Shinya Aoki: The Shootor's Soul

To Serve And Protect

By Jordan Breen Jun 22, 2006
Aoki's conviction ran as deep as his talent: the young Shooto star — who said he would not fight in PRIDE or K-1 because they were "just entertainment and not martial arts" — aspired to become a police officer. After graduating from Waseda University in April, Aoki planned to join the police force in his home prefecture of Shizuoka.

"I want to protect Japan," said Aoki. As an officer of the law, Aoki would be unable to compete on the mat or in the ring.

The Japanese prefectural police forces mandate six months of initial training at the police academy, followed by three months of interning at the police stations in Shizuoka. After these nine months, future officers return to the police academy for four months of further training, including combat training.

With Shooto's middleweight ace now living in police dorms and pursuing his dream of becoming an officer of the law, he would be unable to defend his title for over a year, and perhaps unable to ever fight again.

It seemed almost cruel for the mixed martial arts fans to be treated to a fighter such as Aoki, only to have to have snatched away. Moreover, as cruel as it may have been for fans, it was tenfold for Shooto, as Aoki's championship ascension seemed like a dream come true.

In the time leading up to Aoki's title win, many of Shooto's stars and champions had almost become forgotten faces. Featherweight champion Ryota Matsune (Pictures) was forced from the ring for almost a year and a half due to a knee injury, and was forced to vacate his title. Alexandre Franca Nogueira (Pictures) seemed unconcerned with ever getting into the ring with number-one contender Gilbert Melendez (Pictures), and he too vacated his title when a lingering knee injury left him unable to defend his title against Antonio Carvalho (Pictures). Welterweight champion Tatsuya Kawajiri (Pictures) became occupied with his pursuits in PRIDE Bushido. Light heavyweight champion Masanori Suda (Pictures) seldom competed in Shooto, and then decided to retire, vacating his title in the process. Aoki's predecessor Akira Kikuchi (Pictures) sought fame and fortune in the HERO'S ring.

Aoki wanted to be Shooto's champion. It was clear from the beginning that Aoki's love for Shooto was not fair-weather, as it took great determination for him to even get into the ring.

Like his master Yuki Nakai (Pictures), Aoki was plagued with poor eyesight, which would have kept him from competing in Shooto due to medical requirements. Rather than seeking employment in an organization with less stringent medical standards, Aoki opted for laser surgery to improve his vision in order to compete in Shooto. Aoki was driven by his heart, just like his master Yuki Nakai (Pictures). However, just like Nakai, Aoki's talent would be pulled from the ring far too soon.

Or so it would have seemed.

The Baka Survivor

On April 22 a picture of Aoki in sparring appeared in the online blog of Takefumi Hanai (Pictures), leader of the gym TWIST. Exactly one week later, on April 29, Aoki appeared again in a post-workout picture on Hanai's blog. This excited the hopes of many who hoped that Aoki had reconsidered joining the police force and returned to training. However, the 22nd and 29th of April were both Saturdays; some prefectural police academies allow trainees to leave the premises on weekends, logically explaining Aoki's appearances at TWIST.

Aoki did not appear again for nearly three weeks. Then, on May 20, Pancrase fighter Sotaro Yamada (Pictures)'s blog stated that he had trained with Aoki at Paraestra Matsudo that day. While this was of little consequence due to the 20th of May again being a Saturday, things became very curious when Aoki was mentioned in the blog of Wajyutsu Keisyukai Suruga head trainer Kenichi Serizawa (Pictures) on May 24.

The blog post stated specifically that Aoki was at the Wajyutsu Keisyukai Suruga Dojo at 8 p.m. the previous night. Given Aoki's responsibilities to the police academy, it would have been impossible for him to be training on a Tuesday night.

Two days later on Thursday, May 25, pictures appeared on the TWIST gym message board showing Aoki in training. The photographs, and claims of Aoki training, raised questions about his current status, which demanded immediate answers. Strangely enough however, none of the blogs that featured Aoki training made any mention of his police training.

Finally, on June 15, Aoki broke his silence.

In three sentences, Aoki erased the anxieties of mixed martial arts fans unwilling to give hope of seeing him compete again. Posting for the first time on his new blog Aoki wrote: "Back already? Yes, I've come back. In the two months since April, after experiencing the real world, I found out how important it is for me to live as a mixed martial artist."

Aoki will not be living just as a mixed martial artist, either. Aoki will soon be taking on a new role, as yesterday it was announced that a new Paraestra branch will be opened in West Kasai, Edogawa, Tokyo. Paraestra Kasai, which will open on July 1, will see All-Japan Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion Takayuki Hirose as the head jiu-jitsu trainer, while Aoki will serve as the head Shooto and mixed martial arts trainer.

At just 23, Shinya Aoki (Pictures) has become a world class grappler, a Shooto champion, and a head coach, not to mention one of the most exciting fighters in the world, whether in the ring or on the mat. It is a harrowing thought to consider that Aoki may very well have never competed again. Yet, it is the same forces that would have kept him from the ring which will keep him inside it.

Shinya Aoki (Pictures) is blessed with an unbreakable heart and unfettered ambition: the Shootor's soul.

We all ought to be thankful. As fight fans, we demand that our imaginations be ignited and excited. We demand the sense of wonder that arises within us when we see what mixed martial arts can truly be.

And with Shinya Aoki (Pictures), that sense of wonder is only a flying armbar away.
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