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  June 10, 2000

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Japanese tutors started it all

By BRET "The Hitman" HART -- For The Calgary Sun

 Any wrestling fan will tell you that my dad, Stu, taught me to be a professional wrestler in the infamous and notorious Hart family dungeon.

 It's basic ring lore, grappling gospel. The only thing is, it's not true. And I don't know how or why this myth started.

 The truth is, my dad taught me a bit of submission wrestling, which is an entirely different thing than pro wrestling.

 And amateur wrestling, I learned in school. But it was Mr. Hito and Mr. Sakurada who taught me to be a pro. They'd been wrestling in America and had to leave when their visas ran out, but they didn't want to go back to Japan right away.

 My father brought them to Stampede Wrestling, for which they were very grateful. We were all stuffed into Stu's van on the way back from a wrestling show in Lethbridge or Red Deer when they asked me, "Why you no wrestle?"

 I was a referee at the time, just filling in for my brother Wayne. By day, I worked for the city parks and recreation department, so between the two, I was putting in some pretty long hours. But Hito and Sakurada were quite insistent that I should learn to wrestle and they said they'd drop by sometime and show me.

 Well, I thanked them for the offer but I didn't really take it seriously.

 It was the crack of dawn and there was this annoying knocking at my door. I stumbled over to see who the heck it was and give them a piece of my mind, too. I was bewildered to see Hito and Sakurada.

 "We teach you wrestle."

 These guys can't be serious. I'm not even awake yet. This must be a rib. I gotta have coffee. I invited them in for a cup.

 Hito and Sakurada used to be Sumo wrestlers, weighing in at about 350-400 lbs., each. When they switched to pro wrestling, they'd trimmed down to about 250.

 By the second cup, it occurred to me that these guys were serious. I sipped my coffee very slowly, procrastinating, deciding what I wanted to do.

 Well no, not exactly, what I wanted to do was get a few more Zs but, well, OK, they're trying to do something nice to repay my dad, so I'll go along with it.

 We headed for the dungeon.

 Now I don't know how you envision the fabled dungeon, but in reality it's a cramped room, with mats on the floor and weights piled in assorted places. The windows are small and high so the light is sometimes eerie, streaming in through the dusty, sweat and linament-soaked air.

 When Hito and Sakurada brought me home, it was night. I was so sore I couldn't decide what I wanted more, a hot shower or a soft bed. I fell asleep exhausted.

 They're back! Bright and early the next morning, "We teach you wrestle."

 They were relentless, but they barely spoke English. Of course, how silly of me to think they'd be done teaching me in one day. Surely it will take a few days more. OK. This went on for months.

 Eventually, two of my older brothers, Keith and Bruce, wandered in while Hito and Sakurada were putting me through my 50-bumps routine that I had to do after hours of wrestling and taking falls.

 A big part of wrestling is knowing how to fall right and my masters had been telling me that I had a natural, cat-like instinct to be able to land from all kinds of different angles. My teachers were very persuasive and they convinced Bruce and Keith to try 50 bumps. They did.

 But after nine or 10 bumps, they stopped, said "this is nuts" and left.

 As they went out, I could hear Bruce saying he'd rather get stretched by Stu.

 I didn't get it and I asked Hito and Sakurada, "Don't all wrestlers do 50 bumps? Don't they all go through the same as me?"

 "Not so," my mentors mused, "you different." I wondered what that meant and hoped it might be a compliment.

 And then, as suddenly as it started, it was over. "We finish. Now you wrestle." And I was the one saying, "But wait, I don't even know how to do a drop kick yet. There's so much I don't ..."

 "Our teaching only go so far. You very good and the rest you learn yourself."

 I know quite a few of you are old Stampede Wrestling fans and I enjoy your letters immensely. If you think you don't know a lot about Japanese wrestling, just think back to that card back in '84, when the top All Japan wrestlers took on the best of Stampede Wrestling.

 An entire extravaganza filmed in Calgary and taken back to Japan on video. It doesn't get better than that! And it used to amaze me that Hito could become such a hero in a western Canadian city. Looking back, it makes perfect sense when you consider that fans in Calgary always applauded technically-sound wrestlers.

 The longer I wrestled, the more I came to appreciate what great teachers I had. Now it is I who am very grateful.

 I took what two Japanese wrestlers taught me and brought it back to Japan, where I had some of the most amazing adventures, both in and out of the ring. One of the tamer tales involves the sex organs of male turtles and the Japanese mafia, but that's for another time.

 And I celebrated my 23rd birthday in Japan and suffice it to say, I haven't been abe to drink sake since.

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