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The Pancrase Happening

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Many people have asked me why I chose to affiliate with Pancrase.I have even asked that question to myself.

I have a long history with Pancrase. This dates back to me the living in Asia in 1992. My first exposure to Pancrase was while I was living in Taipei, Taiwan. One day at a Japanese bookstore in Taipei, named Kinukuniya, I purchased a Japanese language martial arts magazine (Kakutogi -Tsushin). Flipping thru the magazine, I saw info and results about Pancrase events. Also on TV, I was able to see UWF, which was Pro-Wrestling group trying to make the matches look real. The UWF was a founding seed for Pancrase. It fascinated me to see these matches, going from striking to ground fighting.But,after watching a couple of times, I figured out that the matches were fixed, just like Pro-Wrestling.

While working in Taipei, I was getting exposed to Japanese culture too, and started learning the language. My eventual plan was to move to Japan, to learn the language and culture, but also to be able to get training in the art of MMA, which I was exposed thru the magazine and TV. My training in Taipei included mainly Sanda (Chinese Kickboxing), Judo, Wrestling, Boxing, Aikido and Qigong.

After almost 2 years in living in Taipei, I moved to Japan. There I was studying the language (at Ryukoku university), and desperately trying to find out more about Pancrase. While training in Sambo (combat/sport), Shoot boxing (kickboxing with throws) and Judo, I was trying to find out how to train with Pancrase. I found out that, unlike now, there were no Pancrase gyms throughout Japan.There was only one gym, located in Yokohama , and that was for the pros only.
Asking around (no Google back then!) and reading more to get info, I found out there was an entry test to get in as a potential Pancrase fighter. I mailed Pancrase (didn’t have an email address either then!!) to find out when and how to take this test. I received info back from them, and decided to take that test! I was still at school that time, but was ready to not finish graduating from my program and enter Pancrase. This meant that I would have enter the Pancrase world and leave all behind.

I had an idea what the test would be, and prepared for it, but not enough. I took off to Yokohama. The dojo was located a distance from the nearest station. I arrived, gave my name and they gave me a number bib. The famous Funaki and Suzuki where there to overlook and judge the testing. The test was harder than I thought! An old injury (about a year back, suffered in Taipei) crept up again. It was my left big toe that was injured. During the test, we had to do a duck walk at an incline for 20M. Halfway, my toe was bothering me. I stood up for a second, was asked by a supervisor if I quit, I answered my toe was hurting. Next thing I knew, he yelled out my number and was disqualified. I was like:”holy smokes, this is like joining the Special Forces!”

Disappointed, I stood around watching others finishing, or never finishing. I left not depressed, but rather gathering the information of this experience and vowed that I’d be back!

On   return to my   university , Ryukoko University, I consulted with a trainer  who supervises the weight room and  was a certified trainer for the sports teams at the university. I asked him to put together a training program to help me pass the Pancrase entry test. Not forgetting what I did, I gave him the test skills, and he constructed a special program for me. I trained for it, and applied for the entry test again. This time with confidence.

This would be my last chance, because there was a cut-off age of 25. We started and it was the same menu as before. Pain went thru me, but I finished it. Unfortunately, I did not get picked. One other foreigner, a Brazilian, was crying after he did not get selected. I asked the manager why the fellow was crying. He answered:”He put all effort into the test, but didn’t make it, so that’s why he’s crying.” I replied: “I didn’t get selected either, but I’m not crying.” He didn’t reply, just silence.
I took my gear and walked back to the train station. Even though I wasn’t I wasn’t selected, I was very proud that I was able to finish the test.

On the way back, I chatted with another participant and we talked how hard it was. We laughed when we got to the station and saw stairs and an escalator. The choice was easy.. the escalator!!! Even walking downstairs, my legs were about to buckle!

I got back to my studies at school and my training. I didn’t talk much about it with my classmates or training partners, just to my closest friends.

I received a phone call from a Pancrase manager asking me if I’ll do the test again. I said that I was too old (!) according to their rules. He said to come at a Pancrase competition in Kobe, and we’ll talk. I told him I don’t have the means to purchase a ticket, but I’ll meet him at the gates. He said that I can watch as a guest. Those were the days when money wasn’t an issue in Japan!

I got on the train and went to talk to the manager and watch the fights. He told me that even though I was over the age limit (by one year) he said I’d be able to do the test again. I was very happy, and told myself this was my last chance! But again I asked about the visa issue, and was told if you pass the test there would be an answer.

I returned and started training and preparing for that test. That final test( for me) was November 23rd,1996. I was mentally there for it. I did my best and finished the entry test. At the end, we all lined up and were told that only 2 passed. I thought as before I wouldn’t be picked. They read out the bib numbers. I had to look down at mine, to realize I was picked! I went up in front and shook hands with Minoru Suzuki and Matsukatsu Funaki, then had a photo taken of myself, the other passing candidate , Suzuki-san and Funaki-san.

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Passed the test!

While previously taking the test, I asked the Pancrase manager what will happen when I pass the test, in concerns of my visa. Would they get me a working visa or what? I was told that when I pass the test, they’ll figure something out.

Having passed the test, the real issue was now:”so what happens now?” I was told by the manager to start preparing my things to move into the dojo. Back then, it was like a Sumo stable, where the new fighters lived in the dojo and did the chores. He still didn’t have an answer about the visa, but would call me with an answer soon. I received a call, and was told that I could get a “cultural visa”, which is meant for someone to learn a Japanese culture activity. I told them that this type of visa is a short-term one and wouldn’t guarantee a longer stay if needed. I was only in Japan for less than a year and a half by this time, and honestly wanted to stay longer. Should I have turned pro, would they let me stay in Japan under a working visa? He told me that after the visa expires I could train at the Lion’s Den in the USA. I explained to him that I’m a Canadian citizen and would still need a visa to train long-term there.

I called the Lion’s Den, and talked with Jason Delucia, as at that time Ken Shamrock was no longer affiliated with the Lion’s Den, about my situation. Mr. Delucia was very understanding, and told me that I could train there, and could try to get a part-time job nearby to pay for essentials. I thanked him for his advice, but told him that being a Canadian citizen, I would still need a working permit to live and work in the USA.

Having made up my decision, I contacted the Pancrase manager to tell him that I would have to decline in going to move to their dojo, due to the fact that I would not be able to stay longer in Japan as I intentionally wanted to. My choices were train in the Pancrase dojo and might become pro, but potentially have to leave Japan earlier than wanted, or deny the entry and continue my personal live experience in Japan.

It was a very hard decision for me to make for me, but finally I worked it out. I continued my martial arts training concentrating more in the art of Combat Sambo. I was fascinated to train in it, making me get closer to my Slavic heritage. The unarmed self-defense aspect, along with its leglocks intrigued me. With that training I continued on and in the end started my own Combat Sambo gym upon my return to Canada.
In 2007 for some reason, perhaps nostalgia, I began to look into re-joining Pancrase by means of affiliating with them. I contacted Pancrase to look into affiliating with them. They researched on me and replied back that I can have a meeting with them in Tokyo. Fortunately I was going to Japan that year in a family visit and was able to have that meeting.

I met the Pancrase staff, the previous manage was no longer with them (perhaps fortunately), and the meeting went very well. They asked me why I wanted to affiliate with Pancrase. I replied explaining my previous history with Pancrase. Also, because I speak Japanese and lived in Japan for several years, therefore having a better understanding of its culture, they were more welcoming to make me an affiliate of Pancrase. We signed a document and they brought me under their wing.

Becoming a Pancrase affiliate, I began to start amateur MMA and grappling events, using the rules from Pancrase. I also wanted to educate people that Pancrase no longer uses the open palm strikes to the head, as many still think that they use those rules!

To keep my connection with the Pancrase organization, every time I travel back to Japan, to visit my relatives (in-laws) I make it an effort to go and train at a Pancrase gym, which they name Ps Lab. I have been to the Yokohama Ps Lab and more recently the Osaka Ps Lab (Inagaki Gumi) to train.

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Inagaki Gumi- Osaka

These training sessions help me keep level up and learn new techniques and training methods, bringing them back to teach and use at my gym Club Kozak.

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