Spotlight: Andy Hug – The Blue-Eyed Samurai

Know yourself, keep yourself under control, understand yourself, steel yourself, place cleanse your mind and keep your body fit.

-Andy Hug

Known as the “Blue-Eyed Samurai”, Swiss karateka Andy Hug was one of the most successful European Kyokushin fighters of his generation. Fighting at heavyweight, he was much smaller than many of the opponents he faced. His fighting style made him a fan favourite.

Andreas Hug was born in Zürich, Switzerland on 7 September 1964 and was the youngest of three children. His father, Arthur Hug of French and Swiss descent, served in the French Foreign Legion. He died in Thailand before his youngest son was born.

Hug’s mother, Madelaine Hug-Baumann was German. Unable to care for her newborn son, she put him up for adoption. He spent his first three years of his life in an orphanage. His grandparents, Fridy and Herman Baumann eventually raised him and his older siblings in the village of Wohlen, Switzerland.

As a child Hug played soccer. A talented player, he was soon representing Switzerland internationally at under-16 level.

In 1974, Hug began learning Kyokushin Karate at the Wohlen Karate School under Werner Schenker.

Hug had been bullied. Karate was a way for him to learn self-defence. His grandfather had been against him learning a strange, foreign martial art. He was soon persuaded by his wife, he saw Hug’s passion and talent for Karate.

By 1977 Hug was winning many Karate tournaments for lower grades. He still loved playing soccer. However, his grandparents were not in a position to pay for both activities.

November 1977 saw Hug selected to represent the Wohlen Karate School at the National Team Championships.

While Hug was still a teenager, his grandfather Herman Baumann died. His death hit the young Hug very hard.

Hug’s first major tournament success came in 1979 at the Swiss Oyama Cup. To enter the tournament, competitors had to be over the age of 20. Hug was 15 years old. However, the Swiss Karate Federation made an exception due to his exceptional talent. He won the title, defeating opponents much older than him. This success earned him a place on the Swiss National Team.

1981 was a big year for the 17-year-old Hug. Representing the national side, he was part of the Swiss team that won gold at the 4 Countries Team Tournament. They defeated the Dutch Team in the final. He also won the Swiss Oyama Cup, beating Heinz Muntweiler in the final. He also competed in the 5th Dutch Kyokushin Open Championships held in Weert, the Netherlands. Fighting at middleweight, he lot to Koen Scharrenberg in the semifinals to earn a bronze medal.

1981 also saw Hug co-found a Kyokushin dojo in Bremgarten, Switzerland.

In 1982, Hug continued his success from the previous year. Still fighting at middleweight he won the Swiss Championships. This established him as Switzerland’s top Kyokushin fighter. He reached the quarterfinals of the second European Championships and also the 6th Dutch Kyokushin Open Championships. In Budapest, Hungary he won the Ibusz Oyama Cup, defeating Mark Niedziokka in the final.

By 1984, Hug had established himself as one of Europe’s top Kyokushin fighters. In January of that year, he took part in his first World Tournament held in Tokyo, Japan. At the 3rd World Tournament, he made his transition to heavyweight. He reached the quarterfinals losing to Shokei Matsui on points. He also won another Swiss Championship title, this time at heavyweight.

1984 also saw Hug complete his apprenticeship as a butcher. His grandfather had helped him get the apprenticeship. He started working at Wohlen’s main wholesale butchery. His older brother, Charly, already worked at the butchery. Although working full-time, Hug devoted all his spare time to his Kyokushin training.

Now fighting permanently at heavyweight, Hug continued his success in 1985. He won the Ibusz Oyama Cup for the second time. He won his third Swiss Championship title and also won the Swiss Open, an open weight tournament.

December 1985 saw Hug compete at the 3rd European Championships held in Barcelona, Spain. He won his first major international title, defeating Klaus Peic in the final.

In 1986 Hug competed in the British Open, losing to Englishman Michael Thompson in the semifinal. He finished in third place. That year he was also released from his butchery job by mutual consent. His work had been affected by his constant time off for tournaments and also recovering from injuries he sustained.

At the 4th European Championships held in Katowice, Poland in May 1987, Hug lost to Michael Thompson in the semifinals. In the summer he met his future wife, Ilona, while she was working as a fitness trainer model.

At the 4th World Tournament held in Tokyo, Japan in November 1987, Hug made history. He became the first non-Japanese man to make the final of the tournament. On route to the final, he defeated Stefan Gopal of Germany; Masashi Kimoto of Japan; Yasuhiro Kuwashima of Japan; Ademir da Costa of Brazil; and Akira Masuda of Japan, in the semifinal. In the final, he lost to Shokei Matsui, who defeated him in the previous World Tournament.

The 1st Sursee Cup was held in Sursee, Switzerland on 17 September 1988. The Open Weight Tournament was organised by the Swiss Karate Association. Hug defeated Kenji Midori in the final.

Since Hug had faced Michael Thompson in the semifinal of the 1986 British Open, they had built a healthy rivalry, as two of the best European Kyokushin fighters. At the 5th European Championships held in Budapest, Hungary in 1989 they faced each other in the heavyweight final. Hug won the title. Two years later and the 6th European Championships, Thompson gained revenge by defeating Hug in the final.

In 1991 at the 5th World Tournament Hug lost in a controversial bout against Francisco Filho of Brazil. In their third round bout, Filho knocked out Hug with a kick to the head, after the bell sounded to end the round. This was Hug’s last World Tournament bout.

Hug switched from Kyokushin Karate to Seidokaikan Karate in 1982. Seidokaikan is a full-contact style of Karate, created by Kazuyoshi Ishii, and is derived from Kyokushin Karate. With a switch of styles, Hug had changed from an amateur to professional fighter. He spent the next few years competing in Japan.

On 30 July 1992 Hug made his debut Seidokaikan fighter. In Seidokaikan Kakutogi Olympics II tournament he defeated Toshiyuki Yanagisawa on points. Later that year, on 2 October, he defeated Taiei Kin in the final of the Seidokaikan World Cup, held in the Osaka, Japan.

Andy Hug married his girlfriend, Ilona, on 28 August 1993 in Inwil, Switzerland. Their son, Seya, was born on 19 November 1994.

Hug lost to Masaaki Satake in the 1993 final of the Seidokaikan Karate World Cup. The final was extended by several overtime rounds. Hug lost by sudden death in the tameshiwara (board breaking) contest. Although he eventually switched to K-1 Kickboxing later that year, he still continued to compete in Seidokaikan. In the final of the 1994 Seidokaikan Karate World Cup, he defeated Duke Roufus (who would go on to become a successful MMA head coach) in the final. In the 1995 Seidokaikan Karate World Cup, he faced a familiar foe, Michael Thompson in the final, where he defeated him.

For a group of people, it is as a fighter in the K-1 Heavyweight Grand Prix that Hug is best known. An international tournament, the K-1 Grand Prix saw the top 16 heavyweight fighters take part in a single night of fighting the crown the top fighter.

Hug began competing in the K-1 Grand Prix in 1994. In April 1994 he lost to Patrick Smith in the first-round by stoppage in the K-1 Grand Prix. The following year he lost to Mike Bernardo in a qualifying round of the 1995 K-1 Grand Prix. Hug had begun to question whether he had what it took to compete in the tournament. He faced men much bigger than him.

On 6 May 1996 Hug took part in the K-1 Grand Prix held in the Yokohama Arena, Yokohama, Japan. On his side of the drawer, he defeated Bart Vale of the US.; Duane Van Der Merve of South Africa; and Ernesto Hoost of The Netherlands to reach the final. He faced Mike Bernardo of South Africa who had defeated him a year earlier. Hug defeated Bernardo to become the K-1 Heavyweight Grand Prix Champion.

At the 1997 K–1 Grand Prix, held on 9 November at the Tokyo Dome, Japan Hug reached the final by defeating Pierre Guente of Canada; Masaaki Satake of Japan; and Peter Aerts of The Netherlands. He lost to Ernesto Hoost in the final.

At the 1998 K-1 Grand Prix, again held at the Tokyo Dome on 13 December, Hug reached his third consecutive Grand Prix final. He defeated Mark Russell of England; Ray Sefo of New Zealand; and Sam Greco of Australia. In the final, he lost to Peter Aerts of The Netherlands.

Hug had started to feel weak. On 17 August 2000, he was diagnosed with acute leukaemia, a type of cancer affecting blood and bone marrow. He was admitted to a hospital in Bunkyo, Tokyo, Japan. Six days later he fell into a coma from which he did not wake.

On 24 August 2000 Andreas Hug died from breathing difficulties and multiple organ failure. He was only 35 years old. His death was reported on all the major news channels in Japan. He was survived by his wife Ilona and their son Seya.

Hug’s funeral was held on 27 August 2000. His body was cremated and his ashes placed in the cemetery of the Hoshuin Temple, Kyoto, Japan. His pallbearers included Kyokushin fighters Francisco Fiho, Nobuaki Kakuda, and Nicholas Pettas.

800 guests attended the funeral. Guests, including former opponents Kazuyoshi Ishii, Hajime Kazumi, Akira Masuda, Shokei Matsui, Kenji Midori, and Swiss President Adolph Ogi. There was an estimated 12,00+ mourners gathered outside the funeral, to pay their respects.

In 2001 Andy Hug was elected to Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame.

Andy Hug was a much respected and beloved karateka, by fans and competitors alike. Japanese fans saw him as an ambassador for their culture. A Swiss sporting icon, he was a legend of Kyokushin Karate and Kickboxing. He made the successful transition from amateur fighter to professional fighter. He finished with a kickboxing record of 47 fights, 32 wins, 9 losses, 1draw and 21 KOs.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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