Katsuomi Inagaki was with Pancrase from the start.He participated in Pancrase’s first event in 1993. He is owner and head instructor of Inagaki-gumi P’s Lab Osaka.
This past summer, during my stay in Japan, I had the opportunity to meet up with Inagaki-san. I’ve been to the P’s Lab Osaka twice in the past two years. I consider him a great coach and a personal friend of mine. During that meeting I interviewed him.
When did you start training martial arts? What martial art did you start with?
I started martial arts at the age of 12 years old. I started with learning Judo.
What motivated you to begin training?
While I was in primary school, watching pro-wrestling, boxing ,and other martial arts on TV, I got interested fighting sports. At my middle school, I entered the Judo club.
When and why did you think of becoming a pro fighter?
When I was 15,at my school’s career consulting, I was asked what kind work would you like to do in the future, I replied I wanted to be a pro-wrestler, I want to work in pro-wrestling.
What was the experience of your first pro fight?
I felt a strong blood-thirsty feeling from my opponent ,I thought it was kill or be killed.
In Mixed Martial Arts, one could get injured whilst potential deadly attacks are allowed. There is always a probability that one could kill or one could be killed.
I believed that I had to be prepared to fight with those possibilities.
What were your good experiences with Pancrase? Do you believe there are some things that could improve?
Despite the general common knowledge everyone had about Pro Wrestling, in order to make an ideal Pro Wrestling , both Suzuki-san and Funaki-san, using their youth, knowledge and energy launched Pancrase, causing a boom. In order to launch Pancrase, we conducted as a group of people with passion and talent and shared both joys and sorrows.
I truly believe it was a good experience.
From bare hands to gloves, from ring to cage, established a ranking system etc… Pancrase is always improving to get better. So personally I don’t believe there are things that need improvements.
When and why did you finish your pro career?
By objectively looking at my body’s condition (both elbows operated on, a ruptured Achilles tendon etc..) and my sense of fighting, I didn’t think I would become champion. So in 2003 I retired.
When you were a pro fighter, and now seeing pro-fighters from the outside, have you personally noticed a mental change in certain points or doubts?
In my pro days, rather than looking at the minus points of an unstable and dangerous occupation, I was more fulfilled that I was making a living in a job I liked.
Now that I am beside my pro-fighters, I again feel the difficulty of living off job that one loves, such as pro-fighting. The pay is unstable, serious injuries happen, there is a possibility of death, it is not a job that will last a lifetime.
Besides the aspect of the income, and the point of being worried and concerned, for those fighters with family I believe it is a very harsh job.
Furthermore, while I’m watching my fighters compete, rather than the win or loss, I started to want them coming back safe. In martial arts there is potential for injuries and attacks that could kill are allowed. One could get a serious injury, one could even die, is this type of dangerous competition necessary? I’ve become to start thinking of these things.
What are your challenges as an instructor?
Myself I can only teach techniques that I have used but cannot teach techniques that I haven’t used. While there are new techniques that come out, I don’t have enough knowledge to teach my active students. In order to deeply teach a technique, one must refine it thru sparring or competitions. I leave the pursuit of new skills up to my active athletes. Things such as creating an environment where good practice can be done, preparing for a competition, proper attitude during practice, general way of thinking etc, I pass down what I personally felt thru my own experiences. In my experience so far, what are challenges are things that I can only do myself and to find things that are needed.
If a student wanted to go pro, what kind of advice would you give him?
The income is unstable, one might get a serious injury, or one might even die. However, dealing with pro-fighting seriously there is excitement, tension, gratitude, happiness, frustration, worries, finding solutions, various emotions, and the people involved , these thing will make life more colorful. One has to truly decide and prepare by oneself.
Compared to when you where pro, what is the current situation of MMA in Japan, and what has changed?
From the time I was a pro-fighter from the 1990s to early 2000s, the was a rise in interest and the number of people interested the results and content of the fighting sports increased. It was an era where the promotion of holding pro-fighting sports was on a rise. There was a high enthusiasm by those interested in seeing who was the top and what were the best fighting styles. Top fighters were able to get higher fight-money. There was a dream.
There are fewer people who are interested now, the scales of the venues have shrunk, and only a handful of fighters who live solely off their fight money.
Pancrase changed from ring to cage, what is your viewpoint on this?
There is no real advantage or disadvantage in the change due to the fight breaks due to fighters coming out of the ropes. Due to the fact the cage is suitable for mixed martial arts; I think it is a good change.
What is your favorite/best technique?
The Face Lock. I like the sense of securing the control of the direction of the face.