VIVO Pro Kabaddi has seen unprecedented growth since the league’s inception in 2014. This season is going to be biggest yet with a number of young, domestic and international kabaddi players joining the fray. One such name is Japanese all-rounder Takamitsu Kono. The 24-year-old impressed one and all with his speed and agility in the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup where he scored 19 tackle points for his country. But not many know that this right corner is also a third generation Buddhist monk who balances his monk duties with kabaddi with great discipline.

“I am a priest during the day and a kabaddi player after sunset. My daily routine requires me to perform prayers at the temple and handle its administration work," the Japanese told theTimes of India recently.

As a youngster, Kono was on his way to becoming a monk like his father and grandfather before him. He would regularly accompany his father during prayers. Then one day he found a page dedicated to kabaddi on the website of Taisho University - where he received his degree in Buddhism - and the sport instantly caught his fancy. "The first time I played the sport was when I was 18, and since then it was impossible for me not to play kabaddi,” he said.

Kono manages to retain his composure throughout the duration of matches and is never seen betraying any emotions. “The training of a monk has taught me to be kind and polite to everyone, on and off the mat,” he explained, “Although kabaddi is a contact sport, I show controlled aggression which has a lot to do with me being a monk.”

“Meditation helps me stay calm during crunch situations and allows me to refocus on the game better. But to be honest, on the mat I am a kabaddi player; off the mat I am a monk. I do meditation for a short while before every match which helps me to calm my mind and body," he further said.

Kono will be eager to prove his worth to the Deepak Hooda-led Puneri Paltan outfit, which will be looking for their maiden VIVO Pro Kabaddi title this season. But before that he said there were still areas in his game he needed to address. “I think I need to work on skill training and gain more weight.”

After Japan’s entry in the Kabaddi World Cup, the sport is taking slow but steady steps towards popularity in the country. Kono hoped his inclusion in VIVO Pro Kabaddi this season will eventually help the cause. "It was not a popular sport in Japan but is picking up pace now thanks to the World Cup last year. There are more university teams in Japan. If more and more Japanese players start playing in Pro Kabaddi, it will help the sport gain popularity back home," he said.

After winning their opening game against Maharashtra rivals U Mumba 33-21 on last Friday, the Paltan confront Dabang Delhi K.C. at Nagpur’s Mankapur Indoor Stadium next, and the monk will be hoping to make his match debut amid much anticipation.