A 25-year-old member of the Maritime Self-Defense Force died in September about two weeks after a martial-art-style “training fight” in which he was forced to fight against 15 other members one after another in Etajima, Hiroshima Prefecture, sources close to the case said Sunday.
The male petty officer second class died after sustaining a hard blow to the chin during the training fight at a wrestling facility of the MSDF’s special forces school. He was forced to take part in the fighting, the sources said.
At the time of the incident, the man was in the second year of the training school.
One of the two instructors at the scene acted as a referee and had other participants force the collapsing petty officer to stand up and keep fighting, they said.
The incident took place just before the man was supposed to be transferred to a submarine unit, they added.
Another member who was forced to take part in a special forces training fight against 16 people also sustained injuries such as broken teeth in July, the sources said, adding the incident also occurred shortly before the man was supposed to move to a different unit.
Instructors of the school told the family members of the petty officer second class that the training fight was meant to be “a farewell present” to him, according to the sources.
But the family members have slammed the incident. “It was not an accident during training. It was to make an example of him as a dropout and to physically punish him by the group,” the father of the dead officer was quoted as saying.
The development raises the possibility that such action against those who leave the special forces school might have occurred under the name of training.
MSDF Criminal Investigation Command is questioning the members and instructors involved in the incidents, the sources said.
According to the sources, the petty officer second class became unconscious on the evening of Sept. 9 after receiving a punch to his chin in the training in the afternoon.
He was rushed to a hospital but died of acute subarachnoid bleeding on Sept. 25.
The MSDF said the death was an accident in training in a press release but failed to disclose that it occurred in a training fight against 15 people.
The MSDF Staff Office told Kyodo News it believes the case was not group violence but a development that took place as part of training.
The MSDF has its members take part in the martial-art-style training fights using protectors on the head or body.
The MSDF special forces were launched in March 2001 following the entry of two suspicious vessels suspected as being North Korean spy ships into Japanese waters in March 1999.