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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Grow

Training of Champions! The Spartan Training of the Murao Siblings

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

So, how do you raise a champion?

There are probably many answers to this question and all of them might be valid if the result is a champion. I can only comment on how my children were raised. Many people might think it odd and severe. Actually, I think so too.

As I said, Hidetoshi assigned a sport to each child at birth and in doing so, he also devised a training plan for each child. In the consideration that there are only 24 hours in a day, he surmised some training would have to be for all three. So, the training began in earnest when Sanshiro was five and we moved from Yokohama to Tsukuba.

Sanshiro 5, Maya 7, and Mashu 10
Judo Murao Style 2006

As I mentioned in an earlier post, as fate would have it, Tsukuba University started a children's judo team the same year. Thanks to Maya's ordained role to do martial arts, all three children enrolled in the brand new judo club. This club practiced on Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons. Not so bad.

Eventually, they also practiced with another team so they could practice four times a week. The other team met at the Tsukuba Central Police Station. In Japan, police officers practice judo as a method of disarming and catching criminals rather than just shooting them. It seems to work!

So, I would go to watch their practice and had to check in with the police officer at the desk. I watched his deadpan surprise (a favorite Japanese expression) when I stated I was going to watch my children's judo practice. I headed up the stairs, passing the jail cells along the way up.

Mashu, however, was destined for rugby so all three joined the Tsuchiura Rugby School, which met on Sunday afternoons. This club was run by a lovely gentleman who also happened to be a Buddhist monk who happened to love rugby. So the three Murao Musketeers joined the rugby club. You know the old saying, "All for one and let's join another team!"

When Maya was in second grade, she was interested in Taiso (gymnastics) and Sanshiro at aged-five wanted to try out too, so they both did gymnastics for a few years. He was clearly the heaviest gymnast on the 1st-grade team, although he was quite good for anything that acquired strength.

When Sanshiro was in fourth grade, a Sumo coach asked Hidetoshi if Sanshiro would come and try sumo. He was perhaps the only gymnastic team member ever who was also doing sumo!

Although, the sumo team was about an hour south of where we lived., Hidetoshi immediately said, " yes, of course!" His thinking was that this training would help Sanshiro defeat heavier judoka since there are only two categories for children's judo. As luck would have it, the practice was Sunday mornings and Sanshiro could get back home in time for afternoon rugby.

Sanshiro was a natural at sumo and was Ibaraki champion for two years running and went to the National Tournament at the world-famous Ryogoku Sumo Stadium in Tokyo,

In his last tournament, Sanshiro, weighing in at a mere 50 kg (110 pounds) came in best 8 in the National Sumo Tournament. The winner that year was a 105 kg (231 pounds) sixth-grader from Okinawa.

When Mashu entered junior high, he started his own 7 days a week schedule of training while the younger two, still in elementary school, had a schedule like this:

Mondays - Swimming

Tuesdays - Gymnastics

Wednesday - Judo

Thursday - Judo

Friday - Judo

Saturday - Judo followed by Gymnastics

Sunday - Sumo (Sanshiro) followed by Rugby

Whew! I am tired just remembering it all. At one point, Hidetoshi also found an Aikido expert to train Sanshiro for a few months. On holidays, it was a relief to just see them relax and watch TV.

Just kidding!

On days off, Hidetoshi and the children would run 5k (about 3 miles) to the park where they would commence running training, rugby passing, and difficult exercise like kangaroo jumps (jumping from a complete squat again and again). Not a schedule for the faint-hearted.

Mashu reminded me of other Spartan training they endured such as the rule of "No Socks in the House". It doesn't sound too tough for those of you with central heating but Japanese houses have really cold floors in the winter. Hidetoshi's theory was that they should get a feel of their feet and be able to endure the cold. To further push this point, he said the boys should wear shorts and T-shirts to school year-round.

Hidetoshi had grown up on the southern island of Kyushu and winters are not that severe there. So when the temperature was literally freezing in Tsukuba, they were allowed a sweatshirt over their T-shirts.

Mashu claims he did not own any long pants until junior high. There was, of course, the "No Heat at Night" rule as well. Often I would wake up at 6 a.m. on a winter morning and the temperature in my kitchen was 0 C (32 F).

Only when Sanshiro left home at 12 and went to live with the judo coach in Hyogo (far across Japan) did he have one day a week off from training. Unfortunately for him, the coach was strict and usually did not let Sanshiro or the other two boys living there leave the house!

Maybe he was just playing it safe by not letting three junior high boys off on their own. Finally, when Sanshiro entered high school and lived in the dormitory, Sanshiro had one day a week off to relax. Well deserved!

I read that Michael Phelps trained 365 years a day and even swam on Christmas and New Year's Day. So, What Does it Raise a Champion? I guess the answer is stamina, persistence, and evidently cold feet.

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Mar 01, 2021

What a great read about these wunderkids. I had wondered how Sanshiro managed to compete as one of the top ranked judoka in the world since hearing about his performance in Paris in February 2020, but as Deborah explained in her great humor, his way was one of many. Training in several sports at a young age with his brother and sister must have helped, not to mention innate talent and the discipline and support from his parents. As with all top athletes though, the deciding factors had to be Sanshiro's own mental toughness, hard work, and determination, and after watching videos of his matches there's no telling how far he'll go. Ganbare Sanshiro!

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