The name Shinya Aoki (39-7, 1 NC) is one that has spread around the world and become synonymous with martial arts excellence, yet the man behind the name still remains somewhat of an enigma.
Despite being active in professional competition since 2003 and having almost fifty bouts to his credit, most people only seem to know the athlete inside the cage, not the person outside of it.
That is no accident, however. The 34-year-old Tokyo, Japan resident is just more reserved than some of the sport’s other personalities who thrive on the limelight. He prefers to let his performances do the talking, and more often than not, it is pure poetry in motion when he does.
A Quiet Child Finds Judo
His laconic manner outside is just part of the fabric of who he is, and who he has always been. If anything, it is what led him to his calling of martial arts.
“I was a pretty solitary child,” reveals Aoki, reflecting on his youth. “I got into a lot of fights with other kids. I was a normal kid. I did not do anything special as a child. Just judo.”
Aoki did not know it at the time, but starting his journey as a judoka at age 10 would be something that separated him from the crowd. Rather than just helping an energetic youngster burn off some excess energy, he found a niche that would eventually see him become one of Japan’s most successful athletes.
The future superstar achieved success in the sport, as he competed both nationally and internationally. He earned a black belt and was a top five collegiate judoka, but it was always his penchant for aggressively attacking submissions that led him forward.
Instead of being known for his throws, he became known for aerial attacks and lightning-fast armlocks that often left opponents tapping.
That is how he became “Tobikan Judan,” or “The Grand Master of Flying Submissions.” Of course this attribute from his earlier days stayed with him throughout his martial arts career, but he also sought out different arts when the restrictive rules of judo could not fulfill his thirst for the ground game. Only then could he excel further.
Leaving The Police Academy For The Cage
Aoki’s dreams were in martial arts, yet it was day-to-day life and the lack of opportunities that almost forced his hand. A diligent student, if not an overly enthusiastic one, he graduated from the prestigious Waseda University and enrolled in the Police Academy as a cadet.
Despite the fact that he had been training with the legendary Yuki Nakai at the Paraestra gym, where he excelled in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and catch wrestling, it was not enough for him to pay the bills, and he was forced towards a vocation that would.
“I did not particularly want to be a police officer,” he reveals. “I just did it because I did not have any other career options.”
That could have been it for his martial arts career, but when the sport’s popularity in Japan exploded in the mid-2000s, Aoki decided to follow his heart. He gave up on any life in the Police Force to follow the path less travelled.
It may have been a risk back then, but it would turn out to be one of the best decisions he has ever made.
Aoki became a fixture on the Japanese scene, winning the Shooto Welterweight Championship in February 2006, the WAMMA Lightweight Championship in December 2008, and the DREAM Lightweight Championship in October 2009.
However, it was not until April 2013 that he would reach the pinnacle of his stroried career, as he defeated fellow countrymen and then-reigning champion Kotetsu “No Face” Boku for the ONE Lightweight World Championship.
Although he would lose the title belt to Eduard “Landslide” Folayang in November 2016, he is driven to be the best martial artist he can be, and express his art inside the cage.
For Aoki, training and competing is his way of having fun.
“Honestly, it is not really about winning or becoming number one in the world,” he proclaims. “It brings me pleasure. It is self-expression and the only way I can express myself. That is why I think it is so fun.”
Becoming A Two-Division World Champion
The next opportunity Aoki will get to express himself will be on Friday, 24 November, as he challenges hisEvolve MMA teammate and ONE Welterweight World Champion Ben “Funky” Askren for the belt at ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT, live from the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Making the bout extra special is the chance for Aoki to become a two-division world champion, and the fact that Askren is retiring following the bout, regardless of the outcome.
It is a marquee contest, as “Tobikan Judan” has been considered Asia’s best lightweight martial artist for the past decade, and Askren the world’s best welterweight competitor. Also, the Tokyo native’s ground expertise vastly differs from the “Funky” one’s, making it a ground war between BJJ and wrestling.
As such, Aoki understands the importance of this co-main event.
“It is the most intense bout to happen in 10 years,” he previously mentioned. “I think people understand that. It will be a historic match. You will miss out if you do not see it.”
This is another opportunity for Aoki to make history and become a world champion for the second time. But he is not concerned with titles and belts. All he wants is to become the best martial artist possible.