed one day at the 49ers’ summer camp in 2003. I almost unconsciously said to myself, ‘that might be it,’ ” Kawaguchi said. “I was shocked that I said what I didn’t mean to say. I guess the words had stayed in the bottom of my heart and suddenly came up to the tongue. I realized this was my limit.
“I had no regrets. I never thought I could’ve done better. I never thought I wanted more chances. I just thought I was done.”
Now his focus has turned to training as many athletes to compete as possible.
“You need to win at a high level if you want support from people,” Kawaguchi said. “If you distinguish yourself worldwide, you draw attention from people. More money will be spent to support you and your sport. More kids get interested in your sport and start to play. I want to make the circumstances where Japanese athletes can compete on the highest level equally with Europeans and Americans in all kinds of sports. That is my life’s work.”
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