Keith Vargo is a writer and martial artist based in Tokyo, Japan. He is a contributing editor for Black Belt magazine, where he writes a popular monthly column called, "Way of the Warrior." He has also written for Fightsport magazine, Karate/Kung-fu Illustrated, Sports World Japan, and Maxfighting.com. Click on the links to the right to read some of his essays.
Keith is also the author of Philosophy of Fighting: Morals and Motivations of the Modern Warrior. It's a collection of his best columns, spanning a decade of writing for Black Belt. The book explores how morality, mysticism, aesthetics, science, and human nature cross paths in the fighting arts. Click the book cover in the left column to learn more about it or order a copy.
Keith began his martial arts training in 1984 under judo champion Jordie Hamilton. Later he attended Radford University, participating in the United States' only college-level martial arts training program. In 1996 he graduated from Radford with a B.A. in Psychology and a Certificate in Multi-Cultural Self-Defense.
Since moving to Tokyo in 2000, Keith has devoted himself to mixed martial arts. He trained for 10 years at the world-renowned Takada Dojo, where he learned from top fighters like Kazushi Sakuraba
, Akira Shoji
, and Yoon Dong Sik
. He was also the first foreigner to have earned a shodan from Takada Dojo. More recently, he has trained with Shooto veteran Naoya Uematsu
and welterweight grappling champion Kohei Yasumi
Keith's writing is informed by his experiences as an active competitor. He has fought amateur matches in Pre-PRIDE, PRIDE Challenge, Shootboxing, DEEP, and Kingdom Ehrgeiz events. He has also fought in many submission wrestling matches and tournaments as well.
Defending against a throw at Pre-PRIDE 3.
In 2001, Keith participated in Tokai TV's Pre-PRIDE, an MMA reality show. The fighters on the show trained at the best gyms in Japan for a few months and then fought each other in an 8-man, one-night tournament. The prize was a chance to turn pro and fight in a PRIDE Fighting Championship event. Pre-PRIDE helped launch the careers of many fighters, including the Ultimate Fighting Championship's Yushin Okami
and top Sengoku contender Eiji Mitsuoka
In the Pre-PRIDE 3
tournament, Keith made it to the final match, but lost by decision. The picture above is from that match. On the left is the late Naoto Morishita, the first president of the PRIDE Fighting Championships, watching the action.
A counterpunch in the shootboxing tournament.
Keith's best showing came in March 2007, when he took part in the 17th All-Japan Amateur Shootboxing Tournament. Winning this tournament is often a stepping stone to a pro fight career. In the past, it's been won by top fighters like shootboxing welterweight champion Kenichi Ogata
and MMA star Hayato "Mach" Sakurai
Again, Keith fought three times in one day. This time, he won all his matches decisively, even knocking his opponent down three times in the final match. With that win, he became the 2007 Amateur Heavyweight Shootboxing Champion, his first national title.
Waiting for the match to start in the DEEP ring.
Keith's best single-match performance was in June 2007. He fought in an MMA event for the DEEP promotion called Oyaji DEEP
. It was an event for older fighters that was broadcast on Samurai TV. In it, competitors age 35 and up fought under full MMA rules. Keith was matched up against a judo black belt and scored a TKO in 14 seconds. It's his fastest win to date.
In addition to his MMA competition, Keith also fights in submission wrestling matches and tournaments. His most recent grappling competition was a professional match in November 2013. At the age of 43, Keith fought 25 year old Pancrase and DEEP veteran Tatsuhiko Nishizaka
to a draw at the Kingdom Spirit 2013 show. But Keith's biggest grappling match was in January 2010. He fought in the DEEP X Future King tournament, beating PRIDE, K-1, and UFC veteran Satoshi Honma
via judges' decision and winning the heavyweight division.
Working for an armlock while MMA legend Tsuyoshi Kosaka watches in the background.
Keith is currently working on a book about his decade of living, training and fighting in Japan. It will explore the meaning of the martial arts through his experiences in the training hall and in the ring. Readers will go along with Keith as he encounters centuries-old fighting arts, tangles with pro-wrestlers, tries to navigate Japanese martial culture, and fights a guy he used to watch on pay-per-view. But they'll also get insights on being a martial artist in the 21st century, as Keith tries to square the high ideals of the martial arts with the brute facts of competition.