Master Shigeru Yamasaki
When Shigeru Yamasaki advises you to learn to break fall when you start any type of martial art, you may want to heed his advice. This 74 year old judo master's warning is based on first hand experience. Between the ages of six and seven, Master Yamasaki began his training in an old log cabin on a farm in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The mats, if that's what you want to call them, were made of rice hay covered by a cloth canvas. During an entire year of training Yamasaki acknowledges, "I didn't learn anything, not even how to break fall." The following year his father registered him and his brother in a judo academy after moving to the city. On day one, the instructor decided to provide the opportunity for Yamasaki to spar a purple belt. "He thought that I knew something." With one swift move the purple belt threw him over his shoulder, and when he woke up, he found that his left shoulder was broken. For three months he wore an arm brace. In retrospect, Yamasaki now knows that the throw was Seio-Otoshi. Of course, a better way to describe it might be pain. In any event, this left the youngster with a great deal of trepidation regarding any further involvement in the martial arts. As Yamasaki noted, "After this incident I was very afraid and I didn't want to come back." It was only due to his father's urging that he was willing to return to training. It's a good thing Master Yamasaki listened to his father. The 74 year old can now reflect upon a judo career that spans six decades. One year after his injury Yamasaki had the opportunity to train with Grand Master Ryuzo Ogawa where he stayed until receiving his 2nd Dan. Like many Brazilians he played judo until the age of 19, then stopped for two years and came back and trained with his older brother who had by then opened a judo academy. It was during that period he earned his 3rd and 4th Dan. In 1962, he started to fight Vale Tudo, similar to today's mixed martial arts. These competitive events were held in big arenas and broadcast on television.
Master Yamasaki's judo resume is impressive by any standards. Designated as an international judo referee by the International Judo Federation, he had the honor of refereeing in many well known international events. The pinnacle would likely be the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, where he acted as a judo referee. Interestingly his son, Mario Yamasaki, a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, is a well known referee in the Ultimate Fighting Championships.
With years of teaching judo, and a prosperous career as an attorney, one might think Master Yamasaki is ready for retirement. But like so many ageless, timeless martial artists, nothing could be further from the truth. This 8th Dan judo master, the proud father of two sons, two daughters, and the grandfather of nine, has no time consider stopping his rigorous lifestyle. "I enjoy life. I love to live and I decided to live a healthy life. I always teach that to the students and to my family who teach me that I have to be the first! Also, eating healthy prevents a lot of illness. My meals are very rich in vegetables and some fruits. Though I love red meats, I avoid them."
Yamasaki stays young by maintaining a youthful appearance and active lifestyle. "I think the way I dress keeps me young. I love to wear shorts, t-shirts, and sandals. I believe the way you dress yourself helps keep you young." His daily regimen is an active one. He continues to drive, takes the Metro, and walks many places. He enjoys lunch daily at his favorite vegetarian restaurant. Every day he trains with a personal trainer, Marcelo Bueno. "He makes me lift weights, do aerobic exercises, walk, and I also teach private classes. The private classes that I teach keep me thinking about my techniques."
Yamasaki concedes that he is not as physically fast as he was when he was a younger man; however, he still has that perfect throw in his mind and thinks that it would be very difficult for even a young man to throw him. Mental agility is as important to Master Yamasaki as the physical aspects of judo. As opposed to meditating, he prefers to read a lot, books, newspapers, magazines, to keep his mind strong. He advises anyone wishing to maintain longevity to focus and pay attention. "Try to lead your opponent to your game. Try to move to find the opportunities and they will come in a split second. This type of training will make you find the perfect moment, especially for the instinctive techniques. I'm talking about the surprise factor! Your body will perform alone, almost without command and before your thoughts. You will feel that your body did the right technique before you even think about it! I call this "fast reaction using mental agility."
Yamasaki continues to seek out new adventures that challenge him. "Martial arts is like a mission and you have to teach your students all the benefits that you have received." This may explain one factor that seems to permeate many of the ageless, timeless martial artists - the need to pass on the skills that they have acquired. Master Yamasaki feels that most people age because they give up. "If you give up, life takes you down, and I'm hard to be knocked down." He plans to help his two sons, Mario and Fernando, in their adventure to open a Gi factory. The name will be Kondyo, meaning 'energy, the talent, the will.' Master Shigeru Yamasaki is without a doubt an ageless, timeless martial artist, worthy of respect and admiration.