[FOUNTAN]The fighter still remainsJapanese professional wrestling hero Antonio Inoki had his debut match in 1960 against Kintaro Oki, the Japanese ring name used by Kim Il, who passed away last week. Mr. Inoki was caught by Mr. Kim’s arm bar technique and defeated after seven minutes and six seconds. After that first match, the two wrestlers met in the ring many times. According to an official Japanese record, there were 38 matches between Mr. Kim and Mr. Inoki. Outside the ring, they were tightly bound by faith and friendship. While Mr. Kim was 14 years older than Mr. Inoki, they became disciples of the fighter Rikidozan within one year of each other. When Mr. Kim first met Mr. Inoki, whose family had emigrated to Brazil, he said, “I am from Korea, and you are from Brazil. I hope we get along well.” Rikidozan’s training was merciless. It you were a favorite of Rikidozan, you were more likely to be thrown down on the mat. Whenever Mr. Inoki was knocked down, Mr. Kim would take him to a Korean barbeque restaurant and treat him to a hearty meal.
After Rikidozan was murdered in 1963, the two wrestlers went their separate ways. Mr. Kim, who, unlike Rikidozan, never made a secret of being Korean, could not prosper in Japanese wrestling alone. Instead, Mr. Kim extended his reach, fighting both in Korea and Japan.
Mr. Inoki was greatly successful outside the wrestling ring as well. While actively working as a professional wrestler, he established the Sports and Peace Party in 1989 and was elected to the House of Councilors of the National Diet of Japan. In 1990, right before the Gulf War, he flew to Iraq and met with Saddam Hussein, playing a major role in the release of Japanese prisoners. Mr. Inoki gets VIP treatment in North Korea because he is recognized as a direct heir of Rikidozan, a native of Hamgyong Province. In the New Year, Mr. Inoki often comes out on television and slaps other celebrity guests on the face to imbue the fighting spirit. The slap is thought to blow away ill fortune for the year.
However, the Korean hero Kim Il had misfortune in recent years. If it weren’t for the help from an avid fan who is a doctor, he would have died much earlier. The life of Mr. Kim illustrates an unfortunate aspect of Korean society - we are stingy about making or honoring a hero. Mr. Inoki had a “match of the century” in 1976 against heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, who began suffering from Parkinson’s disease just as Mr. Kim fell ill from the aftereffects of head butts. The two sports legends share a strange fate through Mr. Inoki. Once again, I pray for the repose of Mr. Kim’s spirit.
by Yeh Young-june
The writer is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.