Innsbruck 2018: Thank you very much for taking the time for this interview. Congratulations for your gold medal, it was an inspiring performance. Unbelievable!
Koichiro Kobayashi: Thank you. Yes, unbelievable for me too. Laughs.
Were you born fully blind?
No, I had a sickness at the age of 28. I gradually became blind.
Were you already climbing before the sickness?
Yes, I started climbing at the age of 16.
Did your level still increase afterwards? Or were you already at the level that you are now?
I think that it’s almost the same now than then . It went up and down in between of course.
What do you do in your every-day life? Do you have a job, or do you just climb?
I teach climbing to disabled people in Japan. I’m a representative of an NGO in Japan that is involved in paraclimbing. It’s called Monkey Magic.
Is there a big paraclimbing community in Japan?
Yes. It’s difficult to say how many exactly. Relatively few disabled climbers focus on competition. Most of them just enjoy gym climbing. I would guess that there around 100 or 150 disabled climbers in Japan. Once a year we have a National Championship. We have about 15 to 20 blind climbers who compete and many more other disabled people. My motivation is to get people together to climb with Monkey Magic. I do a lot of events in Japan. Sometimes we get 50 to 60 people together, blind and no-blind. I want blind people to find out how enjoyable climbing is. This doesn’t mean that they are all competitors. Once they find out how enjoyable and social climbing is, they start climbing regularly. 90% do it as a leisure activity, about 10% are more serious competitor climbers.
Do you also climb outside?
Yes! My job at Monkey Magic keeps me quite busy. I need to figure out some time to go outside. I love climbing more than anything.
How many competitions do you take part in per year more or less? Are there some Asian Cups?
We have a National Championship once a year. And then there are international competitions like this one once a year. I participated in the inofficial first Paraclimbing World Championships in Russia. After that I went to the IFSC World Championships in Arco in 2011. Since then I have joined every single World Championships, which is only 5 in total, including Innsbruck 2018.
What method does your coach use to give you instructions while you climb?
We use the method HKK in Japanese. In English it’s DDS (Direction, Distance, Shape of the hold). We say 2 o’clock, far away, finger-pocket, etc. but for the feet it’s a bit more complicated. We still have to figure out a good method for the foot placement.
What about the climbing sequence?
When I compete, my coach also tells me sequence. This means that I climb, and he teaches me the idea. This is not ideal because I prefer to think about the sequence myself. At the World Championships, the gold medal is the goal. This means giving as much information as possible. That’s the key. But I actually don’t like it. I always tell the coach: I’m not your robot. He’s not the remote control. When I climb for myself, I only want to know about what holds are coming up, not which one to take when. I love figuring out the sequence, it’s an important part of climbing.
When you go rock climbing, can you lead climb? How does it work?
Does you belayer tell you where the bolt is?Indeed, he tells you where the clip is, where the quick draw is. So I have to search first, grab the rope, etc. When I climb overhanging, I have to find where the quickdraw is, which is often very hard…
How hard do you climb on rock?
It depends on the style. Slab climbing is very hard for me. Without vision, balancy stuff is very difficult. When a route fits me, I can climb around 5.12d.
Koba, thank you very much for the conversation.
20.000 VOLUNTEER WORK HOURS
500 KG CHALK
Climb. Come together. Celebrate!