Being the continuing adventures of Scramble co-owner Matt, in Japan.
Tokyo Isami is closed! I came all the way here and it’s closed!
I started walking up the stairs, thinking that maybe it kept the same strange hours as other Isami shops. Random days off, late openings, etc. Basically my kind of store. I heard some people come up stairs and I rushed down only to see the door to Isami slam shut. Hmm, I thought. Hmm.
Then Mr. Iso himself popped his head round the door and invited me in. Phew!
This was, I realised, a little like a football fan meeting David Beckham. Or maybe the guy who makes David Beckham’s shorts. Hmm. Either way, I was pretty pumped. I had met Mr. Iso before, once at ADCC in Nottingham, and once at the International Open BJJ tournament in Tokyo (where I was nursing a freshly dislocated shoulder and looking glum.)
So, there we were. The owner of Isami / Reversal and the owner of Scramble. Just a couple of dudes shooting the shit in Shinjuku. What did we talk about? Wouldn’t you like to know! What didn’t we talk about would be a better question. Whales. We didn’t talk about whales. Or Michigan. Or bunions. But we did talk about a whole bunch of stuff! The health of the Japanese MMA industry? You bet! Other big fightwear brands? You bet! Collaborations? You bet! Production techniques? That too! The fact that Joffrey is a total cunt? Uh, no. Not that.
We spoke for hours and hours, it was kind of a dream come true for me. The best thing about Iso-san, apart from him owning the best fightwear brand not called Scramble in the world, is that he is a really cool guy. Easy going and laid back. But, I would not advise “fucking with him.” He does not like to be fucked with, as people have found out in the past. A true boss.
Talking done, it was time to train. The rain was kind of ridiculous. Obviously Tokyo had sensed an Englishman was present and decided to openly piss on his head to make him feel at home. Thanks a lot Tokyo, you suck. I had an umbrella but considering the rain was travelling horizontal, the umbrella didn’t do much more than give me a sore shoulder. Which was nice.
We drove down the rode to Yoyogi in Iso-san’s BMW SUV. The phrase “like a boss” absolutely sprang to mind and I definitely muttered it under my breath more than once. Then I caught a whiff of my t-shirt and decided to stop saying it.
We rocked up at Muse Music academy right on time. Muse is where Jewels MMA holds their BJJ classes. If that sounds confusing, it’s because it is. No matter how many times it was explained to me it’s still just a jumble of random words. Still, there was some mats (and a drum kit and a PA system playing J-pop) and some people in jiu jitsu gis, and that’s all I needed to know. Rikako Yuasa was there – a recent addition to the Scramble team, and a super tough, super cute, super successful purple belt.
I was also there to meet Kinya Hashimoto. Kinya is the Japanese dude that is at EVERY event. He runs the uber-successful BJJ blog for Bull Terrier that he reckons receives 5000 unique visitors a day. He speaks great English (as does Iso-san) and he knows literally everyone. He’s also a fan of Scramble.
I counted a few Scramble patches on the mat which was very humbling and pretty damn exciting. Halfway through the class another dude turned up wearing our Scramble Essentials shirt that he had bought a while back! Truly a great feeling for me to see our creations being worn and enjoyed around the world.
Apparently the custom at the club is for the visitor to teach the class. I actually don’t mind teaching, and it didn’t phase me, but for some reason, I felt, being the visitor, I should not be too overbearing. We did a light warmup and I showed some half guard sweep that I remembered from the De La Riva seminar I went to last year, that I have been using lately. It went pretty well, luckily Kinya-san was there to megaphone everything I said in clear and precise Japanese. Cos I was just kind of mumbling. I had woken up at 5am that morning and missed a flight, as well as walking approximately a gazillion miles around Tokyo.
After that, we sparred a bit. Rikako was very good, super strong guard passing and a basically unpassable guard. Everytime I thought I had passed I realised I was just lying on top of her inverted legs. Does that sound wrong? Well it wasn’t. Being a music or performing arts school in central Tokyo, there were a number of girls in short skirts walking around and jingly jangly J-pop songs playing from loudspeakers. It was surreal but not unpleasant.
I knackered my neck almost instantly as I am wont to do, and looked around for a hard surface to prostrate myself on to see if I could crunch my thoracic spine back into place. I was wondering if anyone had a medieval torture rack of some kind but sadly there were none to hand so I just had to suck it up. Beer would help with that later. Speaking of beer, after training, we got down to the real business – of drinking beer. Expecting the usual Japanese marathon of seeing how many small glasses of beer you can drink before you lose count, I was pretty surprised to see most people taking it quite easy. I had been travelling all day though so I managed to sink a few, but everyone else took it slow. We ate some awesome food and talked late into the night about all kinds of geeky BJJ and MMA stuff. It was hugely enjoyable. It was good to meet Rikako, who is one of the strongest female competitors in the middle ranks worlwide at the moment, and to get a good relationship going with Kinya and Iso-san, both important people in the MMA and BJJ world.
I got a cap from the guy who owns Muse, Kenny, which says Las Conchas on it. I was all “Awesome! Las Conchas! High Five!”
Las Conchas is slang for “pussy” in Spanish, I think. Oops.
It was a hell of a day, and a very enjoyable evening. I got back to my hotel around 1:30 am and checked in drunk, as promised. With added bonus of being really sweaty and soaking wet. The hotel staff didn’t bat an eyelid, the bastards.