The name Shinya Aoki is known to evoke many emotions in the MMA industry. One is that of awe – ONE Lightweight World Champion Shinya Aoki has amassed a record of 38 wins, winning a majority by way of submission. And these aren’t your typical submissions; Shinya’s name has become synonymous with flying submissions, which is considered quite a feat in MMA.
The other emotion is fear – Shinya’s fight record and stoic expression as he enters the cage and pulls off the most complicated submissions, barely breaking a sweat, makes one wonder: was he born to do this?
The answer is simply, yes.
The Martial Arts Student
Born and raised in Shizouka, Japan, Shinya started practicing Judo at 10 years old. He immediately fell in love with the art and found that he was a natural at Judo. In fact, when the time came for him to enroll in high school, he specifically chose a school that excelled in Kosen Judo, a style of Judo that focused more on ground work and submissions. Eventually, Shinya went on to become ranked fifth in the country in Judo. Amazingly, despite his intensive daily Judo training, Shinya’s academic achievements and test scores were so strong that he gained admission to the highly prestigious and coveted Waseda University, the 2nd best university in Japan.
At university, Shinya continued to progress in his Judo journey and moved up in the national ranks to second. He even joined the national Judo team. However, the strict rules and regulations of Judo started to stifle Shinya, which led to his discovery of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Like Judo, BJJ came naturally to Shinya. Because of his natural talent, combined with his Judo background, Shinya was awarded his black belt in the short span of 3 years.
The Greatest Sport
Around the same time, Shinya also started training Mixed Martial Arts.
It was a natural progression,” says Shinya. “I’ve always thought MMA was the greatest sport in all martial arts because it involved all martial arts.”
Balancing both university and fighting MMA seemed to cause no problems for Shinya. On the brink of graduating, he also became a Shooto champion.
Unfortunately, his bright MMA career had to be put on hold. “The fight purse wasn’t that big, it wasn’t enough to sustain my family,” explains Shinya, “ So I decided to become a policeman.” The rigorous, structured life of a policeman was a stark contrast to the MMA lifestyle Shinya was used to. As a policeman, he felt a void that only fighting MMA could fill. Eager to continue fighting, Shinya left the police force and signed with one of Japan’s biggest MMA promotions, PRIDE FC.
The rest is history. Shinya went on to win countless MMA fights across many different promotions, not only in Japan but in the US and around Asia as well. He became the feared submission artist we know him to be today, earning him the nickname Tobikan Judan, or Master of Flying Submissions. To further his career, Shinya decided to join the prestigious Evolve Fight Team and train with its World Champions. “I didn’t think Evolve (MMA) was real,” shares Shinya. “There were so many World Champions, I had to see it for myself.”
Although Shinya seemed to live the life of a fearless martial artist, his success certainly did not come without struggle. “In Japan, I lost some big shows. And in these shows, I had some trouble here and there,” reveals Shinya. “Those times were really tough, but I had friends that were there for me and that made things easier.”
The Other Shinya Aoki
It’s difficult to imagine Shinya’s persona in the cage to be anything but the lethal submission artist that he is. But those who know Shinya best, know that he is the complete opposite outside of the cage.
A tall, slight, bespectacled man, Shinya looks more like an average guy than someone who is able to submit his opponents at will. His Instagram feed is filled with nothing but pictures of his children. And contrary to what most people believe, Shinya has his share of irrational fears. In fact, his fear of heights was recently highlighted in the video below:
You’ll never see this side of Shinya in the cage. But that’s a good thing for the Tobikan Judan. Maintaining focus and mental toughness is important to Shinya, especially before a fight. Pre-fight Shinya is a completely different animal from regular Shinya, and he knows that he has to keep it that way.
MMA is a really tough sport. Even if you’re a strong fighter, you can lose,” says Shinya. “There will definitely be some rough times and all you have to do is push forward, improve and never give up.”
This winning mindset has, no doubt, led to one of the most successful careers in Asian MMA history. The future is most certainly looking bright for Shinya Aoki, and by adding a solid striking game to his unparalleled arsenal of BJJ and Judo techniques, he has proven that he is definitely a force to be reckoned with.