Athlete Focus: The Niwa Brothers

WRITTEN BY ELENA STOWELL

If you don’t take risks, you can’t create a future.”  (One Piece, Clockwork Island Adventure) Was Monkey D Luffy saying this to the Straw Hat Pirates or to the Niwa brothers, Reon and Hiryu? That quote is from a favorite anime series that the brothers enjoy watching when they are not taking down opponents and making themselves known to the global jiu-jitsu community. 

When did that risk taking behavior begin? Perhaps for Hiryu, it was one day before Reon. Hiryu was by himself at Axis Jiu-Jitsu Academy (Yokohama) watching their father train jiu-jitsu when the professor asked if he wanted to join the class. There was no class for kids, so Hiryu took that risk, joined the adults and liked it immediately. He went home, told his older brother all about it, and from the next day forward, both were fixtures on the tatame. 

Many people mistake the inseparable brothers for twins, but in fact Reon is 14 months older. There is no sibling rivalry, and the brothers are indeed best friends. “We always train together, so we get to share the good and the bad.” said Reon. Hiryu quickly added, “And when one of us doesn’t want to keep going, the other is there to push them harder. We motivate each other.” They did admit to having days when they fought and left the gym not speaking to each other, but the silence always dissipated before they got home. 

The brothers share the same goal, to become Japan’s first black belt world champions. Last month, Reon and Hiryu finished 1, 2 on the podium at No-Gi Worlds and received their black belts from Professor Gui Mendes. They haven’t always competed in the same weight class, but thought it was fun to finish in the final together and plan to try it again. Their next tournament, their first as black belts, will be the Austin Open January 29th.  When asked who is more competitive, both said that Hiryu is. “I am more serious before a fight. I am very focused, and I don’t like to talk to anyone.” Reon, on the other hand said, “I like to be relaxed, listen to music and talk with my teammates.”  However, at the last competition, Hiryu admitted to taking a risk, “I tried to relax, like Reon. I spent some time talking to people … and the result was good. So maybe I will do it more.” 

While living in Japan, Reon and Hiryu were like most Japanese children. Each weekday was filled with school, studying and school-related activities. “We were at school from morning to evening. Then we would go train jiu-jitsu. Many days we got home at midnight.” When they were young, they could bike to school and the gym, but from high school to the gym was an hour by train. The struggle of fitting school, travel time and more training into a single day came to a head when Reon was at university and Hiryu finished high school. “We could only train at night, and we wanted to train more. We had our goal to become champions.” So, the brothers had that risky conversation with their parents – they wanted to leave their respective schools and dedicate themselves to jiu-jitsu. “Yeah, at first it wasn’t so good,” Reon said about his parents’ reaction. “School is very important in Japan. No parent wants their child to stop school.” Hiryu added, “But they saw how hard we worked, we had been winning tournaments in Japan, and so in the end they supported our decision.” 

That decision led the brothers to their current location, Costa Mesa, California at AOJ under the guidance of Gui and Rafa Mendes. “We met the Mendes brothers at a seminar in Japan. Of course, we loved their instruction, but it was extra inspirational because they are brothers like us.” Both Reon and Hiryu are enjoying the southern California vibe. “In California, there is a lot of nature, and the people are friendly. Japan is surrounded by water, but we don’t have beautiful beaches. We love Japanese culture too, it’s just different, a little more formal. “ When asked what they missed most when they missed home, they said Japanese food – especially their mom’s cooking. “After competitions we always go to the Japanese market. We crave that food.” Back in Japan, Hiryu worked at a sushi restaurant, so he does most of their meal prep. When the brothers take time to relax, they like to get out in California nature, preferably visiting hot springs that remind them of Japan. Hiryu is a sneaker-head and both like to watch anime, naming One Piece and Dragon Ball Z as favorites. 

Reon and Hiryu reached out to Hyperfly for sponsorship, “We were always watching the brand. Not just the quality of the clothes and how they looked, but also their partnership with other athletes we respect and follow. And having HEART … always having innate passion to motivate you to reach your goals. That’s how we feel.”  We at Hyperfly are glad they took that risk, and all the proceeding risks, that got them where they are today.  We are here to support you both as you create your futures – as athletes and as brothers.