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COB Airmen takes to mat

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Rachelle Morris
  • Seventh Air Force Public Affairs

There are several things that can be accomplished in eight minutes: boil an egg, read approximately 2,190 words, unsubscribe to several email lists or walk 20 flights of stairs. For one Japanese-American Airman, all he can manage to think is “don’t die.”

As a brown belt in Jiu Jitsu, that is how long Tech. Sgt. Kazuhito Ikematsu, 607th Material Maintenance Squadron, is on the mat with his opponent during competitions. He calls it nothing short of a humbling experience.

“It’s an ego check,” Ikematsu, the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, native, said. “Even if you have been doing it for a long time and you have a certain skill level, there is always someone better than you. It keeps you grounded and opens your eyes to the reality of the world.”

One step away from his black belt, he said the non-stagnate nature of the martial art keeps him returning.

Ikematsu joined the combat sport after being fed up with the weight cutting wrestling required of him. A gym opened near his high school and he and his friends signed up.

Eleven years later, he is still going strong. Pending COVID-mitigations, Ikematsu puts in 10 to 11 hours per week.

In addition to the obvious fitness benefits, he said Jiu Jitsu helps him in his role in the Air Force working in Radio Frequency Transmissions and as a non-commissioned officer.

“One of the biggest things is that it helps me stay calm under pressure,” Ikematsu said. “You realize that everyone is going to have their own style of doing things. So, it helps me see different perspectives and keeps my mind open as to how to accomplish things.”

In his line of work, he said this is important because he can be assigned to a broad spectrum of units.

“Communications are needed everywhere, so there isn’t a limitation on where I can go,” Ikematsu said. “I have been in tactical units, base communication units, air communications squadrons and contingency port units.”

In fact, he was stationed at Osan Air Base from 2014 to 2017 working the same mission he does now only it fell under the 607th Support Squadron and hadn’t moved to Gwangju Air Base yet.  He remembers that time fondly, because on top of a job that afforded him opportunities to travel all over the Republic of Korea, he started learning the Korean language and met his Korean-national wife.

Ikematsu hopes to one day retire in Korea and open his own gym, but in the meantime he is working toward commissioning and starting a Jiu Jitsu club on Gwangju AB.

“I have taught previously,” he said. “The relationships that you form with people are something that keeps the martial arts interesting.”

Ikematsu added that it is great for those looking to get out of their comfort zones.

“You are getting up close in someone’s personal space,” he said. “It can make people feel claustrophobic, but it can help them grow mentally. Saying it is a way of life sounds cultish, but you see how it influences people for the better.”