STORYA look at the Founding of R-body project

Part 01The Moment of Inspiration

“Recently my shoulder really hurts”

When R-body founder and CEO, Takeshi Suzuki, returned to Japan from the United States after studying abroad as an athletic trainer, he overheard members of his local gym complaining about various physical symptoms such as shoulder pain.

As he observed them working out, he noticed that they went from machine to machine, repeatedly training 10 reps x 2 sets. Watching the situation, Takeshi couldn’t hold back the feeling that they were not doing the correct type of training to “fix” the problems that they had been talking about earlier.

Of course, the gym had trainers working there, but they were just students working part-time, so didn’t have the knowledge or skills to offer professional advice. He then began to wonder if there were actually any athletic training services in Japan that taught people how to fix pain through exercise, like he had experienced in the United States.

Up to that point, Japanese people tended to visit the gym for one of 3 main reasons: muscle building, dieting, or for revitalization (stress relief). He thought that another reason should be added and promoted, namely the concept of “improving one’s physical and functional movement”. Thus, the idea for founding R-body was conceived and this concept is still at the heart of everything R-body does today.

Part 02The reality of life as a professional trainer.

Takeshi Suzuki, having studied athletic training in the United States, had another feeling of something not being quite right in the Japanese fitness industry upon his return to Japan. It was in regards to “the status” of a professional trainer and how the job was viewed within society.

This feeling was re-enforced when he had the opportunity to travel around the world with the Japanese national team. None of the players regarded him as an “athletic trainer”, like in the United States, and the monetary compensation was also poor compared to his peers in other developed countries.

Furthermore, in the United States, athletic trainers who work in the sports industry are deemed as “quasi-medical workers” and can use their hands to treat athletes for pain relief, but in Japan performing this type of work was illegal without a separate license.

“I can’t even use these hands of mine, which I’ve spent years training to help athletes”, thought Takeshi, and began to wonder, “What should I do in the future? Do I want to become a doctor? Or perhaps I should become a physiotherapist?” At the same time, he was also conflicted as to whether he should break out on his own and try to live independently using the skills and knowledge he had acquired in America.

Part 03What is the true role of an athletic trainer?

Whilst he was upset by the low reputation of athletic trainers within the Japanese sports industry at that time, Takeshi had been selected as the first trainer to accompany the Japanese national team overseas, and so for the sake of future trainers he decided to make sure he earned the trust and respect of the players he worked with.

The players, being top-level professional athletes, do not easily entrust their bodies to other people, as it is their most valuable asset. Therefore, Takeshi had to display his knowledge and skills to earn their trust. His seemingly magical ability to cure their pain and other physical issues, ensured he soon won them all over to his side.

Having earned the confidence of the players, and with plenty of ongoing opportunities to boost his skills and experience, it looked like everything should be smooth sailing ahead. Indeed, he could have easily kept doing things the same way, with a reputation as a “miracle worker”.

However, Takeshi was not satisfied, as he felt that he was only providing temporary relief from pain and not curing the underlying causes of pain. In other words, the athletes would be stuck in a cycle of “pain followed by treatment” repeating itself for the same injury.

Taking a long-term view of what was best for the players, he decided that the role of the athletic trainer should not be simply to provide pain relief, but more importantly it should be to help the players create a body that is resistant to pain or injury from occurring in the future.

Part 04Japanese trainers have the skills to be the best in the world.

Takeshi Suzuki believed that Japanese people have the qualities necessary to be top-level athletic trainers on the world stage. He felt that if Japanese trainers acquired the relevant medical and scientific knowledge to accompany their current skills, they could help cure athletes of physical pain and help them to remain injury free. He felt proud to be Japanese, and wanted to help put Japanese athletic trainers on the world stage.

He wondered if he could make this vision become reality by becoming “a charismatic athletic trainer” and a pioneer in the industry.

Using one’s skills to solve the pain of top athletes brings great pleasure as an athletic trainer. At the same time, though, if the root cause of the pain is not resolved the athlete will suffer the injury again in the future and the cycle will repeat itself.

Providing pain relief to an athlete is like giving medicine to someone who has caught a cold. It provides relief from the symptoms. However, the optimal outcome would be for that person to not get sick again in the future by adopting a healthier lifestyle. In the same way, for athletes, we need to teach them the correct functional movements to ensure they reduce the chances of suffering a repeat of the injury. Taking this long-term perspective led Takeshi to further deepen his resolve to shake up the athletic training industry in Japan.

Part 05A company is like a sports team.

Takeshi Suzuki’s vision was starting to take shape. First, he resolved to change the perception and status of athletic trainers in Japan. Next, he wanted to use the medical and scientific knowledge that trainers possess to educate wider society on the benefits of creating a functional body, resistant to pain and injury. And finally, he wanted to use conditioning exercises to help people solve the underlying causes of current pain they may have.

Based on the above vision, R-body project was founded by Takeshi Suzuki in 2003. At that time, he was a 32-year-old post-grad student who still had a student ID card. Although he started his company without any knowledge of running a business, Takeshi recalls that “I learned everything I needed through being on the school sports teams.”

He treated his business like a sports team, where everyone has a specific role to play towards a common goal. And the goal can only be achieved if everyone works together as a team. He applied the things he learned on the field of sports to the business of running a company.

Furthermore, Takeshi understood the need for “team-mates” in order to make the vision in his head become reality. To that end he began establishing ties with like-minded people, including not only fellow athletic trainers, but also university researchers and medical doctors.

Part 06A profession that might not exist in 100 years time.

At R-body, our regular trainers are called ‘conditioning coaches’. Since a trainer’s role is to guide people towards their goals, we think that ‘coach’ is the most appropriate word by definition.

In fact, at R-body we believe that one day the job of a trainer might disappear. This is because we imagine a future in which ‘conditioning’ is one of the fundamental subjects that is taught to school children, just like reading, writing, and mathematics. Perhaps 100 years from now, school teachers will be teaching kids about conditioning from a young age.

Instead of accepting pain and trying to get temporary relief from therapeutic techniques, if people become empowered with the correct knowledge about their body and the most appropriate exercise techniques, then they literally become the trainer for themselves. We believe that it is our mission to empower people with this knowledge.

On a separate note, Takeshi Suzuki’s parents are both elementary school teachers. He says that because his parents always displayed a human touch with their students, they were subsequently invited to the weddings of former students all over the country for many years. For Takeshi, growing up in this environment, it may have been fate that even as an athletic trainer he would have a vision of becoming an educator.

Part 07The etymology of the company name.

When R-body project PLC was first established, the goal was to “help people to regenerate their body”, hence the name R-body. In terms of the people we serve, our vision was to offer our services to men and women of all ages, not just a limited number of top athletes. We wanted to make the high-quality services of top athletic trainers available to everyone.

The reason why “project” is attached to the name, is that there was a sense of maybe wanting to create a new world. We say “maybe” because the CEO Takeshi Suzuki himself said that he came up with the company name based on a flexible sense of feeling, rather than with a fixed orientation or pre-determined path.

R-body is not a business that was started with the goal of “making money”. Instead, since our founding, we have been focused on how best to use the skills and knowledge gained as top athletic trainers to help all people improve themselves, and contribute to improving the status of the athletic training profession in Japan.

Moving forward, we will continue striving to close the gap between “medical treatment and exercise as medicine”. It all leads back to a desire to change the scene Takeshi Suzuki observed at that local gym, almost 20 years ago.