top of page
  • Writer's pictureDeborah Grow

Question #4: Why did Sanshiro begin Judo? Was it destined to be?

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

The Murao family it seemed was already decided to be a sports family. I don't think I voted on that but it certainly turned out that way. I always thought there were other important things to explore: things such as music, art, travel, books, movies, ethnic restaurants (others might argue for museums, exhibitions, crafts, and host of other things) but for us..our family has ended up pretty much limited to sports. It was for better and for worse, but I guess mostly for better.

Now on to ....Why did Sanshiro begin Judo?

We have to go back a bit in time to the older brother, Mashu, and our first venture into martial arts. As I mentioned before, Hidetoshi's older brother is a martial arts enthusiast and has a black belt in a particularly stringent form of Japanese karate, Koukushin.

Hidetoshi loves to research so he found out that the founder of this famous karate school had sent his master pupil to New York to teach this style of karate. This karate master was Shigeru Oyama and he started Oyama Karate in New York. One of his leading students taught the class which Mashu's joined.

Unlike other karate schools for kids, this one advocated that there was actual physical combat. They did provide padding and helmets but the final result for the little ones looked much like a playground fight. They also did some ascetic training like karate on the beach that perhaps later influenced the later crazy training schedule of the Murao children.

The Start of Martial Arts for the Murao Family
Mashu Murao, Age 4 Oyama Karate

Big Brother Leads the Way

Big brothers (or sisters) tend to illuminate the path set before us and many of us wanted to follow closely in their footsteps. I know I did. In elementary school, my sister played the clarinet, so I played the clarinet (although I really wanted to study flute). In junior high and high school, she was a cheerleader, so I was a cheerleader (although I really loved tennis and singing). Eventually, I followed my heart and so did Sanshiro, but he managed to do that at age 5.

When Sanshiro was ten days old, we moved from New York to Virginia for one year. Hidetoshi had been accepted to graduate school at the University of London and although I wanted the whole family to go too, it was not financially feasible. Staying in New York alone with the children was also financially challenging so I decided to spend one year in Virginia near my family home.

Back to my Virginia Roots

Mashu had been going to Japanese kindergarten in New York and suddenly he was enrolled in the local primary school in Lynchburg. That was tough - more on that later. But to help him make friends and get in the swing of things, I signed him up for the local soccer team. With Sanshiro strapped in a Baby Bjorn, Mashu and I kicked the soccer ball in the field in front of our townhouse.

Japan is very different from America in that American children can participate in seasonal sports and enjoy a variety of activities. While we were in Virginia, Mashu played soccer in the fall and spring and basketball in the winter. This is not a concept not understood by the Japanese. A sport in Japan is chosen and your path and schedule are set early on.

The Move That Changed our Lives!

When we first moved to Japan in September 2001, we first lived in Yokohama. Because the Japanese school year starts in April, Mashu was still in first grade for a few months. This time in Japanese. Whew!

He wanted to play soccer and basketball as he had done in Virginia. The problem was basketball was 9 - 5 on Saturday and sometimes Sunday too. You heard that right from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m (just like a job). So if he wanted to go to soccer practice, he had to miss part of basketball practice and games were often on the same days. I was just happy he didn't pick baseball because that was even worse. Practice started at 6:00 a.m. and went all day.

Sanshiro and Mashu's Soccer Team
Sanshiro at age 1 being part of the soccer team.

At age 1, Sanshiro was ready to follow in his brother's footsteps and join the soccer team in Yokohama. Sanshiro would sit with the team and carefully listen to the coach. He kicked the soccer ball with one of the older coaches who Sanshiro always referred to as "my friend". Actually, the coaches were looking forward to him joining the team as soon as he was old enough. Had we stayed in Yokohama, I feel sure Sanshiro would have played soccer.

The move that changed our lives!

In 2005, I took a full-time immersion English kindergarten job in Tsukuba and we moved to Ibaraki and as fate would have it, this move was the decisive factor that led to Sanshiro to Judo.

I think you have a picture now of Hidetoshi sitting at the computer researching something. This time it was Judo. It was not for Sanshiro but rather for his sister, Maya. If you recall from the earlier post, at birth she had been dubbed the judoka of the family. So now that she was in first grade, it was time to get started.

As fate would have it, Tsukuba is home to Tsukuba University whose judo team is among the best in the country. The director of the program, Hirotaka Okada, a two-time World Champion, and Olympic Bronze medalist had decided that year to begin a children's judo program at the university. We mused that perhaps it was because he had three young boys of his own. But whatever the reasoning behind it, there was not only a judo program for kids but a great one!

Hidetoshi took Maya for a trial lesson. Mashu was already signed up for a local rugby club (Maya and Sanshiro joined that too) but Sanshiro (age 5) and Mashu (age 11) decided to tag along to watch the trial lesson. They watched a few minutes and then declared they would like to join in too. And so our judo life began. Sanshiro's first teacher would be a member of the All Japan Judo Team, Takeru Sato. At Tsukuba University, Sanshiro would rub elbows with many Olympic and World Champions not only learning their technique but also their mindset.

A Dream is Born!

As I said, Sanshiro decided to follow his heart early on and although he did a lot of cross-training in other sports over the years, Judo had been decided in his mind. In the Japanese kindergarten where I worked, each month there was a birthday event. Each birthday child had to stand on the stage and declare what they wanted to be when they grew up and where they wanted to go. One after another said they wanted to be a power ranger or Purikyua (Japanese anime character) and almost everyone predictably said that they wanted to go to Tokyo Disneyland. When Sanshiro, at age 5, went to the microphone in front of the 300 plus children, parents and teachers, he said in Japanese " 大きくなったら、オリンピック柔道選手になりたいです. 行てみたい所は日本武道館" (When I grow up, I want to be an Olympic Judo Player. The place I want to go is Japan National Martial Arts Stadium). This was not only stated but lived every day from then on.

I still did not get to the crazy training schedule and rules of the Murao trio. But enough, I will pick that subject up next time.

108 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page