Tuesday, February 24, 2015

On Yoshiko, Act Yasukawa, and Responsibility in the Ring

Yasukawa was the victim of one of the worst shoots in wrestling history this past weekend
Photo Credit: Leslie Lee III/Pro Wrestling Is Art
An ugly incident befell STARDOM in Japan on February 22, when Yoshiko defended the World of Stardom Championship against Act Yasukawa. Yoshiko came out of her corner and began to strike Yasukawa in the face, which didn't look out of the normal at first because puroresu and joshi in particular are known for a stiffness level that can blur the edges. However, after the first pull-apart, one could see that Yasukawa's face was bloodied and that she had facial disfigurement. They went in for another scuffle, and Yoshiko continued with her assault, which by that point was clear that it wasn't a work as Yasukawa was on the mat in the defend position, hiding her face from any more blows. When the referee pulled the two apart, Yasukawa exited the ring, and her corner threw in the towel. You can see the footage here, starting at 3:21, but I warn you that it is graphic and not for the faint of heart.

STARDOM is one of the biggest, if not biggest, joshi promotion right now, and this incident is a definite black mark. I don't know the reasoning why Yoshiko would violate the trust between workers in the ring, but when you can't trust your opponent to take care of you, how can you feel safe in a wrestling ring? I know cultural differences exist between America and Japan, but at the same time, the first rule of wrestling anywhere should be that no one gets hurt on purpose. I don't think that's an uncontroversial statement for even a mark as myself to make, but wrestlers sometimes abide by a different code, where arguably, Yoshiko committing assault to the point of attempted manslaughter has justification. Seriously, Sonny Gutierrez reported on Yasukawa's injuries. She has a broken left orbital bone, and her right orbital bone, the one around the eye that she had surgery to correct blindness from Graves disease, could not be checked within two days of the injury because of swelling. Drink that in for a second.

Still, cultural differences are why I don't want to go all in on a moralistic bent saying Yoshiko should never work again and what not. And I don't want to totally blame culture in a situation that I'm not sure anyone on this side of the Pacific truly understands yet. But at the same time, she shirked her responsibility to make sure her opponent was safe in the ring, and that's gotta be a cardinal sin in any arena. Wrestling is dangerous enough without one person going into business for him or herself and taking out frustrations or enforcing some kind of unwritten code. Yasukawa could have died, and regardless of what she did "to" joshi, it probably wasn't severe enough for her to lose her life. No, check that, it definitely wasn't severe enough for her to walk into a worked wrestling match where she was expecting choreography and instead got legit elbows to the face.

I'm not entirely sure what you or I as fans can do about things like this at this point, because wrestling locker rooms still seem to have one foot planted in their carny pasts. Hell, even sports leagues with societal legitimacy and governmental supervision have bullshit hazing going on that is defended in part by the hypermasculine leaders who believe in this kind of bravado. But maybe pulling wrestling promotions everywhere out of this exile and into the fold as what they really are, traveling acting troupes, with government grants and the whole nine yards is a good start. Or maybe it won't be enough. I don't know how to fix a problem this big.

But I hope that most observers look at this kind of behavior as a problem. It will be hard for anyone, including myself, to come up with any judgment on the root causes, because I'm not sure anyone outside of those who understand joshi could make any judgment. Conversely, tolerating the dissolution of the bond of trust between two wrestlers is wrong in any circumstance. People should always find another way to remediate grievances, even if it's a shoot fight in the locker room after hours. Of course, even that solution is insanely problematic, since violence shouldn't be used to settle any difference, but at the same time, at least Yasukawa would have been on the same page as Yoshiko.

For the promotion's part, STARDOM is addressing the situation. Taka Michinoclue from the comments on the With Spandex piece about the incident has this translation:
After being admitted to hospital, Yasukawa’s eye will require further scans tomorrow. What transpired during the match are in no way representative of STARDOM’s values. The General Manager will call an emrgency meeting with the leaders of the various STRADOM factions to address areas in the pormotion that need to be improved, in order to become a stronger and better organisation for the future. We would like to thank STARDOM’s fans for their support and we would like to apologise for any worry this incident has caused.
It's comforting to see the administration come down on Yoshiko's actions, and hopefully, the company will act the right way here. A highly-acclaimed wrestler isn't going to be active for awhile thanks to irresponsible actions of someone acting on outmoded viewpoints. Wrestling needs to be better than this, period.