Kendo Nagasaki in the Japanese Wrestling Media
Like manna from heaven. The mysterious man with East Asian connections... who lives in England.
"In a previous life I lived in Japan. My samurai spirit is connected to kendo. "Nagasaki" refers not to the city of that name, for my family lived in Kamakura."
How on earth did we succeed in getting into the very home of the original Kendo Nagasaki, the biggest sensation to grace the English wrestling mat? While speaking with the great man in his palatial residence, a series of surprising revelations came to the fore. Would the mysteries shrouding this man come any closer to being solved?
Photo caption: In a remote area of English hillside, the palatial residence in which Kendo Nagasaki quietly lives can be found. This is the first time - if I may boast - that a Japanese person has been invited there.
Upon hearing the words "Kendo Nagasaki," Japanese fans will probably first recall the disguised figure of Kazuo Sakurada. But actually, Sakurada was the second Kendo. The first most definitely wrestled in England.
The original Kendo Nagasaki graced the Golden Age of British wrestling, and remains a legend even among legends. Kendo was a household name throughout the '60s, '70s and '80s, and it would have been impossible for any Briton living through those times not to have heard of him. Although the Kendo name has occupied a less prominent place in Britain's public conscience in recent years, it still carries remarkable resonance even today. When wrestling becomes a topic of conversation, it is almost inevitable that somewhere along the way the word "Nagasaki" will come up.
Although many believe he was born in 1952, Kendo's date of birth has also been given as 1946. Far less contentious a matter is Kendo's wrestling debut, pinpointed as 13th November 1964. Rather than show his real face - or paint it like Sakurada - Kendo wrestled with a mask from the very start. He then gained huge popularity in the character of a Japanese "master martial artist," sweeping everything before him on the UK wrestling mat. The year 1968 saw him travel to Japan for the first time to enter Kokusai Pro Wrestling and create a new persona for himself under the name of Mr Guillotine - for reasons unexplained prior to this interview. His subsequent spell in Canada's Stampede Wrestling from 1972 caught the eye of fellow grappler Terry Funk, who allegedly suggested to Sakurada that he copy the Nagasaki gimmick.
After returning to England, the original Nagasaki famously entered a feud with Big Daddy - a man with an intimidating presence akin to Japan's Giant Baba. Their matches were certainly crowd-pullers and money-spinners. Punters were also enthralled by the sight of Nagasaki tussling with the enormous Heel figure of Giant Haystacks. In short, whether locking horns with a Baby Face or crossing swords with a Heel, Nagasaki - perhaps more than anyone - represented the very center of the front-line of British heavyweight wrestling.
Despite his dazzling feats, a sudden worsening of his condition forced Nagasaki into a shock retirement in September of 1978. He would breeze back into the ring, however, in December of 1986, and even take the World Heavyweight Championship away from Wayne Bridges in September of the following year. Although he would retire for the second time in 1993, his status as a legend ensured that he would continue to mount the ring sporadically for years to come. His name is surely still circulated around wrestling halls even today.
His past life aside, Kendo Nagasaki came to Japan only once, and then under a different name. While "Mr Guillotine" made waves, the magnificent feats of the real Kendo Nagasaki remain mostly unknown to Japanese wrestling fans today, making it almost fair to say that his very presence here seems - quite literally - pure legend. But, in truth, even in his home country, much remains unknown about Kendo Nagasaki's life.
Besides the story of his past-life persona, there remain several mysteries. We know that he began wrestling at the Billy Riley Gym, but that (curiously) none of his matches were broadcast on TV until seven years after his debut. Furthermore, during that time, he perplexed onlookers with his seeming ability to deploy the art of hypnosis on opponents. A further burning question is: why, in the first place, did he choose to base himself on a Japanese character? That, dear readers, is the great puzzle!
Hence, with so many mysteries needing to be unraveled, this writer found himself wondering if he could actually meet with the great man in person. A little research revealed the information that he is currently engaged in what we in Japan might refer to as "spiritual counselling." Admittedly doubting whether this was true, I nevertheless resolved to try and contact him. When I did, I received a response from an entity known only as "Atlantic Chronos Goth," who appeared to be both Nagasaki's secretary and manager.
Readers of this magazine, of course, would scarce need this writer to inform them of the existence of a Mexican wrestling superstar with the same "Atlantis" name. But they may not know that Nagasaki's first manager, Gorgeous George Gillette, also shared a name with a wrestler: Gorgeous George, the pioneering legendary showman from America.
Atlantis and Gorgeous George.
It is unclear whether they were intentionally named after their wrestling forerunners or not, but these two figures were clearly given names to stir people's imaginations.
Atlantis replied to my mail thus: "Kendo Nagasaki would find it interesting to meet a Japanese person like yourself. How would you feel about interviewing him at his retreat? If I could get you to come to Stoke-on-Trent Station, I could then come and pick you up."
At this point, of course, I had no idea what a "retreat" would look like. Naturally, my curiosity was aroused, especially by the fact that the location was "unspecified." Even when directly asking for the address, the only answer I could elicit was: "It takes about 30 minutes from the station by car, or thereabouts."
Let me fast forward, then, to the day of the interview. While I was waiting at the appointed station (Stoke-on-Trent), the figure of a woman clad in black suddenly appeared. I had assumed, from the name atop the emails, that Atlantis would be a man. But this Atlantis was clearly a woman.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," she began. "Please, come this way. We have a limousine waiting for you."
A limousine? At first I thought I'd misheard. But, sure enough, the car stretching along the side of the station was, without question, a high-class limousine. Moreover, Atlantis did not even need to take the wheel. A separate driver had been deployed for that purpose. When I inquired as to whom the driver was, Atlantis replied that he was Nagasaki's assistant.
From here, the car did not depart for the rows of buildings making up the town, but for the pleasant, tranquil landscapes of the English countryside. Our journey, taking us through a few small villages over several hills, lasted just under an hour. My only thought was: "I wonder where on earth we are going?" Needless to say, my hopes and fears became intertwined!
"Well, we've arrived."
But even after Atlantis had said those words, I was unable to make out anything looking like a house - or any building at all, for that matter. The limousine passed through the main gate and simply continued moving forwards. At last, the building otherwise known as "The Retreat" came into view. The hideaway was in fact a palace. In answer to my question, Atlantis ventured that it would take 10 minutes to walk from the main gate to the front porch. It was rather like something out of a movie.
This magnificent country residence was built in the Victorian era, the mid-19th century to be precise. Nagasaki has lived here since 1989. Before my eagerly-awaited interview, Atlantis naturally took it upon herself to give me a guided tour of the Retreat.
The vast grounds span about 30 acres (or 36,730 Japanese tsubo) and further new buildings are currently under construction within. Serving as both a place to live and work, the palatial Nagasaki home appears to have 28 bedrooms, and 50 rooms in total according to Atlantis - although no-one has ever counted exactly. The garden was remarkable for its long crescent-shaped bench on which, it is said, Nagasaki meditates. Nearby stands a 250-year-old sacred tree from which Nagasaki can seemingly gain spiritual power. Known as the Tree of Souls, it brings long life and a host of other qualities - according to the explanation I was given. It is said that when Nagasaki dies, he wishes for his ashes to be scattered at the foot of this tree. This sacred tree is seen not only as an entrance to the afterlife, but the meeting point at which the deceased can communicate with the loved ones they cherished during their lifetime.
"I'll show you the inside next," Atlantis said.
The inside of The Retreat is adorned with numerous paintings and sculptures. Many articles related to Japan can also be seen in a number far beyond what I would have expected. You might think this was simply because a Japanese person was visiting the house, but I don't.
A significant number of pro-wrestling goods had also been preserved, among which could be found several posters from Kokusai Pro Wrestling. These items helped confirm the fact that the mystery man known only as Mr Guillotine and Kendo Nagasaki were in fact one and the same.
I was able to get Atlantis to show me a few more rooms in addition. I wondered whether every room would have a different theme. It is true that each had its own style and color, but the abiding impression was one of being surrounded by luxury products of the highest quality.
"Forgive my impertinence in asking," I began, "but is it really the case that Nagasaki could have bought such a luxurious home on a wrestler's earnings alone?"
"Yes, that's right," Atlantis replied, somewhat matter-of-factly. It was official then: Nagasaki was not born a member of the English aristocracy. He was a self-made man, living off the fruits of pro-wrestling alone. No wonder he is a celebrity among celebrities!
"Well, it's soon time to meet with Kendo Nagasaki so if you'll come with me to the office area?" Atlantis said, and I followed. The office area also contained several items connected to Nagasaki's career, including locks of Nagasaki's hair which were presumably cut off as part of a samurai-style retirement ceremony. I had but little time to reflect on the exhibition, as Atlantis' voice soon rang out with the words:
"Kendo Nagasaki is now entering the room."
My first impression was that a tall man had presented himself before me. Following Atlantis' lead, all the staff present stood up ramrod straight in respect. What this writer saw, before his very eyes, was a man clad all in black - including the mask across his face. During his wrestling days, he had been billed at 187 centimeters and 110 kilograms. I can only speak for myself but clearly the man before me had lost a lot of his erstwhile weight. How tall he was I cannot confirm, but he clearly overshadowed me and was well in excess of 180 centimeters. Before arriving at the splendid Retreat, I had entertained panicky thoughts of: "What if this guy is a mere phony?" But upon seeing this splendid specimen before me did I fully convince myself that he was the real deal.
Standing over me was the legendary, the original, Kendo Nagasaki. Furthermore, this writer was the first Japanese person ever to be in this position, in the Master's Retreat, faced with the Masked Master himself.
Nagasaki's first action upon facing me was to bow deeply and respectfully. He conveyed his intentions to me via simple hand and body gestures. But he refrained from uttering a single word. His manager Atlantis, it transpired, would act as his representative during conversation.
The greetings completed, we firstly took the magnificent set of photos accompanying this article in and around The Retreat. Even during this period of high activity, Nagasaki remained silent, simply guiding this writer with mere hand gestures. We then returned to the office area to conduct the unprecedented interview. From the off it was clear that every time I asked a question, Atlantis would answer on Kendo's behalf.
Atlantis began by affirming that the Man Behind the Mask (hereafter MBM) was the original Kendo Nagasaki, whose real name is given as Peter Thornley. But, whoever he really is, it forever holds true that the MBM never speaks - not only during this interview, but in any situation.
At last came the moment to begin the long-awaited conversation with the legend himself. I really wondered whether I could penetrate the mind beneath the mask and come any closer to solving the myriad of mysteries surrounding this wrestling giant. How my hopes and anxieties caused my chest to pound and throb!
Hiroshi Arai: First of all, can I get you to talk me through the earliest years of your life?
Atlantis: The MBM was born in the English Midlands. I would rather not be drawn on the exact location of his birth so I will simply say that he hails from somewhere in the Stoke-on-Trent vicinity. I am also unable to specify his exact date of birth. Some people clearly believe he was born in the 1950s, but I would rather say that he was born in the 1940s.
Arai: And could you give me a rundown of your sporting feats when you were a child?
Atlantis: The MBM excelled at a number of sports, in fact: swimming, water polo, boxing, weightlifting and judo. He left behind proud and noteworthy records in all of these sports. But certainly, yes, when he took up judo in his teens, it proved to be the big turning point for him. Every weekend, he would train at a judo club in the local town of Burslem. Here, he met with the legendary Japanese combat artist Kenshiro Abe (1912-86) and was able to impress him with his obvious ability. This was in 1957. Abe-sensei not only instructed Nagasaki in the art of judo, but also in kendo and aikido.
Atlantis: It seems that Abe-sensei also taught Kendo a bit of sumo. So keen was the MBM to learn all he could from Abe-sensei that he often went well outside the bounds of his local area to experience the master classes. The thing is, even in those early days, the MBM was simply so fast at taking things on board and earned his judo belts in no time. Even Abe-sensei himself branded the MBM "a very special student." It was custom for belt and grade certificates to be printed, but Abe-sensei made a special case of Kendo, taking care to write the certificates by hand. One of them is on display here in this room. Please take a look at it. Just from that, you can see what an excellent student the young MBM proved to be.
Arai: So, how did you come to start wrestling?
Atlantis: Before I explain that, please let me shed light on the connection between the MBM and the figure of Kendo Nagasaki. It was clear during those days that there was another face to the MBM. That face belonged to Kendo Nagasaki. Nagasaki represents the spiritual presence of the man the MBM must have been in a past life. Kendo Nagasaki is able to make his presence known and express himself through the body of the MBM.
Arai: But from about when did the MBM become aware of Nagasaki's presence?
Atlantis: That was in his childhood. It seems that the MBM knew that another presence was lurking within him at an early age. He became fully conscious of this presence with the aid of Abe-sensei during their judo training sessions. Nagasaki is indeed the mystical guiding force of the MBM. The existence of this presence was confirmed after he lost the index finger of his left hand in an unspecified incident. What seemed like a deeply unhappy occurrence was actually something which proved enlightening for him. Led so ably by his guiding force, Nagasaki took his first steps down the road to pro-wrestling stardom.
Arai: A guiding force, you say? Really?
Atlantis: Yes. It has a connection to his past life. Certainly, in one of his past lives, the MBM found himself in Japan. He was a samurai warrior. The martial arts skills he possessed have been transferred to the present via the presence of Nagasaki. You could say that the MBM is a born-again samurai warrior. It was this brilliance which showed itself in front of Abe-sensei, and would blossom to the full in the field of pro-wrestling - clearly the best method of exhibiting his abilities. The chance meeting with Abe-sensei combined with the presence of the mystical guiding force led to the MBM actually becoming Kendo Nagasaki.
Arai: And you are saying that the best method of exhibiting his talent was not kendo, but professional wrestling?
Atlantis: Yes, that is correct. At that time, pro-wrestling provided the best possible means to appeal oneself and one's talents to the general public. Professional wrestling required not only natural sporting ability but incredible spirit and resolve. A master samurai swordsman of yore evolved into a kendo combatant of today, and that samurai spirit was then inherited by professional wrestling. Isn't that possible? And on top of that, professional wrestling was undoubtedly the ideal forum for him to make the most of all his talents.
Arai: Upon achieving the aim of becoming a pro-wrestler, what type of training did the MBM undergo?
Atlantis: In terms of the martial arts, as I said before, he continued benefiting from the knowledge and guidance of Abe-sensei. After that, he enrolled at the Billy Riley Gym in Wigan. At that time, the most grueling yet high-level training for an athlete was undoubtedly to be found in Billy Riley's Gym. Resolute in his desire to put his body on the line in the ultimate training environment, the MBM boldly elected to go there himself. Although many others quit within weeks or days, the MBM yet again displayed his special abilities, excelling in the harsh conditions.
Atlantis: The MBM also received some direct instruction from Billy Riley himself. This was from June 1963 until his wrestling debut in November 1964.
Arai: And what kind of character was Billy Riley?
Atlantis: He was quite simply an amazing mentor, an absolute master motivator. He was more than just a teacher; he actually took an interest in the MBM personally. The MBM remembers feeling incredibly honored to have trained with such a man. The institution itself looked rather a simple place, but the contents of the training were incredibly rich. An incredible amount of concentration power was needed for this type of training. Simply being in that gym involved compulsory acceptance of a grueling challenge: the need to do 45 straight minutes of sparring regardless of how many knocks you took. In that small training area, anything and everything could be done to you, yet you had to persist for the full 45 minutes. That's how to develop the necessary physical and mental fortitude.
Arai: So, what kinds of athletes were also training in the gym at that time?
Atlantis: Well, of course there was Ernie Riley - son of Billy - who became the British Light Heavyweight Champion. Then there was Jack Dempsey, said to be the strongest pound-for-pound combatant there, who was a British Welterweight Champion. Tony Buck was also there - he was once a Commonwealth Amateur Champion. There's an interesting story about when the MBM sparred with Buck, who was still the belt-holder at that time. After a few minutes of action the MBM (who was still a teenager) managed to steal a fall from him, a feat considered so unlikely that the watching Billy Riley leaped up from his chair in shock. Something else interesting happened after that too. The British Weightlifting Champion for the 100-kilogram (bodyweight) division enrolled at Riley's Gym and found himself thrown into a sparring session with the MBM. He ended up getting tossed and thrown around so much that he suddenly stopped coming to the gym!
Arai: Even though you graduated from Riley's Gym, I wouldn't say that Riley's legendary "catch as catch can" style was a major element of your matches - from the videos I've seen, that is.
Atlantis: I think you will find that this style was certainly in evidence at the start of the MBM's career, but that he soon developed his own style too. And in 1966-7, of course, there was the long-running rivalry with fellow Riley's graduate Bill Robinson, who I also believe is famous in Japan. During their clashes, the Riley style was certainly on display. But from then on, he centered his game-plan on an independent style which he himself had carefully planned and devised.
Arai: In order to come off convincingly as a Heel, you roughened up your fighting style... is that so?
Atlantis: Yes, that's right.
Arai: I know the conversation is jumping back and forth a bit, but I could I get you to think back to your first every professional fight and tell me about it?
Atlantis: That would have taken place on November 13th 1964. It was the fight that launched the cult of Kendo Nagasaki, the masked man. Prior to that, no wrestler had ever worn a mask on his debut. Under the assured guidance of a mystical spirit, Kendo Nagasaki had become a professional wrestler.
Arai: And who were you fighting that day?
Atlantis: Jim Hussey. The match was put on by Wryton Promotions and Nagasaki emerged victorious.
Arai: Hussey, of course, was the father of Mark "Rollerball" Rocco (the first generation Black Tiger), wasn't he? It could be argued your win was rather a surprise!
Atlantis: Yes, but from the outset Nagasaki was incredibly strong. He had some draws but the basic story was that it was win-after-win following his debut. Throughout his career he never lost a singles match to my knowledge.
Arai: Wrestling was very popular on TV at that time, wasn't it? And yet I heard that Kendo Nagasaki did not appear on TV screens until 1971 - some seven years after his debut!
Atlantis: Right. That is true. As Nagasaki was entering the ring as a Japanese character, he naturally assumed the position of a Heel. As a Heel, he clearly had to offer the audience a rough style of fighting. There was blood, there were injuries, and ultimately this type of high-risk combat was becoming a source of major controversy - especially in TV boardrooms. As you'd expect, TV bosses came to the decision that Nagasaki's fights were completely unsuitable for TV. In fact, even if they had been shown, the number of scenes to be cut would have ruined all coherence. So, it was decided not to show the matches at all. There were other reasons, I'm sure, but this was the main one behind Kendo's mask failing to appear on the small screen.
Arai: So why did the TV guys eventually go back on their decision?
Atlantis: Well there were so many fans who wanted to see Kendo fight, and their voices pounded strongly against the ears of TV executives. Although Kendo was not on TV, word of mouth was spreading fast and working its way into the decision-makers' offices.
Arai: You could say he was remarkably popular for a Heel!
Atlantis: Yes, even though he wrestled in the style of a Heel, many fans warmed to his technique and clamored to see him fight. In wrestling halls up and down the country he was immensely popular.
Arai: Then, moving on from that, why did he choose the sport of "kendo" as a name, and pair that with the city of "Nagasaki?"
Atlantis: It's as I explained before really. The origin of Nagasaki lies in the body of a Japanese samurai warrior. One of the MBM's past lives was definitely spent in Japan. The samurai spirit manifests itself in the sport of kendo even today. Hence, the name "Kendo" is born from the fact that a master samurai swordsman is expressing himself through the body of the MBM. "Nagasaki" is actually the last name of his spiritual ancestors.
Arai: As you know, in the Second World War, the atomic bombs were dropped and Hiroshima and Nagasaki became perhaps the best-known Japanese cities in the world. I was convinced that you had chosen the name "Nagasaki" for that reason - that it was a well-known Japanese word.
Atlantis: There are of course a lot of people who have thought that, and if you think about it, that kind of connection is not impossible to draw. However, it is basically a coincidence. His previous life was as a member of the Nagasaki family. This family was actually based in Kamakura (a considerable distance from Nagasaki city). Therefore, "Nagasaki" does not refer to the city of the same name, nor has any connection with it.
Arai: In 1968 you came to Japan for the first time in order to enter the Dynamite Series. But on this occasion your ring name mysteriously changed from Kendo Nagasaki to "Mr Guillotine." Because of this there are understandably some people who think that it was NOT Nagasaki behind Mr Guillotine's mask, but a different person altogether.
Atlantis: No, no. Make no mistake about it: that person was Kendo Nagasaki, who really did come to Japan. He certainly fought in Japan pro-wrestling.
Arai: Then why change the name?
Atlantis: He definitely intended to fight in Japan under the name of Kendo Nagasaki, and the name change was forced upon him by the circumstances of that particular country. After all, the costume and mask were exactly the same as those worn in the UK.
Arai: It was because your name would evoke images of the Nagasaki bombing, right?
Atlantis: That might well be right. I think, in reality, that was the biggest reason.
Atlantis: It was a nerve-wracking problem. The issue of Kendo changing his name only came up after he arrived in Japan. That's why he had absolutely no intention of changing his mask and costume for anything different. Even putting that aside, Japan was the country in which he had spent a past life, and he thought very specially of it. He certainly never considered turning down the chance to fight there, despite the initial troubles. Instead, he concluded that keeping his ring-name was not as important as seizing the chance to compete in the land of his ancestors. The man with a past life in Japan simply had to wrestle there. And he figured that so long as he stayed true to the inimitable Nagasaki style, it would be okay to compete under a different name. I mean, the issue of the name change came up so suddenly before his first fight, so he had little choice but to follow instructions. However, he didn't meekly follow everything set down by the promoter.
Atlantis: Well, he was told to sign his contract as "Mr Guillotine" and he wouldn't do it. That was the only thing he adamantly refused to do. So, you see, even to the last he was determined to hang on to the Nagasaki ring name.
Arai: Right! Of course! Now, outside of your time in Japan, did you have the chance to fight any another Japanese wrestlers?
Atlantis: The MBM remembers fighting Strong Kobayashi and Fuji Yamada.
Arai: In England, the locals must look at you as an embodiment of Japan. What was it like to actually tussle with native Japanese wrestlers?
Atlantis: It doesn't matter so much who the opponent is. Wherever he goes and whoever he fights, Kendo Nagasaki excites the fans. I think it's because he's the ultimate Heel. He even made Heels look like Baby Faces, as was the case with Strong Kobayashi and Fuji Yamada. These guys certainly had contrasting styles but Nagasaki's way of fighting remained unchanged regardless. Nagasaki has fought other Japanese, but these two men stand out in his memory purely for being such fantastic wrestlers.
Arai: And then you moved to Canada in 1972, right?
Atlantis: Yes. He signed for an organisation promoted by Keith Hart. Kendo Nagasaki's style was much welcomed in Canada too. For about half a year he grappled with the likes of George Gordienko, Dan Kroffat and Killer Tor Kawata.
Arai: Now, about your finishing move named the "Kamikaze Crash." Some time ago, a Japanese wrestler plying his trade in Canada under the name of Ricky Fuji was using a very similar technique which he named "Kamikaze." Are you aware of this fact?
Atlantis: No, the MBM has no knowledge of that. The Kamikaze Crash was developed in England and its success ensured that Nagasaki also deployed it to devastating effect in Canada. It is Nagasaki's original move. The reason for the name is, of course, linked to the Japanese Kamikaze Corps. It is a move which carries excessive risk, thus fully embodying the spirit of the Kamikaze Corps. It is achieved by performing an airplane spin and a judo-style shoulder-carry.
The Kamikaze Crash in question involves setting the opponent up with a Fireman's Carry before running forward and crushing your opponent against the mat by virtue of a thumping forward roll. The Japanese athlete who used a similar technique, Ricky Fuji, had spent time wrestling in Calgary before his spectacular entry into Japanese FMW. Seeing as the man inspired by the Nagasaki who graced Canada, Kazuo Sakurada, had had his own "Kendo Nagasaki" moniker bestowed upon him by Terry Funk, it might also be possible that Ricky Fuji inherited the Kamikaze Crash in similar circumstances. In a much-called-for search for truth, I decided to ask Fuji himself.
Ricky Fuji said: “The first time I had seen such a technique used was when Dan Kroffat deployed it against me in 1988. After the initial shock, I asked Kroffat what he called such a move and received the answer: "Kamikaze." Given the nature of the movement involved, I felt the title to be apt and imprinted the move indelibly on my mind. While wrestling in Canada my finishing move was in fact the German Suplex, but after I returned to Japan I thought about innovating upon Kroffat's move. Out of sheer respect, I kept the "Kamikaze" name. The name was certainly apt as the move meant taking the opponent out while also taking a knock yourself. I also heard from Kroffat that this was the best way to conjure up a kamikaze image. But I never went so far as to ask him if it was his original conception or whether he was inspired by somebody else.
It seems then that Nagasaki was not responsible for directly passing the move on to Ricky Fuji. But as Fuji has so clearly raised the name of Kroffat, one of his opponents in Canada, we can probably assume that Kroffat took it from Nagasaki. Kendo Nagasaki. Dan Kroffat. Ricky Fuji. Ring names invented in England and passed through Canada somehow ended up used by Japanese wrestlers. Furthermore, the "kamikaze" move traveled a similar path. From a Japanese viewpoint it's intriguing and mysterious! Now back to the Nagasaki interview.
Arai: Apart from the Kamikaze Crash, do you have any other special moves?
Atlantis: The backdrop and double-arm suplex rank among them. The favored moves combine the power gained from weightlifting with the techniques gleaned from Billy Riley's Gym. There's also the "Atomic Chop" which consists of delivering a blow to the forehead of an opponent who is against the ropes. The name is used to describe the phenomenal impact when the blow actually lands. The MBM also applied judo techniques such as koshi guruma and other throws to his wrestling matches.
Arai: When we hear the name Kendo Nagasaki, we immediately think of a man who is known for performing hypnosis during his wrestling matches. Could you enlighten us a little more?
Atlantis: You might think that this technique has been used repeatedly because of its seismic impact-value, but in truth it has only been used five times during Nagasaki's long career. The first occasion came in a televised match against Rex Strong. The most famous occasion, of course, was when Robbie Brookside fell under Nagasaki's hypnotic spell.
Arai: Yes, that one is certainly a lasting image. It was a tag match in which Brookside was partnered by William (Steve) Regal, wasn't it?
Atlantis: Correct. Hypnosis will always be an art form, and is not simply used by Nagasaki for pro wrestling. It is but one of the mysterious powers possessed by Nagasaki. As he didn't really use it often in the ring it cannot really be called one of his wrestling techniques. Originally, Nagasaki did not particular wish to rely on hypnosis during his bouts.
Arai: During that infamous Brookside-Regal tag match, there is a moment where Nagasaki's mask is removed and we can see his real face. But that was not the first time he had been unmasked, right? There was a December 1975 match in Solihull, West Midlands, which saw Nagasaki de-masked by Big Daddy, right?
Atlantis: That's right. And then in December 1977 there was the official unmasking ceremony in Wolverhampton.
Arai: And even though the face underneath the mask was finally revealed to the world - the glaring red eyes and curious shaved forehead and ponytail - the element of mystery about Nagasaki scarce disappeared, did it?
Atlantis: I don't think that this was a great shock to people, really. That Nagasaki had intimidating red eyes was well known from the beginning. You could see them even when he was wearing the mask, just as you could the ponytail protruding from the rear of the headpiece. Furthermore, in those days, it was occasionally necessary for Nagasaki to remove his mask in official settings. Moving on from that, shortly after the unmasking ceremony, Nagasaki needed to give some advance notice of his intention to step down from the ring. His mystical guiding spirit led him to enter the world of spiritual healing. The unmasking ceremony can be interpreted as Nagasaki wanting to convey this message to the wider world.
Arai: Still, even after this ceremony he returned to the ring and even re-masked, right?
Atlantis: Yes. The unmasking ceremony did not mean that he would remain unmasked for evermore.
Arai: In Mexico, of course, is a masked wrestler puts his mask on the line and loses that match, he is never allowed to return as a masked man. But England has a different system?
Atlantis: Yes, that's right. Certainly, Nagasaki has shown his unmasked face in the ring. But that was simply to appeal the other side of his character to the watching public. It actually seemed that the element of mystery surrounding him increased in the aftermath of his retirement. Under the mask lay the face of a man who was not a wrestler. The masked man was the wrestler Kendo Nagasaki, and Nagasaki was the guiding spiritual force of the MBM.
Arai: Just as you said, Nagasaki retired for the first time in 1978.
Atlantis: This is because the MBM wanted to channel Nagasaki's force into his spiritual healing activities, and because the Nagasaki who had borrowed the MBM's body to fight his battles now also wished to move into something more spiritual.
Arai: And then you returned to the pro wrestling ring in 1986.
Atlantis: This was also the decision of Nagasaki, who remained the guiding force of the MBM. Many job offers had come in for Kendo Nagasaki "the wrestler," and the number of people who wished to see him return was growing with every passing year. Fortunately, the lengthy absence from the ring had enabled the MBM's body to complete a remarkable recovery. It was thus the perfect time for a comeback.
Arai: He certainly proved he had recovered his powers when defeating Wayne Bridges to win the World Heavyweight Championship in September 1987.
Atlantis: He did, although that was not the main thing on his mind at that time. Originally, Nagasaki had demonstrated his worth time and again even without holding a belt. But I think his overriding feeling was one of having finally met everybody's expectations and realized his potential.
Arai: In February 1993, you retired for the second time.
Atlantis: Again, we don't know if it was a definite retirement or whether Nagasaki was leaving his future open. What seemed to be the case was that Nagasaki had decided not to mount the ring for the time being, leaving most people uncertain as to whether that meant a complete retirement. It was mostly a case of Nagasaki once more wishing to place greater emphasis on spiritual healing than wrestling. I think that's the best way of describing it.
Arai: Yes, because even after that, even in the year 2000s, you were still seen wrestling, weren't you?
Atlantis: Yes. As of today, Kendo Nagasaki's last match remains that of the 19th October 2008 in a Wolverhampton-based tournament. He actually claimed the LDN Tag Championship that night but gave the belt back after the event. I think Nagasaki was enthralled by the prospect of seeing other wrestlers fight earnestly for his own belt.
Arai: So if future offers to wrestle come your way, will you return to the ring?
Atlantis: It depends on the situation. Nagasaki really wants to focus on his spiritual work right now. He's offering guidance to a lot of people right now and those who show most bravery are given highest priority.
Arai: So what about this spiritual work? In a nutshell, what exactly do you do?
Atlantis: It involves listening to people's problems and using the special powers of Nagasaki to guide them along the correct path. That's the principal aim. The MBM has possessed special abilities ever since he was a child. He was able to expand these abilities through careful examination and study. After meeting Kenshiro Abe-sensei, the samurai spirit within him became ever stronger. His mystical powers also developed, and in order to draw every ounce of special ability out of him the guiding spirit placed him in the arena of professional wrestling. His incredible successes in professional wrestling have delivered him to his current enviable position. He is now able to use his incredible mysterious power for the benefit of others. Even the fact that he lives in this very house was something determined by his mystical guiding spirit.
Arai: And the art of fortune-telling would also be included in this spiritual work?
Atlantis: It is possible to include such a skill, but Nagasaki hardly ever resorts to it. Nagasaki's real ability lies in working tirelessly to guide people towards better outcomes in their life. He relaxes people, gets them to open up their heart, transmits feelings of bravery and strength to them, and converts everything into a path for positive thinking. He can get you to have confidence in yourself. That is his main form of spiritual healing activity. He wants you to take on challenges without a shred of fear. All this is based on his belief that everything in life has meaning. Nagasaki is a certainly what you'd call a "Life Coach."
Arai: You mean that even losing half a finger in an accident - that had meaning too?
Atlantis: Yes, that's right. It was amputated after that accident in 1963, just three months before entering Billy Riley's Gym. As you can imagine, this became a huge handicap for him. But it was because of this handicap that the MBM knew he must work ever harder to become stronger than his rivals in the wrestling ring. The truth is that he didn't look upon it as a major injury in the long run. There is a strong spiritual underpinning to this. That's why it really isn't important to talk about how he lost the finger. It was his destiny to have the finger amputated. He needed to be placed in a difficult position from which he could spectacularly recover and conquer the challenges in his path. It's all part of life. It's all part of the process of being on a spiritual journey.
Arai: Which brings me to my last question, then. The left hand on which the index finger was amputated is now covered with a glove emblazoned with the image of an eye. Is there any special meaning to be found in it?
Atlantis: It is emblazoned with the image of an eye: a third eye, an all-seeing eye. It is the same eye that is tattooed on Nagasaki's forehead, but as he wears a mask over that part of his body, the eye must be displayed on his glove. This third eye is also able to seek out important spiritual wisdom.
Arai: Thank you for sparing so much of your time today. We had a precious and valuable conversation for which I am eternally grateful.
Atlantis: We were very pleased to be able to welcome a citizen of not only Abe-sensei's homeland, but the land of Kendo Nagasaki's past existence.
The interview over, Nagasaki gracefully rises to his feet, straightens himself fully upright, then offers a deep and respectful bow in parting. The writer returns the gesture in order to show the extent of his appreciation.
After Nagasaki left the room, Atlantis continued her conversation with me.
"To have an interview like that, to respond so positively to photograph requests and to allow someone to be freely shown around his home.. that's surely a first for Nagasaki. He certainly felt something special today."
England is renowned for its cloudy weather, causing me to wonder on just how many days per year the country enjoys such fine uninterrupted sunshine as that which illuminated our interview with Nagasaki. It was literally bright all day. "Yes, it's unusual to have such good luck with the weather," Atlantis agreed, sounding slightly surprised herself. You simply had to feel that something out of the ordinary had happened.
So what meaning was tied in to this first meeting of mine with Nagasaki? Certainly, the LegendAmong Legends was able to tell me, through the good offices of Atlantis, that "every event in one's life has some meaning." A man immortalized in the history of British wrestling under the name of Kendo Nagasaki claims to have been a Japanese person in a past life. It was, perhaps, this writer's mission to convey this message to Japanese wrestling fans - above all else.
Many thanks to Chris Gould for his excellent translation from Japanese to English.
|Date of Birth:
||Unknown (reported elsewhere as October 19th 1946)
|Country of Birth:
||November 13th 1964 v Jim Hussey
||Came to Japan under the name of Mr Guillotine to compete in Kokusai Pro Wrestling. Here he would administer deadly chops to his opponents as his signature move.
||Joined Stampede Wrestling in Calgary, Canada.
||Has swapped a life in the ring for one of spiritual healing.