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Meet Japanese Jiu-Jitsu Master, Surfer and Interior Designer, Shigeaki Tsuboi

Shigeaki Tsuboi is a man on the move. After falling in love with Brazilian jiu-jitsu at age thirty and training in the art for seven years, he moved from Tokyo to Kamakura to establish an outpost of the CARPE DIEM dojo. He also surfs daily and runs on the beach, all while being an active family man, interior designer, and work uniform consultant. Recently, O.N.S got a chance to chat with Shigeaki about good waves, traveling to Tokyo for work, living his life in tune with Kamakura’s natural environment, and how jiu-jitsu changed his life.

Tell us how you got into Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the first place?

I was still living in Shibuya then, and one day a Brazilian Dojo opened in the neighborhood, so I immediately joined it. Although I had never practiced any martial arts or played any sports before, I somehow liked watching jiu-jitsu matches. Right after starting, I became obsessed by the movements and aesthetics of jiu-jitsu. Later, CARPE DIEM, the dojo I was going to, decided to open up a branch outside of Tokyo and picked me to represent its Kamakura dojo. That’s how my family and I ended up in Kamakura. I was thirty-seven years old then. It’s been six years since we moved here.

 What makes jiu-jitsu so special?

 Jiu-jitsu is often referred to as a “chess game on a mat” because you have to anticipate your opponent’s moves two to three steps ahead and decide how to counterattack in a flash of a second. It’s a mental activity and not as much about physical strength as some people might think. Lately, since it has become more like a game rather than a martial art, people of all ages and genders can enjoy it. In fact, people in their sixties and seventies enjoy it, and recently we see more and more women joining the dojo.It’s also interesting to note how many of those who practice it are successful in their professional lives. Here at this CARPE DIEM, we have famous creators, photographers, stylists and so on, also CEOs and senior managers of well-known companies.

You surf in your free time. Are there any similarities between the two sports?

It’s not just me, lots of people from our dojo surf. Many of them ride shortboards, but I find that riding longboards has much more in common with jiu-jitsu. Elderly surfers usually prefer longbaords because they don’t require as much physical strength to power around, so in that sense, longboarding is chill and mellow like jiu-jitsu. I’m not particularly strong to begin with, so that’s probably why I prefer longboards and the “softer” style of surfing. Rather than wrestle someone down with brute force, I like to make use of my opponent’s strength and turn it against them.

Has jiu-jitsu changed your life in any way?

My life has changed from top to bottom. To tell the truth, I was always running around when I was in my twenties, doing crazy stuff. But since I started jiu-jitsu, I left that lifestyle behind completely. I am not exaggerating. Many of my students went through something similar. They also say they’d prefer practicing than going out to have some drinks.That’s why many of them hit the dojo three or four times a week. Some even come five times a week. For me, at the beginning, I used to practice during my lunch break and again after work at night, day after day. So, I didn’t even have time to hang out anymore.

How has it changed your mentality?

Although I don’t intend to use jiu-jitsu in real life, the sense of having this metaphorical “katana” I could bust out makes me feel far more at ease. If by any chance I get into trouble with somebody at the beach or on the road, for example, I’d definitely just apologize. If they harmed my children or my wife, that’d be another story, but other than that, I never really get angry about anything anymore. With jiu-jitsu, you know you have your mental katanawith you at all times, and though don’t necessarily use it, so many things seem much more trivial. They don’t matter to you anymore.

 Tell us about your typical day.

If I wake up and the waves are good, I go surfing first thing in the morning. In summer that’s usually around five o’clock and in winter it’s around seven. When there aren’t any waves, sometimes I go for a run along the coast.Afterwards, I send my children off to school, and go to work. Apart from being a jiu-jitsu instructor, I design offices, shops, and uniforms. So, I usually draw up plans or meet with my clients at my home office. Sometimes, I go to Tokyo or Yokohama for a meeting.In the late afternoon, I teach jiu-jitsu to kids at the dojo in Kamakura. When there’s no class, I might go back to the beach. At night, I teach adults until eleven o’clock. After that, the day is over.

 What is the most important thing in your life?

CARPE DIEM, the name of our dojo, means “seize the day” in Latin. That’s exactly what I cherish: trying not to be a prisoner of the past or of the future, just living day by day, doing what I can do to the fullest, enjoying things without regrets. I you live like that, I believe everything you need will naturally come to you. So, though I have a certain vision for my life, I don’t think about the far off future too much. I believe that the “destination” changes constantly. For instance, a decade ago, I never could have imagined that I’d be teaching jiu-jitsu in Kamakura.

Photos by Yosuke Suzuki

Text by Akihiro Tajima


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