In recent decades the people of Japan have made series of great impressions upon the world in different areas including culture, arts, technology, and martial arts. As for martial arts alone, the renowned budos such as Karate, Aikido, Judo, Jujitsu… are all from Japan. So rich in great martial art traditions that these budos have spread easily to almost every country in the world. Japanese martial arts on the international level, in terms of quantity as well as popularity, still reign supreme. As such, it’s nearly impossible for anyone to introduce a new martial art to Japan as it is as futile as carrying firewood to the forest. However, Vovinam Việt Võ Đạo discipline has just successfully arrived in the Land of Rising Sun and is showing very positive and encouraging signs of growth. Without any external push, Vovinam Việt Võ Đạo was introduced to Japanese by the stars of Japan. Details of this story are quite intriguing because it’s made up of a perfect set of elements for a great tale including fate, good intention, and individual talents.
The main character in the story is a special person. When the name of professional wrestler Fugofugo Yumeji is mentioned, not too many Japanese people do not know about him. Besides the long stagename, his unusual outlook is eye catching. Most of his head hair is shaved off, leaving only a small cap-like bunch on top that is dyed in gold blond; back of his head fashions a long black ponytail; and his face grows bamboo root like beard also dyed in gold blond… All that, plus his bulky appearance, makes him looked terribly formidable and scary. His name and character have been talked about in Japanese press and he’s well known especially among fans of the professional wrestling world. The long name, Fugofugo Yumeji (富豪富豪梦路), literally means “Rich-man-rich-man’s dream road,” indicating a life-long pursuit to become a wealthy man. His nickname is merely “occupational”, mainly for entertainment values and to attract attention of his dire-hard fans who adore his professional wrestling performances which typically are sensational in nature. His actual name, however, is Fujisaki Tadahiro, but most people are accustomed to calling him by the short and intimate alias, “Fugo,” which literally means, “Rich man.” I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Master Fugo on the Internet, and only after a few exchanges, I’ve discovered that he’s a very different man from the superficial image that he’s portrayed for himself. On the contrary, Master Fugo is a very talented artist, an astute and thoughtful individual, and especially he dare to do what he thinks.
Graduated from Kyushu Sangyo University, Master Fugo specialized in graphic design. As a professional artist, he paints beautifully and designs many creative artworks commercially. Moreover, in the field of film production, Master Fugo has starred in supporting roles for eight movies released in Japan. Of his 44 years, more than 35 years has been devoted to martial arts career, in which he finds his most intense passion and by far the strongest source of inspiration. As a young man, he has been trained in Karate for many years up to black belt with 2nd dan, he’s then transitioned into professional wrestling for more than 20 years until present. His name and images have appeared regularly on TV shows featuring wrestling matches. He also participates in wrestling matches internationally, touring many countries including various places in Japan, Australia, Hawaii, Thailand, Nepal, and Vietnam. Certainly, it can be said that Master Fugo’s life style is very diverse and unique. Through an exchange, he has confided in me his worldview by saying, “Living in this world one must have uniqueness, otherwise, life is simply pointless.”
As fate would have it, professional wrestling has led Master Fugo to Vovinam, a new and exciting discovery that has drawn him in so passionately. In July of 2011, he’s traveled to Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam to participate in a professional wrestling match. During this stay, without any planning , he’s purchased a ticket to see a local martial arts program , not realizing that the event he’s attended happens to be the 2nd World Championship of Vovinam Việt Võ Đạo. Never has he realized that this event would turn out to be a major turning point of his martial arts career. Before arriving in Vietnam, he’s never even heard of the existence of Vovinam Việt Võ Đạo discipline, but apparently he was mesmerized by what was happening before his own eyes. Seeing images of Vovinam Việt Võ Đạo students from many countries around the world competing on Vovinam techniques and forms…, he’s both surprised and excited witnessing Vovinam martial artists launching and bouncing high in the air to execute offensive leg techniques so extraordinarily and spectacularly. Admiring the unique moves of Vovinam so much that, by the very next morning, he ventured out to locate and sign up for a Vovinam class.
Through introduction, he’s met with Senior Master Nguyễn Văn Chiếu and later directed to train at a dojo inside a high school campus located next to the Galaxy Cinema theater in District 1. Recalling the early days of training at the dojo, most of his classmates were very young and they were looking at him with curious eyes, which has made him feel out of place. Nevertheless this has not made him flinch nor feeling discouraged. Having extended his stay in Vietnam a little longer, he’s spent more time training and practicing diligently and was initiated by thầy (teacher) Đồng Tiến Đạt, a capable senior instructor. Thầy Tiến Đạt is much younger than him, however, Master Fugo respects him specifically for his gentle temperament, contrasting with the stereotype of rough and tough martial art people that he knows. Thầy Tiến Đạt has accepted him unconditionally and treated him very kindly. He recalls fondly of the delicious Vietnamese dishes that thầy Tiến Đạt’s mother has personally cooked for him.
Master Fugo then returns to Tokyo for prior commitments; but his journey with Vovinam has only just begun. In October of the same year (2011), he returned to Vietnam with two students Watanabe Noris san and Soichiro Ogawa san. Very determined to absorb the essence of the new martial art, Master Fugo confides, “I would like to learn and take Vovinam Việt Võ Đạo back to Japan.” In the following 3 months into Spring, these Japanese fighters have stayed in Vietnam to accomplish one single objective: to train and acquire the essence of Vovinam techniques. During this time, thầy Tiến Đạt was still giving guidance to them, but they also got trained by several other excellent instructors and masters. Master Fugo states that, “I have been training Karate since I was a little kid and practicing professional wrestling for many years, so I know punching, kicking, and basic acrobatic techniques very well”. However, among many Vovinam techniques that impresses him the most is the ability for an individual to launch the body high in the air to attack, then lands softly and safely afterward. Master Fugo remarks in an admiring tone, “…if only Karate has flying attack techniques like that, and, if only professional wrestlers can kick effectively like that.” He further analyzes , “one of the unique features of Vovinam is the combination of the upper arm and the lower leg movements to create a powerful synergistic force”, and further says , “I feel Vovinam techniques are well choreographed in a sophisticated and systematic way.” In addition, Master Fugo also believes Vovinam style exudes a youthful and friendly spirit. Vovinam style is as fluid and agile as “break dance”, and not so stiff and formal. The relationship between teachers and students as well as fellowship among students are as close as family ties, friendly yet not too strict. The technique demonstration and performances sometimes include a bit of levity for entertainment, not just pure winning or losing. He mentions the youthfulness and friendly relationships are essential elements in our lives.
After nearly 3 months of arduous training under the guidance of many excellent masters and instructors in Vietnam, Senior Master Nguyễn Văn Chiếu certifies that Master Fugo has satisfied standard qualification worthy of a Red Belt. With the certification, Master Fugo can begin training new students upon their return. Back in Japan, Master Fugo immediately began building the first generation of disciples.
In March 2013, Master Fugo returned to Vietnam once again for 10 days to hone his Vovinam skills. Accompanying him on this trip were Watanabe Noris san and Nichiryu Kambe san. Particuarly, Kambe san has been a trusted collaborator through Master Fugo’s professional wrestling life. Once held a Judo black belt 2nd dan and also is a professional wrestler, Kambe san is no stranger to the martial arts world. As a genuine Buddhist practitioner, Kambe san has always kept a calm demeanor.
Many colleagues and friends in the professional wrestling world has shown enthusiastic support for Master Fugo in his pursuit of a Vovinam development plan in Japan, but he’s never underestimated the challenges that lies ahead . He has admitted that, “In Japan, currently many people do not know Vovinam; and they feel Vovinam is Vovinam, not Karate, and not Judo.” In reply, Master Fugo modestly suggests to them, “Train Vovinam then you will understand. Do not just stand around and watch – just do it! “
In an effort to introduce Vovinam to the Japanese people, Full Contact Karate Magazine, a famous monthly martial arts magazine that has a large readership, has graciously published 2 essays in 2 consecutive release periods, presenting Master Fugo on the front page cover along with very thoughtful technical analysis. Several other newspapers and magazines have also begun to help readers becoming more familiar with Vovinam. It appears that Master Fugo’s determination and intense passion is gradually gaining confidence from the public; and among his new students, there are individuals who have been trained with traditional Japanese martial art disciplines. Just few months after commence of the movement, Master Fugo has confided to me that Tokyo now has 2 regular Vovinam classes and another 2 classes being formed, with a total of about 50 students, and 20 of them being trained regularly. He also plans to open more Vovinam classes and will continue to be the messenger promoting this great martial art across Japan. He believes, with time, the Japanese people will be more accepting & embrace Vovinam discipline once they have become acquainted with the values of the Vietnamese martial arts and how it can contribute to their individual martial art skills and good health.
The Vovinam’s blue uniforms are showing up more frequently in Japan and the students are wearing them proundly. Vovinam Việt Võ Đạo has arrived on the Land of Rising Sun (扶桑), an idea that only exists in dreams, now has come true. Fate and chances in life are truly unpredictable. If fate did not bring Master Fugo to attend the Vovinam Championship event, the story of Vovinam Japan would never have existed . Indeed, this Vovinam Japan story come together by elements of serendipity, a common aspiration of all Vovinam disciples, individual talents, goodwill, openness, and an entrepreneur spirit of Master Fugo. This serendipitous event, without a doubt, has contributed to the history of Vovinam Việt Võ Đạo.
Written by Hoài Nam
June 26, 2013