By Zach Arnold | January 1, 2008
South Korean friend and correspondent Yeo Jong-Hoon tells the story about Yoshihiro Akiyama and why Kazuo Misaki’s comments to Akiyama after their MMA bout was over are drawing a lot of heat.
By Yeo Jong-Hoon
I watched K-1 Dynamite! and Yarennoka last night. Both aired in Korea cable TV, network XTM. (Dynamite was delay, Yarennoka was live).
As you know, MMA/K-1 is very popular here in South Korea. We can watch all of the major events (K-1, HEROs, PRIDE, UFC) on cable television. Most of the shows are live, too.
I want to ask for opinions about Choo Sung-Hoon (aka Yoshihiro Akiyama).
Last night, Kazuo Misaki’s comments to Akiyama made Korean fans mad. If Misaki vs. Akiyama II happens in South Korea, it will draw big money and big ratings.
The story of Choo Sung-Hoon…
He’s a fourth-generation ethnic Korean born in Japan. Life is difficult for him because of racism (it’s commonly known that Koreans and Japanese hate each other.) As a Kinki University member in Japan, he won the Japanese judo GP. Choo was a good judoka, so many Japanese people suggested that he become a naturalized citizen. The thought was that if he became Japanese, he would be chosen as a member of the national judo team. Other suggestions were made to Choo, but he rejected them all.
After graduating from school, he jumped to South Korea to become a member of the Korean national judo team. This was his dream and his father’s hope.
However, he couldn’t succeed in South Korea. There was factionalism. In Korea, Yong-In University has a world famous judo team. Judokas from Yong-In University are usually at a disadvantage. Choo’s ability was good enough, but he continually lost decisions. He always finished third in national athlete selection matches. He couldn’t be number one and was relegated as a reserve team member. As a reserve, he won gold at the Mongol Asia judo GP tournament. He was also the MVP.
However, he was still at a disadvantage because of discrimination. Choo became frustated. Yoon Dong-Sik was also another athlete who faced factionalism.
Choo said, “I should change (myself). I can’t do anythere here. By word, nothing changed. If I do judo, I should go to Japan.”
In October of 2001, he finally decided to go back to Japan and became a naturalized citizen to compete as a national athlete in Judo. As a member of the Japanese national team in 2002 in Busan (South Korea), Akiyama won the gold medal in the Asian Games by beating a South Korean judoka. The crowd booed Akiyama and said, “Go back to Japan! JJOK-BA-RI!” Jjokbari is an ethnic slur in Korean referring to Japanese people.
This may have hurt Choo.
In Japan, the word Cho-sen-jin (racist term about Koreans in Japan) has long been used as discrimination. (The situation is getting better these days). Famous Japanese-Koreans in Japan include Rikidozan, Akira Maeda, and Riki Choshu.
“I am not Korean anymore, but in my heart I never forget that I am Korean.”
A few years later, Akiyama was involved in the grease scandal. It was absolutely his fault and we accepted it. We were also disappointed in him.
However, people think the aftermath was too excessive. It seems like ijime (a media lynching). Many people guess it is because he is Korean-Japanese. We easily see threads saying, “Fuck Akiyama, liar. Grease, grease, go to Korea” on Japanese web sites. Of course, good Japanese people don’t act like this and it may be excessive generalization.
Last night, Kazuo Misaki insulted Choo Sung-Hoon in front of a big crowd and on live television.
“Akiyama, you betrayed so many people and little kids in the ring. I cannot unforgive you. But, after tonight’s match with you, your heart reached me. After tonight, you should fight with a deep apology in mind for people.” Motioning to the crowd, Misaki asked, “Would you support? Judo is the best! Everybody, Japanese is strong!”
Why does Misaki unforgive Choo? Why does Misaki dishonor Choo?
“Judo is the best!” is Choo’s famous catch-phrase. It seems Misaki jeered Choo by using it. He said, “Japanese is strong!” Some people here in South Korea feel that this is disgraceful to zainichi (Korean-Japanese) because Choo is already Japanese.
Choo seems to be very embarrassed.
Korea and Japan has a long history.
Of course, there is a thought that K-1 intended to help Choo’s return to the Japanese scene. People are angry and the internet community in Korea is exploding. They are cursing Misaki. They also think his kick for the KO was illegal (like a soccer kick showed by Kid Yamamoto at Dynamite). In the picture, Choo’s hand is on the ground. Yarennoka rules said that kicks to opponent’s face who is on the ground are banned.
Even long-time Misaki fans are turning.
So, if Choo vs. Misaki II happens in South Korea, it will be an awesome fight. Now, it doesn’t matter if Choo’s problem with racism is true or not.