Yoshiyuki Nakamura is the promoter of the International Lethwei Federation – Japan (ILFJ).
He is a visionary whose passion for the sport brought The Art of Nine Limbs to international audiences with his own blood and sweat.
We recently did a primer on the history of the organization, and now we talk to the man that started it all.
What made you so attracted to Lethwei out of all the martial arts already available in Japan?
“I’ve been in the Wrestling Business for 30 years until 2016. I went to Myanmar for the first time in 2014 to record a TV program and became fond of Myanmar.”
“In February 2016, Myanmar held its first Wrestling Event in Yangon, and the first match was a Lethwei match.”
“I wanted to give Myanmar Lethwei fighters, who have few chances to fight overseas, an opportunity to participate in international competitions after seeing them fighting hard.”
“I held these competitions in my home country of Japan first.”
Did you have a personal connection with Myanmar?
“I didn’t know anyone when I first traveled to Myanmar in 2014. But now I am living with a wonderful Myanmar partner.”
How did you get the promoter license?
“Lethwei’s traditional rules are so dangerous that no one in Japan owned them until August 2016.”
“I wanted to obtain the approval of the Ministry of Health and Sports of Myanmar to hold the Lethwei Japan Tournament, so I went to Yangon many times and applied to the Lethwei Federation until it was accepted.”
What were the challenges you faced when setting up your organization?
“There weren’t any because Mr. Mitsui, Chairman of ILFJ, understood my feelings for Myanmar and Lethwei.”
“I am grateful to Mr. Mitsui.”
Was there a big market for Lethwei in Japan when you first started?
“No Japanese fighters participated in the first tournament on October 27, 2016. There were almost no Japanese who even knew the word Lethwei.”
Was it important for you that the ILFJ adhered to traditional Lethwei rules?
“It is possible to change the rules if it is just a competition like Muay Thai.”
“But like Japanese sumo wrestling, Lethwei includes Myanmar culture and you are not qualified to change it yourself as a foreigner.”
“There are many “sumo” in the world, but there is only one sumo recognized in Japan. Similarly, we only think about emphasizing and respecting the traditions of Myanmar.”
“If you can’t follow the traditional rules, you shouldn’t be allowed to play under the name “Lethwei”. That is the most important thing.”
Tell us more about choosing fighters for the first event and why they were especially chosen.
“I wanted to show Myanmar’s traditional Lethwei, so in 2016, I requested the Lethwei Federation for a match by the TOP fighters at that time.”
How did they react when they learned that they would fight in Japan?
“Only a few fighters had passports, and many of them were new to flying.”
“I don’t think there was an image of “fighting in Japan” except for a few fighters.”
“It was more of an atmosphere of going sightseeing in Japan.”
How did you persuade Japanese fighters to try Lethwei, and why do you think they like it?
“I didn’t persuade them.”
“Japanese fighters offered to participate in the Lethwei. Since Lethwei is all about Myanmar’s culture as well as sports, there are fighters who are interested in Myanmar.”
“Everyone likes Myanmar, so they participate.”
Is it important for you to get more international fighters?
“It doesn’t matter.”
Is it important for you to become known as the Premier Lethwei Organization?
“It doesn’t matter.”
“I have a LETHWEI COPY RIGHT in Japan, so I’m happy to do only what I like.”
“No accolades are required.”
If I could talk about Dave Leduc. Are you on good terms with him?
“He’s a friend of mine, I’ll talk to him when I meet him.”
“However, he will never participate in the Lethwei Japan Tournament, the Taiwan Tournament, or any of the tournaments I plan to organize in other countries.”
“His name is famous in Myanmar, but no one knows his name in other countries.”
What happened to your relationship with him?
“He used my ILFJ’s VIDEO CLIPS, Youtube, etc. without permission, so it was the last time I talked about it.”
“Was it around May of this year? It doesn’t matter, if you lose your relationship with someone who behaves illegally.”
Would you be willing to bring him back to ILFJ if he offered?
“NO WAY. Never Mind. “
“I’m not interested because he only fights people weaker than him. The Lethwei Federation does not recognize his next Lethwei match in the United States.”
What do you think of the WLC? Do you think they are rivals?
“I used to have a problem with the owner U ZAY THIHA on Facebook.”
“But now I don’t think of them as a rival. If the WLC has a love for Lethwei, I think of them as a companion.”
What is the progress on the Hawaii negotiations?
“My Japanese staff has been in Hawaii since yesterday (7 November 2020), so I will move on. I’m dead tired, but my dad ran a restaurant in Honolulu, so there are many connections.”
What is the exact date for the next ILFJ event?
“Currently, the 3rd WAVE of COVID-19 is coming to Japan. We will not be able to schedule it unless the vaccine is completed.”
Who is the biggest star in the promotion, for those unfamiliar with ILFJ?
“There is no one single star. The spotlight is on all the fighters who participate.”
Are you planning to expand the ILFJ when COVID is finished?
“We currently operate in Japan and Taiwan. But negotiations with another country is currently in its final stages.”
“I can’t do any further expansion by myself, so if a collaborator comes out, the expansion will be 100% possible.”
What is the future of Lethwei in Japan?
“The future is something we create ourselves, not something to talk or write about.”
“If all the fighters, staff, fans, sponsors, and media partners who participate can cooperate, it will be the best “LETHWEI MARKET” in the world.”