Being disabled in any country can be difficult, and Japan is often thought of as being behind the rest of the world when it comes to inclusion.
But, one group is working to change this, and carve themselves out a niche in the world of wrestling!
Doglegs is a disabled wrestling group based in downtown Tokyo. It began in 1991 as a simple volunteer group for disabled people. When two of its members had a fight over one of the female volunteer’s affections, they realised how much fun could be gained from safe violence. And so, the wrestling group was born! For many people, seeing the fights or images of this group may bring on uncomfortable feelings. In fact, that’s exactly how documentary maker Heath Cozens felt when he first watched a match. He was unsure whether he was watching entertainment or exploitation.
But after speaking with the wrestlers themselves, he discovered that it was actually true inclusion. He filmed a documentary all about the Doglegs group, and it has just recently had its premiere in the US.
The stars of this group and the documentary are varied and all have interesting and meaningful stories. The main star is “Sambo” Shintaro. In the documentary, we follow his story as he desires to leave the ring, and spend his life with a special lady. But his long time wrestling enemy, “Antithesis” Kitajima, has other ideas. The documentary also stars: Yuki Nakajima – a man who suffers from severe depression, and the struggles of having an invisible disability; L’Amant (The Lover) – a man with cerebral palsy who has taken to heavy self-medication in the form of alcohol, he even told his wife and child that he was going to ‘die in the ring’; and, Mrs. L’Amant – L’Amant’s wife, who supports him as he struggles with alcoholism, and she in turn wrestles with the decision of taking away his autonomy or saving his health.
The wrestlers are divided into four different categories, to ensure the fights are evenly matched for various disabilities. These categories are: Those who lie on their backs to fight; those who sit and fight; those who stand and fight; and one free-for-all category. Not everyone in the group has the same level of disability, so sometimes opponents will have their legs tied together to even the playing field. One non-disabled fighter speaks about this in the documentary saying that he believes fighting without kid gloves shows respect to these fighters, not abuse.