I recently had the pleasure of meeting a professional fighter living and competing here in Japan, who also teaches boxing and kickboxing for living. Anyone meeting Jan (pronounced “Yon”) for the first time is greeted with a warm smile and a firm handshake, and the conversation rather naturally drifts to what its like to be a foreigner living and fighting in the land of the rising sun.
After spending an afternoon with him learning some fundamental techniques for my journey into boxing/kickboxing, I was impressed with both his professional demeanor and passion for what he does as a fighter. I decided to interview him for the blog, and share his journey with you.
1. Jan, please tell us a bit about yourself.
-from a working class town in Canada called Windsor which borders Detroit
-I studied advertising in college
-28 years old
-Used to fight 85kg but now I fight 70kg
-Lived in Japan for 2.5yrs. Lived in Okayama for .5 and Tokyo for 2yrs
-Started training when I was 14. 1st day of H.S. actually -Started training because I was influenced by the movie Kick boxer
– Former Shidokan MW world champ
2. Why did you come to Japan?
I came to Japan to pursue my dream of fighting in K1. I had no real connections in Canada that could get me a chance at fighting in K1 at the time so I decided to come here.
3. Tell us about some of the people you have trained with- those who really stood out as people that have influenced you a great deal.
I have trained with the professional fighters of Iron Ax at Seido Kaikan since I have lived in Tokyo. Tatsuji is the most successful of the team. Recently I have changed teams. I joined the pro team of Bungeling Bay which trains out of AE Factory. The team is led by Nitta Akeomi and Nicolas Pettas. One of the biggest influences in my training career has been Tomasz Kucharzewski (6 time Shidokan HW world champion and K1 HW competitor) but unfortunately he died while I was here in Japan. Another big influence was my old trainer in Canada. He was a Canadian Olympic boxing coach. His name is William (Bill) Grant.
4. What was the hardest fight you have ever been in?
I’m not sure which fight has been my hardest. Ive had a lot of wars. The hardest fight Ive had recently would have to be the one I had with Nitta Akeomi (owner of Bungeling Bay) We beat the crap out of each other. The last round was an absolute caveman fight. My hands hurt for about a year after that fight. They’re ok now 😉
5. You are 28 years old, where do you plan to go from here?
I have no idea what the future holds for me. I’m kinda just going with the flow right now. Id like to stay in Japan to continue my fighting career and working as a personal trainer but if I move home I may be able to get a job as a park ranger through a friend in the RCMP. I also have the opportunity to work as a trainer in my home town, Chicago, or Dubai. Dubai would be nice.
6. As a foreigner living in Japan, what is hard/easy for you?
Living as a foreigner in Japan has been quite difficult because of obvious reasons such a language barriers and cultural differences but the most difficult thing has been my experience with Nova( the now defunct English teaching school that suddenly went under a couple of years ago). Everyone knows about that.
Its become a lot easier for me since Ive started working at Bungeling Bay Gym because now I’m surrounded by so many kind people and I’ve made a lot of new friends. My Japanese is really starting to improve too. I didn’t have much social contact with Japanese people before working here as all I did before was train with them, but now I work with them too and I’m forced to speak Japanese. I love it.
7. Regarding your personal training, what is your usual routine?
My training routine is currently in transition because my trainer recently moved back to Thailand. I’m training with a new team that really trains like a team and does everything together. I also train at Bungeling Bay with various partners on Tuesday and Thursday.
I normally train Monday through Saturday when I’m preparing for a fight. Right now I am taking any opportunity I can to do different things and change up my routine. I’ve been doing the exact same thing pretty much everyday for the last two years with my trainer and I think its burnt me out a bit. My old routine consisted of shadow boxing, stretching, pad work, bag work and muscle conditioning drill. I usually finish of the day with a run. I hope to start a kettle bell routine in the near future.
8. Why do you like to train people? Whats do you think makes you good as a coach?
I like training people because I actually enjoy teaching people. If I could go back I would probably study to become a high school gym teacher. Teaching kickboxing just seems natural and it definitely doesn’t feel like work. Correcting peoples technique also makes me better as a fighter because it reinforces the techniques and strategies that are in my mind. A good coach not only gives proper instruction but they ask questions too. They must understand what their athlete is thinking and feeling.
9. So Jan, what is the future with you and K1/Pride? What do you hope to achieve in the next few years?
Well, I’m still trying to get my foot in the K1 door. Ive fought 3 K1 fighters (Lim Chi Bim, Hayato and Nitta Akeomi) but I still havent been given the chance to fight in the big show. Now that I’ve joined Bungeling Bay and AE Factory I think my chances of getting in have greatly increased because Nitta and Pettas are both former K1 stars and have the right connections. Training with this new team is also going to improve my game. In the past year a few people have encouraged me to gain weight and fight in the HW division. I gain weight really easily now. I walk around at about 81kg and I don’t even do any weight training.
If I started to do some serious eating and weight training I’m really confident that I can get over 90kg. The over 90kg division generally makes more money and are not as skilled until you get into the really high calibre fighters that are in K1. It may be easier to get into K1 if I go that route. 70kg is the most competitive division in Japan because it is a more usual weight for Japanese fighters and every fighter dreams of competing in K1 Max, therefore it can prove quite difficult and even seem almost impossible for a foreign fighter living in Japan to fight their way into the tourney.
10. Please tell us about the gym Bungeling Bay in Ebisu where you work, and your teaching philosophy.
Here’s the url, and the site map can be found here http://www.bungelingbay.com/
I like to teach all kinds of students no matter what their ability may be, beginner to advanced, disabled to the physically gifted. I had the opportunity to train with a blind student that frequents the gym. It was my first time working with this disability and I was pretty nervous but we both ended up having a lot of fun. I taught him the basic techniques of kickboxing and in turn he helped me with my Japanese. This client now comes regularly to Bungeling Bay in Ebisu.
Ultimately, what I’m looking for in a student is dedication and the willingness to work hard in order to achieve the results that they want. I can only teach and motivate, in the end its all up to the individual to put in the effort to succeed. Also, I like to create a relationship with my student so that we have a common understanding and I know what they really need. An athlete will always work harder for someone they trust.
Jan, thanks for your time and good luck with your own personal development and career!