Masafumi Kawaguchi: Changing American Football In Japan

Although Masafumi Kawaguchi’s NFL career never really took off, the sport is still in his roots. The Japanese star is arguably still a big name in the game in his home country, but not necessarily for sporting reasons. He was among the first four Japanese players to train with the Green Bay Packers and in 2003 he trained with the San Francisco 49ers, signing with the team, before eventually being released later in the year.

Introduced to the football as a transfer student at San Clemente High School in California he fell in love with the game . Once back in Japan he played for Ritsumeikan University before trying his hand at a higher level in Europe.

His hard-hitting style was well suited to the pros and he caught on with the Amsterdam Admirals in NFL Europe where he played for seven years. He also played a key role for the Japanese national side when they won the International Federation of American Football 1999 World Championship.

Nowadays, the star is using his international experience to help train Japanese players, so that they are more adept at coping with the rigours and ferocity of American football played in Europe and the NFL.

Kawaguchi is now the representative director for the JPEC (Japanese Physical Education & Culture) a personal training gym in Tokyo. The former NFL player has said he wants to utilize Japanese bodies so they are as effective as Americans and Europeans.

AFI - Masafumi Kawaguchi - NFL broadcastKawaguchi was a hard hitting linebacker in his heyday and noticed the difference between physiques on day one of his adventure in Europe. As he told the Japan Times in a recent article:

“After the squad training, I had sore quadriceps. But an African-American player said he had soreness in his hips ‘despite the fact we did the same training, using the same machines. It didn’t stop there though. The line backer was seeing differences on the field. An American guy I was going to tackle just disappeared from my sight by making only one cut. That never happened in Japan.”

Japanese players tend to put a lot of emphasis on their knees. They bend them to stockpile power and then explode before contact. This power runs from knee to hips to the upper body. Americans on the other hand can produce the same amount of power simply using their hips. They can make contact on tempo quicker than Japanese players. Kawaguchi took all of this on board during his own playing days and was eventually named in the All-NFL Europa team in his fourth season whilst in Amsterdam.

Putting this play into practice is easier said than done. Japanese players are currently trained in a way that solidifies the body trunk then focuses on moving hip joints, Kawaguchi hopes to implement a different style which involves using the whole body trunk itself then using sacroiliac joints, which is the movement which European and American players use. Jack Myles, who is one of the favourites be the first overall pick in the NFL Draft is a prime example, the perfect tackling technique to incorporate maximum power.

The former Admirals star hopes that these training methods can help push Japanese players further in the game. He believes that previous players have been held back by the natural technique of how the Japanese tackle. Kawagachi wants his training input to be used nationally in Japan to help push a new generation to the top of the game in the NFL.

With the NFL growing in popularity in Japan, this could be a big stepping stone in producing more quality players who can ply their trade across Europe and hopefully in America.

Source: Japan Times

A journalism sports graduate from Sheffield University, Edward resides in London. He loves American football and the NFL but writes mainly about soccer. His stories can be found in Thinkfootball and Backpage Football.