Yushin ”Thunder” Okami was not always the fearless competitor that has no hesitation in taking on the toughest challenges in mixed martial arts.
The Japanese mixed martial arts icon – who will return to action in a welterweight match against James Nakashima at ONE: DAWN OF HEROES – has competed against the best of the best for more than a decade.
Whether his rivals were powerhouse wrestlers, knockout artists, or submission specialists, and whether he was favored to win or not, Okamihad the confidence to take them all on.
However, his mindset was about as far removed from that as it is possible to imagine when he was a child in Kanagawa Prefecture. His lack of confidence meant he was reluctant to step out of his comfort zone at all.
“When I was little, I was a bit shy,” he admits.
“Challenging myself was something I wasn’t good at. I was scared of challenging myself to try new things.
“Whether it was baseball, soccer, judo, budō, or kendo, even if I wanted to try these things as a kid, it was hard for me to put this ‘want’ into action. As much as I wanted to do these things, I was too afraid to actually do them.”
“I was comfortable around people I knew for a long time, but, if I had a new class or had to be in a new environment, I wasn’t very outgoing.
“Looking back now, I probably just lacked confidence, which, I think, explains why I wasn’t able to be outgoing.”
His journey to overcoming his fears began when he took his first leap into martial arts training as a teenager in judo.
As he learned new skills and put them into practice, he developed a more positive mindset and plucked up the courage to enter competitions. Once he had taken that leap, he began to embrace both success and failure as part of the learning process.
He was no longer afraid to fail, and that helped to boost his self-esteem outside the gym, too.
“I discovered judo when I was in high school,” he explains.
“I made friends, who I trained with, and felt the exhilaration you feel after a win, and the frustration after a loss. By experiencing these feelings, I felt very accomplished.
“As a result, I gained some confidence, discovered a sport I respected, and made some friends. Experiencing the feelings I felt doing judo led to the development of my confidence and allowed me to become more outgoing.”
His love for judo came from the knowledge that he could come up against seemingly insurmountable odds, work on his skills, then come back and overcome them.
“I underestimated judo,” he adds.
“I realized how different it was, watching versus doing it. It only made me want to try harder – to practice more and become better.
“I felt passionate about inching my way to the top. I took a lot of beatings at the beginning, but I was hooked.”
Every hour of practice gave him the chance to hone his skills, and he was not afraid to put himself out of his comfort zone and tangle with more experienced sparring partners to make giant leaps forward with his progress.
The thrill of victory was something that soon became a pivotal driving factor in Okami’s athletic endeavors.
“I continued judo because I could see that I was getting better. I got better and better by practicing, and I was able to beat opponents I had previously lost to,” he adds.
“The happiness that comes with winning was something I couldn’t experience in my day-to-day life. I continued because I knew to feel that feeling again, I had to continue practicing to become better.“
His newfound warrior spirit was proven during his final high-school tournament when he got the chance to apply everything he had learned in the previous three years.
Though he had his doubters, he produced the best performance of his young athletic career up to that point.
“I faced off against an opponent who was much better than me, and everyone thought I would lose,” he recalls.
“Yet, I felt confident, and despite the speculation, I was able to win. Even today, that was a pivotal point for me, and beating that opponent is a proud moment of mine.
“It shows that effort is rewarded, and that gave me a lot of confidence.”
Now, as he prepares to enter the Mall Of Asia Arena in Manila Philippines to face Nakashima next Friday, 2 August, he will carry the same mindset into battle.
It does not matter that his opponent is undefeated at 11-0, eight years younger, or one of the frontrunners to get a ONE Welterweight World Title shot. “Thunder” knows how skilled he is, and he has put in the work in the gym to get his hand raised.
Manila | 2 August | 7PM | DAWN OF HEROES | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/oneheroes19