In August 2002, Yoshida Hidehiko (standing) fought against Royce Gracie, wowing the crowd with a win.
(Photo credit: The Sankei Shimbun)
Yoshida Hidehiko: "The best thing about judo is the excitement you feel when you win, and yes, the disappointment you feel when you lose."
Photo by Takahashi Noboru
Dynamite! That was the name of a massive mixed martial arts event at Tokyo's National Stadium on August 28, 2002. The fans, indeed people throughout Japan, were especially interested in one fight therea grappling match between the Japanese gold medalist in the 78-kg judo event at the Barcelona Olympics (32-year-old Yoshida Hidehiko), and the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu master of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu (Royce Gracie, known for his joint locks and choke holds). The two faced off in front of an audience of more than 90,000, their honor as grapplers at stake. And the result? Seven minutes and 24 seconds into the first round, Yoshida applied a kami-shiho-gatame on Gracie, making him lose consciousness. The referee stopped the fight, Yoshida won the match, and at that moment a new star began shining in the universe of mixed martial arts.
Yoshida explains, "I've been fascinated by grappling techniques for years. As for that match, people were pushing me to do it and I thought, 'OK, I'll give it my best shot.' I had just retired from judo competitions in April 2002, so it was a good transition period to try something other than judo."
In the 1990s, Yoshida was an inspiration in the world of Japanese judo, winning both Olympic and world championship titles. He began judo in grade 4, after his father got him to join the local dojo. At 14, he left his home in Aichi Prefecture to study judo and go to school in Tokyo. By the time he was in grade 12 he was on a par with the best judo players in Japan, and was chosen for the national judo squad.
"I didn't start thinking about getting to the Olympics until around my third year at universityI was more focused on winning whatever match was coming up. I was putting all my energy into trying to place first in Japan. When I finally got to the Olympics, I was still thinking the same way: 'I have to come in first, I have to get the gold.'"
Now that he has stopped competing, he has launched a new career, opening the Yoshida Dojo and training a new generation of judo competitors.
"I have 50 ordinary trainees now. Almost all started out with me as beginners. It's great to watch them improve. If Japan had more local dojo like mine, the country would be even stronger in judo.
"There was an effort to draft me as a national team coach, but others can do that as well as I. I'd rather try to make judo stronger by building up the base. And I hope to see some trainees from my dojo
get to the Olympic Games some day."
Yoshida Hidehiko's Japanese-language website: