Enson Inoue is known for a fighting spirit which carried him in epic battles against the likes of Frank Shamrock, Randy Couture, and Igor Vovchanchyn during the heyday of Japanese MMA.
Born and raised in Hawaii, Inoue first came to Japan in his early 20’s, where he began an unlikely MMA career — initially, to challenge his own sense of fear. The Japanese accepted him as one of their own, dubbing him “Yamato Damashii,” or the spirit of traditional Japan. His ferocity and never-say-die attitude was said to be bringing back the samurai spirit that the Japanese themselves were losing.
But today, Enson Inoue is planning a new challenge: a pilgrimage across his adopted home, to raise money and awareness for those still suffering and displaced by the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster.
Beginning in September, Inoue will trek close to 1500 miles in honor of the displaced, including through the ravaged areas of Iwate Prefecture — staying wherever he may find shelter and only carrying his own food and water.
He’s asking fans to pledge support, accepting donations through his website which will be used for supplies to help the displaced.
“What we’ll be doing is not only raising money for the people up there, but also I want to make it so it inspires them too,” Inoue explains of the walk he will take with two longtime friends, Roman De La Cruz of Fokai Industries and K-1 veteran Pat Ayuyu.
“As far as food and water goes, we’re going to run out of supplies, yeah?” he adds, his Hawaii accent still rock-solid after two decades in Japan. “But these people don’t have work and don’t have a way to purchase what they want. That’s why I’m making that rule, that we only eat what we carry, to put us in the situation where we have to depend on people’s help too.”
“They’re in a situation (in Northern Japan) where they need to rely on other people,” he continues. “It’s not possible to make it all the way across Japan only carrying food and water, without help. We’re going to have to sleep outside every day. So it’s kind of like their situation, unstable. They’re in temporary housing and they don’t know how long they’re going to be there. They’re not confident they’ll always have a place to sleep. We might find a good place to sleep one night, and not find anywhere to sleep the next.”
“You’ve got to keep the hope. If you look at the resources, there’s really no way to make it. If you look at the people in temporary housing, it’s the same: some of them end up having to wait until hope comes. I hope it inspires them to continue on.”
In 2010 Inoue completed the Shikoku Pilgrimage, a walking tour of 88 Buddhist temples. After the 2011 disaster, he began setting aside time from his successful network of martial arts academies to help the disaffected. With the help of his friends and fans, Inoue has made more than 20 trips to bring supplies to the ravaged north from his home in Saitama.
He describes the lessons learned from his MMA career as serving him well in these experiences. He was a huge underdog when he handed Couture his first MMA loss, and refused to quit in a frightful beating at the hands of Igor Vovchanchyn – in a bout where he sustained a swollen brain and numerous other injuries.
“Discipline and perseverance,” he says. “The duration of the fight is different; even thinking of the hard training before the fights; this (trek) will be a bit longer. It’s a whole different thing, but it’s the same thing. To have to get up again every day, no matter how much pain you have. Pushing yourself to get through the mental anguish.”
But this time, the battle isn’t about testing his fighting spirit.
“It’s to inspire them to continue on,” Inoue says. “Second, the fans, I can inspire them to help. They don’t understand how dire the situation is. If people didn’t do these volunteer missions to help, a lot of people would be dead. The people up north still need help.”
“If you skip a couple of beers and pledge a penny per mile,” Inoue explains, “at the end of the journey, that $13 will buy water for a family for a month, or rice for a couple weeks. You can help people in ways that are life changing.”
Donations can be made through Enson Inoue’s website, DestinyForever.com.