I grab Makoto Oishi’s left arm with my left hand and force it across his throat. I do a 360 degree rotation that puts my left hand behind my back and two bodies worth of leverage on Oishi’s carotid arteries. I wrap my right arm underneath his left arm - which I am using to force him to choke his damn-self with - and reach it across him and behind our backs, as well. I grab my own wrist to finish the lock which I call Compassionate Release. Before I can start to arch my back to apply additional pressure I hear a collective “OOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooohhhhhhhhhh!” from the previously quiet but attentive Tottori, Japan, crowd.
After we get the win, as we’re walking to the locker room, my friend and teammate Shigehiro Irie looks at me with a big, happy smile and says in his getting better all the time English, “You hear that pop on you submission?”
I smile back and nod my head, which is my shy-humble way of saying, “You’re damn right I did, bro!”
“You can borrow my copy of Mankind’s book if you want to.” My cousin Robbie said in a casual way that failed to highlight the fact that it was a small nudge on the ship-wheel that would have huge consequences for the boat christened My Life.
“Cool.” I said, gratefully, but also lacking in highsight of the significance.
I alternately sat and laid in my dad’s room, which had a more comfortable bed, as I consumed the thick hardcover book over two sessions.
“This is what I want to do.” I thought to my sixteen year old self.
“Japan sounds really cool.” I thought to my sixteen year old self as I read about Mick Foley’s experience in the Land Of The Rising Sun.
***(Movie style jump cut)
“Are you interested in coming to Japan?” Asked Shigehiro Irie over an email that started with a casual “How are you?”
“Yes, I definitely want to wrestle in Japan.” I wrote back, noting to myself the significance of the seemingly small moments that make the seemingly big ones like this possible, like reading a borrowed book.
A month later, I was using the ropes to go up-and-over top of my opponent, land onto my feet behind him, rolling backwards, hand springing back towards him as he turns around, and landing on my ass with my legs folded into what my elementary school teachers called “Indian Style” and my hands pressed together in what my reverend grandfather called “prayin’”. With my eyes mostly closed I listened to the exclamation of surprise that mixes “Oh!”s with claps with laughs. It was the same reaction in Tokyo that it had been when I first started experimenting with it in the small prairie towns of Western Canada, it was the same reaction as when I did it against Donovan Dijak on Ring Of Honor TV.
“Well, seems like some reactions are cross cultural.” I thought to my fifteen year veteran-of-wrestling self, as I laid back to avoid a not-so-impressed with my Shaolin-inspired shenanigans shin that was aimed for my face.
“Wrestling in Japan is really cool.” I thought to my fifteen year veteran-of-wrestling self, as I raised my hand to a clapping-with-respect crowd, after connecting with a left-footed-from-a-right-hander flying spin kick that had once prompted Christopher Daniels to tell me, “You’re really awkward.”
“You really inspire me because you’re as backwards as I am.” A fan once messaged me. “When I talk to you at the merchandise table you are so shy and awkward.” She explained. “To know that someone like us can do the incredible things you do in the ring really motivates me to follow my own little dreams.” She concluded.
“Damn. That’s embarrassing. I thought I cover up my shy awkwardness when I’m at the table. But f*** it, if it breathes positive energy into people’s lives to see through me I guess it’s a good thing. Maybe I should write about it sometime.” I thought to myself before replying, “Thanks, so much, for your kind words and support!”
My other partner in Japan, Mizuki Watase - who is a comedian outside the ring and serious as Lance Storm at a tax office in the ring - stares in my eyes, points a ceiling-facing open hand at my chest, and says, “Tag move.”
I stare off into space and leave waking reality, Earth, and time behind as I attempt to pull the tag moves that were just demanded of me from my first home of Imaginationland.
I’m pulled back into Common Space by Watase who is now staring at me with a confused desperation which I realize comes from him thinking I am either ignoring him, don’t understand him, or that I’m cognitively challenged, because he repeats slower and less sure of his words, “Tag move.” He adds a facial expression of “Please, help me out here.”
I’m not sure if these cues are as cross cultural as sitting cross legged in combat but this time before I delve back into Imaginationland, I turn my head sideways, place my hand on my chin with my finger pointed upwards, and go, “Hmmmm.”
He seems to understand and allows me time to come up with, “Okay. Maybe: Watase drop down, Kincaid toriata, Kincaid powerslam foot stomp, Watase kick.”
Watase’s face lights up. “Okay!” He says and gives me the hand signal that goes with it.
“Maybe: Kincaid Diamond Dust, Watase backdrop.” I say.
“Okay!” Again with the hand signal.
“Maybe: double Enzuigiri.” I say.
Watase looks at me a little doubtfully. “You. Uh. This foot?” He asks without much hope, as he points at his left leg.
“Hai!” I say enthusiastically.
Watase lights back up and says, in unison with his hand, “Okay.”
Those were all I pulled from Kincaid’s Imaginationland. So, I asked Watase to visit his.
I pointed at his chest with my open, palm-up hand and asked, “Tag move?”
“Uh.” Watase says unsuridily, before adding with a polite head turn, “Maybe. Double corner-to-corner.” It reminded me of how I might try to suggest to someone with much authority over me.
“Of course.” I say.
He stares at me blankly, as if to say “wuzat?”
“Okay.” I clarify and add a hand gesture to match for good measure.
I’m standing shy-and-awkwardly at the merchandise table in Shinjuku, Tokyo, on one of my last events of the tour. Fans are keeping their distance from the weird Westerner with the gangster ass head tattoo. I am just about to give up and walk back to the locker room, when Watase comes and stands next to me. He starts waving young women to tableside one by one. They - quite literally in some cases - run over seemingly very excited to have him talking to them.
“Kincaid-o t-shirts, portraits, photos!” Watase explains to the young women, as he waves a hand across the table for demonstration purposes.
“Okay.” they say with their lips and their hands, one after another. Quickly I sell out of “portraits” (8x10s), photos (4x6s), and t-shirts.
As soon as the merch is gone, Watase smiles at me, says “Okay!”, gives me the okay sign, and walks back to the locker room.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude and rush behind to catch up with him in the locker room where I bow deeply and say a very slow, deliberate “Domo arigato!”
Watase's young face smiles widely, his eyes seem to mirror back my own truly thankful tone, and he eventually settles back down into a thoughtful seriousness before saying, “Thank you. For…” He pauses to make the effort to find the words he has clearly just memorized, “...taking care of me as team.”
“This is what it’s all about.” Said the sixteen year old version of me inside the fifteen year veteran-of-wrestling’s head, as I walked out of the locker room with a soft smile on my face, and took a deep breath of fresh air, as I found myself joyously shirtless on the streets of Tokyo.