* ‘아시아엔’ 연수 외국기자가 작성한 기사의 한글요약본과 원문을 함께 게재합니다.
[아시아엔=라훌 아이자즈 기자·번역 김아람 기자] 1950년대 일본 열도를 레슬링 열풍으로 휩쓸며 ‘일본 프로레슬링의 아버지’라고 불렸던 한국계 일본 프로레슬러 영웅 ‘역도산’. 1924년 함경남도 홍원군에 태어난 그의 본명은 김신락으로, 고아로 생활하다 일본 부농의 양자로 들어가게 된다. 이후 일본 전통스포츠 스모 선수로 운동을 시작했지만, 순수 일본인 출신이 아니면 ‘최고’가 될 수 없다는 말에 ‘프로레슬링’으로 전향했다. 이같은 결심에는 역도산이 1951년 세계적 프로 레슬링 선수 B.브란스의 일본 원정을 본 경험도 크게 한 몫 했다.
프로레슬러로 나선 역도산은 강인한 체력과 가라데촙으로 강적들을 제압하며 승승장구했다. 그는 1953년 일본프로레슬링협회를 창설했으며, 1958년에는 세계선수권자인 J.S.루테스를 물리치고 헤비급 세계 챔피언이 되었다. 그 후 전세계 프로레슬링을 제패한 역도산은 사비를 털어 체육관을 설립하고, 안토니오 이노키, 김일, 자이언트 바바 등 후진 양성에도 힘썼다.
그가 지금까지 전설로 추앙 받는데는 실력뿐만 아니라 시대적인 배경도 따라줬다. 2차대전 이후 일본이 새로운 시대, 새로운 영웅을 절실히 바라고 있던 시점에, 역도산의 등장은 그야말로 센세이션과 같았다. 모두가 ‘역도산! 역도산!’을 외쳤다. 어려운 환경을 딛고 세계 최고의 자리에 올라선 역도산은 일본과 한국에 희망의 상징으로 자리잡았다. 그러나 그는 명성에 걸맞지 않은 불운한 최후를 맞이했다. 1963년 12월 도쿄의 한 나이트클럽에서 야쿠자 청년의 칼에 찔려 복막염으로 사망한 것이다. 역도산 사망 이후 일본 프로레슬링은 주춤하는 듯 했으나, 그의 제자들 덕분에 다시금 인기를 회복했다. 아버지를 따라 프로레슬러의 길을 걷게 된 아들 모모타 미츠오도 프로레슬링 선수는 1989년 세계주니어헤비급 챔피언에 등극하며 그 영광을 역도산에게 돌렸다.
A Korean Orphan Who Inspired Hope in post-WWII Japan
Amidst all the angst between Japan and Korea for the atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial army on Koreans in the last century, there are stories that are easily forgotten and sidetracked, to make way for the aforementioned conflicts to be highlighted. It does not mean those stories are less significant. We talk about national heroes, war heroes who sacrificed their lives to protect their homeland, who fought for independence, defied authorities, who built countries, who destroyed countries but we forget those who, while the other heroes were fighting enemies, kept people’s spirits high and hopeful. Those heroes who, if their countries were defeated, would not let the people feel disheartened, and if they felt disheartened, would reinvigorate their souls to learn from the history, be better and build for the future.
One such hero was Rikidozan ? a wrestler of Korean descent who gained fame in Japan in 1950s and became their national hero.
When I first read about Rikidozan, I had never expected to find that someone held in such high regard in Japan could have come from Korea. Rikidozan (Korean name: Kim Sin-rak) was an orphan who initially, trained to become a sumo wrestler and entered the sport by the age of 16. Fighting in about two dozen tournaments, he finished with a record of 135-82, before turning his attention to the world of pro-wrestling in 1950.
After World War II, when Japanese people needed a hero to stand up to Americans, Rikidozan rose. He gained huge stardom in pro-wrestling in Japan and became a big ‘draw’ competing against and defeating American wrestlers with moves like Mongolian chops and piledrivers. Now, being a pro-wrestling nerd, I knew about the history of the sport in the US, reading about Buddy Rogers, Bruno Sammartino, Karl Gotch, Gorgeous George, Lou Thesz and a jillion more. But never had I imagined that in 1958, Rikidozan actually faced Lou Thesz (the creator of some of the most popular wrestling moves like STF, powerbomb, belly-to-back suplex and Lou Thesz Press) and defeated him. Thesz was the most dominant wrestler who went on to be the face of pro-wrestling in America in the 1960s. Rikidozan also defeated the top stars of the era including Freddie Blassie, establishing himself as the ‘cream of the crop’ (in the great Randy Savage’s words) and one of the all-time greats. His bouts with Thesz and the Destroyer are considered all-time classics.
Rikidozan also started the first wrestling promotion in Japan in 1953, named ‘Japan Pro-Wrestling Alliance’ (JWA). He is often considered one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. In 2002, he was named the third greatest wrestler of all time, behind Ric Flair and Riki’s rival, Lou Thesz, in a magazine article ‘The Top 100 Wrestlers of All Time by wrestling journalist John M. Molinaro.
Legacy and training next generation stars
As impressive as his in-ring accomplishments were, perhaps his most valuable contribution to the pro-wrestling industry would be his training legendary wrestlers like Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba, who followed in his footsteps and carried Japanese pro-wrestling to new heights.
Karl Gotch may have been the ‘Kamisama’ (Japanese word for ‘God of Wrestling’) due to his influence in shaping the Japanese pro-wrestling style ? mixing amateur, Greco-Roman and Indian martial art, Pehlwani, it was Riki who is known as the ‘Father of Puroresu’. It is safe to say that Riki ruled the 1950s and early 1960s wrestling scene in Japan.
Although he died at the early age of 39, one wonders how he would have expanded his legacy if he had lived longer. On December 15, 1963, Riki got into an altercation with Katsuji Murata, a member of Sumiyoshi Kai – the second largest Yakuza syndicate – while partying at New Latin Quarter club in Tokyo’s Akasaka district. He was stabbed in the abdomen with a urine-soaked blade. There are conflicting reports about whether he went to see a doctor or not. According to Tokyo Reporter, Rikidozan returned to his home, Riki Mansion, and received treatment. Murata arrived later at apartment and apologized, which Riki accepted. However, he died a week later of peritonitis on December 15.
Murata was found guilty of manslaughter and served seven years in prison. Upon release, he became a gang boss. On each anniversary of Riki’s death, Murata offered apologies to his family and visited his grave. Murata died on April 10, 2013.
Although, after Riki’s death, pro-wrestling business suffered in Japan, it was ultimately survived by his students and successors like Antonio Inoki who founded New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) in 1971. Such is the story of a Korean orphan who brought Japanese audiences to their feet as they chanted for him by the only name they knew him as ? “Rikidozan! Rikidozan! Rikidozan!