Sharing culture through mixed martial arts: Japanese, US kickboxers touch gloves to show sportsmanship

May 29, 2019

Marines from Camp Courtney participated in friendly Japan-U.S. bouts in “TRY: Okinawa Inter Battle Vol.1” April 7 at Naha City, Okinawa. The event included fighters from various Japanese and Okinawan gyms as well as Marines.

Three of 22 bouts featured Marines. At the sound of the opening bell, Japanese and U.S. fighters touched gloves to convey their sportsmanship before they test their skills against each other in the ring.

With Queen’s “We Will Rock You” blasting as his walk-out anthem, Sgt. Marc Herrera, a native of Bryan, Texas, exploded into the ring with his coach and his teammates. Blocking his opponent’s blows while hooking and jabbing, Herrera fought with combinations of dynamic kicking techniques drawn from Capoeira and acrobatic techniques from the Setku-do martial art. 

The weekly trainings over the previous two months with the coach paid off as the referee raised Herrera’s arm to show his victory at the end of the final round. Official kickboxing fights were two rounds of two minutes each.

“Sportsmanship is being able to say ‘good fight’ at the end with no regret or holding grudges. It was a good match. I can’t wait for the next one,” said Herrera.

The event was hosted by the TRY executive committee which is made up of local martial artists. The title TRY was derived from the idea of challenging more passionate introductory and intermediate-level fighters into the world of competitive martial arts. The themes of bouts included: youth development, interregional and intergenerational exchanges, and the Japan-U.S. friendship exchanges.

“Being able to participate in a fight match in another country is an honor,” said Cpl. Robert McKee, a data systems administrator with Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, who competed as a kickboxer at the event. “It was something I always wanted to do when I came to Okinawa – the birthplace of karate. It is a great experience to learn how they fight and the culture itself.”

While mixed martial arts may not be from Okinawa like Karate, Nobuhiro Hirahara, the Marines’ coach, started off learning Karate from the age of five. At 19, he traveled to the U.S. to study martial arts and later founded Setku-do and opened his dojo. The name Setku-do, meaning cleave the air, comes from bushido, the code of honor and morals of samurai warriors, to have a strong will that would cut through the air. It is a new form of martial arts that eliminates impractical moves. Martial arts allowed him to see the world. Sports and exchanges deepen the appreciation for cultural understanding, according to Hirahara. 

“On the 23rd year of founding Setku-do, I realized I wanted to return the favor to the U.S. for the kindness it had shown me when I was studying and teaching there,” said Hirahara. “I wanted to contribute to the Japan-U.S. bilateral relationship through teaching Japanese martial arts. Through the friendship I develop with the students, I am able to share my language, culture and tradition.”