Kenta Iwamoto, (born February 13th, 1997) is a Japanese competitor who won the -66kg ADCC Asian & Oceana Trials as a purple belt in May of 2019 and would go on to compete at the 2019 ADCC in Anaheim, California. Though he would lose to Paulo Miyao at the event, his submission orientated grappling style has given him much deserved buzz within the community as an up and coming grappler. Most recently, during the Coronavirus pandemic Iwamoto has been active in grappling tournaments in Japan. Most recently besting the legendary Masakazu Imanari in the Main Event of ‘Battle Hazard 8’ November 2020. We caught up with Kenta to interview him on his recent victory and what the future holds for this young grappling star in the making.

Battle Hazard 8 Main Event

BJJASIA: Firstly, congratulations on your win at ‘Battle Hazard’. What is your impression on the victory?

IWAMOTO: Imanari-san has been grappling long before I started; even now he is called for international super fights and competitions so he is an internationally recognised competitor. I was very happy to get a win over a person of note like Imanari-san. Above all, the rule set also made it clear that no matter how much you pressured your opponent, it’s meaningless without a submission. So I felt there was weight to my win in being able to get the finish within the regulation time.

ADCC 2019 versus Paulo Miyao

BJJASIA: In terms of submission grappling what rule-set do you favour?

IWAMOTO: No time limit submission only or a rule-set with negative points given when pulling guard. BJJASIA: What made you start Jiu-jitsu? IWAMOTO: I started training at the Judo club in Junior High School. After moving into High School, I continued with Judo as my after school activities (Known in Japan as ‘bukatsu’). However, the number of members was quite small and in the end I was the only member left. Even so, the judo club I was in was free-spirited and I would sometimes study instructional tapes I brought with me. At that time, watching the Jiu-jitsu DVD’s made my ground game stronger and I decided to start Jiu-jitsu when I entered University.

Prior to his fall to the darkside

BJJASIA: What was your first impression when you started Jiu-jitsu?

IWAMOTO: I was rolling all over place and thought it was a lot of fun. BJJASIA: Once you started University and Jiu-jitsu, at what point did you see Jiu-jitsu as a viable path to pursue full time? IWAMOTO: I was putting off job hunting for no particular reason and there was no clear turning point, but during my first year into my master’s degree I started to think that I could actually make a living through private lessons, coaching and competition.

Footsie with ‘Ashikan Juudan’ Shinya Aoki

BJJASIA: Out of all the competitions you have entered so far what was the most memorable victory?

IWAMOTO: I would say the 2019 ADCC Asia & Oceana Trials.

BJJJASIA: Why was this competition so memorable for you?

IWAMOTO: As this was the impetus for me to concentrate on grappling or ‘no-gi.’ Prior to the trials I focused more on training in the Gi, however 3 months before the trials I was able to exclusively focus on ‘no-gi’ grappling. I knew about ADCC before but grappling in Japan is by and large seen as an extension of training in the Gi. Therefore, you do not see people training exclusively in no-gi here. Due to the increase of international athletes competing exclusively in grappling, I felt that I could do the same. From a personal perspective, I found no-gi more enjoyable and wanted to go down the path of a no-gi athlete. At that time, I was convinced that the only way to continue such aspirations was to win the ADCC trails.

Post Battle

BJJASIA: What was your impression of ADCC 2019? How did you feel about your own performance?

IWAMOTO: They housed us at the Hilton in California so it was very luxurious and since meals were served as a buffet all the competitors would sit and eat together so it quite the experience. Being able to share dinner with the best grapplers in the world was inspirational. In terms of the event itself, there was a large group of spectators and I felt an event of this scale would only be possible at an ADCC. In terms of my performance, I lost. I was not happy with it but I felt I was able to compete at the best of my ability at that time.

ADCC 2019 Anaheim, California

BJJASIA: During ADCC, even at the trials, which competitor left the biggest impression on you?

IWAMOTO: If would be difficult to whittle it down to one person in particular but if I had to choose it would be have to Lachlan Giles. The reason being that we went through the same ADCC trials together so I felt a sense of kinship going through the same event together. Actually, the day prior to the trials Lachlan was conducting a bodylock and heel hook seminar. I was cutting weight at the time and my throat was so dry but I attended the seminar anyway and it was great. I managed to apply what I had learned at the seminar the next day at the trials and was able to beat one of Lachlan’s students which I do feel bad about. All in all, I would say Lachlan Giles left the biggest impression on me.

BJJASIA: How does the training environment abroad differ from that of Japan?

IWAMOTO: Of course this depends on what overseas place it is, but from my own experience of grappling in foreign countries versus Japan, when I give my view the differences have neither a good or bad context at all as it is my own experience. After ADCC 2019 I visited Renzo Gracie NYC and 10th planet, most of the athletes I trained with train grappling exclusively. So, when training, you are consciously training in a ‘grappling only’ context. What I mean to say is, though we do train no-gi in Japan as well, most people also train in the Gi, so there is no practice environment where I purely train no-gi every day. At IGLOO Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, to which I belong, we put a lot of effort into grappling, so we often train no-gi even in pro training. In my case, I also attend grappling practice with MMA fighters, so I can practice grappling every day. Since in MMA grappling fighters rarely pull guard, you can acquire techniques that you cannot otherwise acquire at other grappling gyms where guard pulling is part of the game. In this context, I also think that MMA grappling is now closer to a more “pure” form of grappling.

BJJASIA:  Why do you believe MMA grappling more ‘pure’? What would you define ‘pure’ grappling?

IWAMOTO: In the last year I have been sparring more in a MMA grappling format and during sparring sessions there is more of an exchange of offense and defence standing. When we see Jiu-jitsu grappling or ‘submission only’ matches, by and large you will see guard passing and guard play. Since the rules allow guard pulls the standing aspect of grappling is largely omitted from matches. However, in MMA grappling there is a necessity for the take down prior to passing or submissions therefore all aspects of grappling; wrestling, judo and Jiu-jitsu all become important. Therefore when we look at MMA grappling as a whole I feel that since it necessitates the use of all aspects of grappling, it could be argued as ‘purer.’

Hanging with some of the best Japanese MMA has to offer

BJJASIA: How do you train prior to a competition?

IWAMOTO: The training is by and large the same, but with sparring taking up most of the training session. After that, I am strategizing and doing some technique review with team mates and positional sparring.

BJJASIA: What are you thinking prior to your matches? What is your mentality?

IWAMOTO: I consciously try to relax and relieve tension prior to matches. In order to sense my opponents rhythm during the match I do my best to relax and release any tension I may have.

Bodylock Pass

BJJASIA: Out of the places you have trained outside of Japan which gym left the biggest impression?

IWAMOTO: It would have to be Renzo Gracie Fight Academy in Brooklyn and the famous ‘Blue Basement’ at Renzo Gracie Academy, New York.

BJJASIA: Why did Renzo Gracie’s gyms leave such an impression on you? What specifically did you find special about these gyms?

IWAMOTO:  In New York, I was staying at the house of Daisuke Yamaji, who teaches at the Renzo Gracie Fight Academy and from there I went to both Renzo’s in Brooklyn and Manhattan. After class you would continue sparring, exchanging technical ideas and overall it was a place that nurtures growth. There you find people hungry to learn and grow as people and as competitors.

BJJASIA: What do you think of the current level of Jiu-jitsu in Japan looking at the current competitors in Japan?

IWAMOTO: I wouldn’t be able to comment on the level of Gi competitors in Japan, but if I was to evaluate the current level of no-gi in both ‘submission only’ and the IBJJF rule-set I would say the level is not that high. That being said, there are competitors that are at a high level here.

BJJASIA: When you look at Asia as a whole, where do you think is growing in terms of Jiu-jitsu?

IWAMOTO: In Japan during the ‘lock-down’ in 2020 a lot of Jiu-jitsu competitors and MMA fighters took an interest in no-gi and as a result grappling grew in popularity. In terms of popularity, I think Japan and Kazakhstan.

Stay calm and leglock

BJJASIA: From a personal standpoint, what do you think is necessary to make Jiu-jitsu more exciting in Japan?

IWAMOTO: I think it’s difficult to get more eyes on Jiu-jitsu as the current audience is almost exclusively those who are doing Jiu-Jitsu and their families.

BJJASIA: What are your current goals for the future?

IWAMOTO: To become better at grappling and to beat the best in the world.

BJJASIA: Lastly, are there any sponsors or people you would like to thank?

IWAMOTO: I would like to thank all my team mates, friends and my current sponsors for their continued support. 29 Niku Brand, Lets BJJ, CBD Fx Japan, Igloo Brazilian Jiu-jitsu

Spitting Rhymes
  1. 健汰岩本インタビュー 1.バトルハザードスーパーファイト優勝おめでとうございます。優勝の感想は?

今成さんは僕がグラップリングを始めるずっと前から活躍してて、今でも海外の試合に呼ばれたりして国内外問わず知名度も高いです。そんな今成さんに勝てて嬉しいです。なにより、ルール上、試合でいくら圧倒しても一本を取らなければ意味がないので、時間内に一本取れたことに価値はあると思います。 2. グラップリングの試合ににおいて、

2. どのルールセットを好みますか?

時間無制限のサブミッションオンリーか、引込み減点のポイント制。

Pressure

3. 何が切っ掛けで柔術を始めましたか?

柔道を中学の途中までやっていて、高校に入ってからも部活は柔道でした。ただ、部員がかなり少なくて最後は部員は僕一人でした。そんな中でも僕のいた柔道部は自由な風潮で、自ら持ってきた技のビデオなどから学ぶこともありました。その時に柔術のDVDをみたことで寝技が強くなって、大学に入ったら柔術を始めようと決めていました。

4. 柔術を始めて最初の印象は?

クルクル回って楽しいと思いました。

5. 大学に入って、柔術を始め、どの時点で柔術で生活をすると決めましたか?

なんとなく就活などを先延ばしにしていただけなので、明確な境目は無いですが、修士1年のときにプライベートレッスン、指導、試合などで食べてはいけるなあと思いはじめました。

To oil check or not to oil check, that is the question

6. 様々な大会の中で、一番印象的な試合又は、優勝は何でしたか?

ADCCの予選で優勝できたことが一番の思い出です。

7. なぜこの大会が一番印象的でしたか?

なぜなら、これがグラップリングだけに集中するきっかけになったからです。予選までは道義を着た柔術をメインでやってましたが、ADCC予選の3か月前くらいからグラップリングを意識するようになってました。前からADCCのことは知ってましたが、実際日本ではグラップリングやノーギは道義の延長みたいな風潮でグラップリングだけしかやってない選手はいませんでした。ただ海外ではグラップリングだけの選手も多くなって、グラップリングだけで生きていけてる感じがしました。自分もやった感じはグラップリングのほうが楽しいので、グラップリングだけで生きていきたいと思いました。そんなグラップリングを今後続けていくには、ここの予選で勝つ以外には無いと当時は思い込んでいました。

Rules of the Ring

8. ADCC 2019の印象はどうでした?自分のパフォーマンスはどう思いましたか?

有名な選手と同じホテルや食事をするので、良い刺激を受けました。ホテルはカルフォルニアのヒルトンホテルで豪華でした。食事はビュッフェで柔術とグラップリングの有名選手全員が同じ場所に集まるので、楽しかったです。試合では観客も沢山いて、ADCC以外では味わえないスケールだと思いました。自分のパフォーマンスには、負けたので、納得は行きませんが、そのときの実力は出せたのだと思います。

9. ADCC参加者の中で一番印象が残った選手はいましたか?

試合観戦中又は一緒に食事した時とか? 一人を選ぶのは難しいですが、やはり印象に残ったのはラクランジャイルスです。なぜなら、同じ予選を勝ち抜いて親近感があったから。実はADCC予選の前日にラクランのボディーロックとヒールフックセミナーがあって、減量で喉カラカラで苦しかったのですが僕はそれに出て、凄くいいセミナーで良かったと思いました。そこで教わったことを次の日の予選でラクランの生徒に実際に使い、勝ったことは少し気の毒ではありました。そんな事もあり、一番印象的です。

ADCC Asia & Oceana Trials 2019 Winners

10. 日本と外国の練習環境はどう違いますか?

もちろん海外のどの場所かによるとは思いますが僕の経験でいうと、グラップリングは海外と日本では練習環境がいい意味でも悪い意味でも全く違います。ADCC本線の帰りにヘンゾグレイシーや10thplanetに行きましたがそこでは,グラップリングしかやらない人がほとんどです。なので、練習への取り組みもグラップリングだけを考えてやってました。日本でもグラップリングの練習をしますが、ほとんどの人は道義もあわせてやっているのでピュアなグラップリングだけを毎日する練習環境はありません。ただ、僕の所属するIGLOOではグラップリングにもすごく力をいれているので、選手練習でもグラップリングをやることは多いです。あとは、僕の場合はmmaの選手と一緒にmmaグラップリングの練習にも混ぜてもらっているので毎日グラップリングの練習ができています。MMAグラップリングではめったに引き込まないので、引き込みありの海外のグラップリング道場でのスパーでは身につかない技術が身に付きます。今ではMMAグラップリングのほうが“ピュア”なグラップリングに近いのではないかとも思っています。

Victory

11. 何故MMAグラップリングの方が‘ピュア‘だと思いますか?岩本さんの見方で‘ピュア‘はどう定義しますか?

ここ1年ではMMAグラップリングのスパーの方が練習頻度が多く、スパーでは立ち技の攻防に終始することも多々あります。柔術的なノーギや、サブミッションオンリーのグラップリングだと引き込めるのでスタンドの攻防がほとんど省略され、ガードとパスガードの攻防が大部分を占めます。ただ、MMAグラップリングでは相手を寝かせつける攻防から始まり、パスしてサブミッションまでやるので、レスリング・柔道・柔術の全部が大切になってきます。なので、グラップリングの総合的な力が問われる戦いになってくるという意味で、よりピュアなグラップリングだと感じてます。

12. 大会前の練習はどのように取り組んでいますか?

練習はほとんど同じで、スパーが練習の大部分を占めます。あとは練習仲間と技研究や限定スパーをお願いすることで相手の対策をしてます。

13. 試合が始まる前には何を考えていますか、ムードは? 力を抜いてリラックスすることを考えています。試合中に相手の力を感じ取れるように力を抜くことを意識をしています。

14. 海外で練習した道場の中でどこが一番印象に残りましたか?

ブルックリンのRenzoGracieFightAcademyです。

15. 何故Renzo Gracie Academyが一番印象的でしたか?特定点はありますか?

ニューヨークではRenzo Gracie Fight Academyで指導してる山地大輔さんの家に泊まらせてもらっていて、そこからブルックリンとマンハッタンのRenzoにいってました。練習後もスパーや技術交換したり、成長できる場でした。技術や、成長することに貪欲な人たちがすごく多いです。

Terra Lock

16. 日本の現役選手又は現在の日本の柔術のレベルの様子を見てどう思いますか?

道義の柔術はわかりませんが、サブオンリールールやIBJJFのグラップリング全体のレベルはそこまで高くありませんが、高いレベルの人も多くいます。

17. 現在アジアの国を見てどこが一番伸びてると思いますか?注目の国はどこですか?

日本では2020年コロナ期間中に多くの柔術選手やMMAの選手がグラップリングに興味を持ってくれてグラップリングはすごく伸びたと思います。グラップリングの強さとして注目はロシアやモンゴルですかね。

Shinya Aoki & Kenta Iwamoto Post GTF3

18. 個人的に考えて日本で柔術をもっと盛り上げるには何が必要だと思いますか?

今の柔術の試合は柔術をやっている人やその家族しか観ないので、盛り上げるのは難しいと思います。

19. 選手として、将来的には何を目標としていますか?

グラップリングでもっと強くなって、世界の強豪にも勝ちたいです。

20. 最後に感謝したい方、スポンサーは?

いつも練習している人、応援してくれるひとやスポンサーに感謝したいです。 29 Niku Brand Lets BJJ CBD Fx Japan Igloo Brazilian Jiu-jitsu