Over the past few years, Japan’s two-time World Cup Champion Sachi Amma’s focus has slowly moved away from climbing competitions and toward testing the boundaries of his abilities on some of the toughest routes in the world. His journey led him to Spain to conquer an old nemesis and reach personal heights he didn’t know were possible.
Q What do you like about climbing in Spain?
A My favorite style of rock climbing is sport climbing, especially trying hard routes. Spain is the perfect place to do this for me, especially Oliana.
Q Why is Oliana your favorite area to climb in Spain?
A I go to Oliana every year. The atmosphere in Catalunya (Catalonia) is slow, and I am relaxed all the time. I love it. I had so much unfinished business, which motivates me. I “sent” the Fight or Flight route last February so it’s time to go to another area.
Q What else do you like about Spain?
A The people in Spain are powerful and positive. I am shy and quieter, but their energy opens my heart.
Q What other areas in Spain outside Catalonia are on your wish list?
A I am interested in Villanueva del Rosario. I would like to make my next trip there.
Q How about climbing in Japan?
A The Japanese climbing scene is getting bigger in recent years. So many young, strong climbers, big climbing gyms and talented people who support climbing are here. It is so cool to stay here. I am inspired almost all the time when I go climbing. There isn’t as much good rock for sport routes, but I often travel overseas to climb, so it’s not a problem for me.
Q What climbers do you look up to?
A Yuji Hirayama is my favorite climber. I am inspired by how he has changed the climbing community. Adam Ondra is my good friend. I was motivated watching him grow. I cheered him on and I want to push myself like him.
Q When do you think has been your best climbing moment, when you felt in the best shape or most motivated?
A Actually, I enjoy climbing every day, and every day is different. Every day changes me and brings me fresh air, and I always have a clean mind when I am climbing. After sending Fight or Flight, I was full of motivation.
Q What kind of mindset do you try to keep while working a route?
A If I am nervous or motivated, I will never become tired or unfocused. I try hard to stay in a place between nervous and motivated.
Q What is an intense training day for you?
A In an intense training day, I try four hard circuits in the bouldering room. It takes four hours. And I do bouldering one or two days in a week with friends, making boulders with each other and trying hard. I climb four or five days in a week.
Q Do you have any other hobbies or sports you enjoy?
A I love cooking. Food is really interesting to me. What I want and what I need is often different. I am slowly changing to eat what I need, but it is not easy.
Q As a climber, what is your best skill or quality?
A I cannot find the good word in English, but it is called “shuchu-ryoku ” in Japanese. It means power of mind when I focus; I guess the ability to concentrate.
Q When you pick a route, what do you take into consideration?
A When I was around 20 years old, I just went for what motivated me. The Fight or Flight route was the one. But now I want to find more good routes which open myself to the world. Climbing is my way of dong this, and I want to find as many cool routes as I can, because life is short.
Q You won the World Cup in 2012 and 2013, and you were seventh in 2014. Were you disappointed?
A I participated in only four World Cup events in 2014 instead of all eight. I won in Chamonix and Briançon in France, so I was very happy with my performance in competition in 2014. I planned to do fewer competitions and more outside climbing in 2014. Outside climbing was more attractive to me than competing. I don’t mean competition is not cool. It is a beautiful way to show your skill to the world. I just wanted to do my best on rock.
Q Are you friends with the other competitors at the events?
A They are friends and competitors. When I was young, I was thinking only about winning. But I realized if I focus only on winning, I don’t learn from the other climbers.
Q What is the best advice you’ve received from other climbers?
A Adam Ondra once said, “Your mind is your strongest muscle.” It helps me all the time when I lose confidence.
Q Your current project is to “send” ten 9a or greater routes in 2015. Why so many?
A I feel like my outside climbing experience is not yet enough to get to the next level. So I made a goal to send ten 9a or harder routes in 2015. I already completed seven, so I keep pushing myself as much as possible so I can do it this year.
Fight or Flight
Catalunya is one of my favorite places to climb in the world. The high concentration of so many hard routes means you are never bored working on just one or two routes. Over the past few years, I have been drawn to the area, especially to Oliana. I had unfinished business with Fight or Flight (9B). I tried the route more than 25 days over the last two years. I didn’t think twice about buying a plane ticket and setting forth on a journey to finish what I started. When I close my eyes, my heart tells me the way of climbing is also the way of being happy. This is very important to me. My last trip to Oliana was very stressful, so it was important to make this trip fun. On my fourth day in Spain, I found myself at the base of Fight or Flight. What had been a warm day started turning breezy and cool. That morning I had no intention to work the moves and send the route. I booted up and asked my friend to belay. I surprised myself and sent Fight or Flight in one try. What shocked me the most was that I completed the project so fast. After sending Fight or Flight, my confidence and motivation soared. I didn’t want to stop, and in the end I climbed far more hard routes than I ever dreamed on the trip.—Sachi Amma