Geesink vs Kaminaga 2_Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha
Geesink and Kaminaga, from the book, “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”

It was Friday, October 23, 1964.

The Nippon Budokan was packed. But perhaps there was a sense of resignation at this, the penultimate day of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Despite the fact that three Japanese judoka, Takehide Nakatani, Isao Okano and Isao Inokuma had already taken gold in the first three weightclasses over the previous three days, there was considerable doubt that Akio Kaminaga could defeat Dutchman, Anton Geesink, in the open category.

After all, Geesink shocked the judo world by becoming the first non-Japanese to win the World Championships in 1961. More relevantly, Geesink had already defeated Kaminaga in a preliminary bout. So while the Japanese, including Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko who were in the Budokan, were hoping Kaminaga would exceed expectations, all they had to do was see the two judoka stand next to each other to be concerned – the 2-meter tall, 120 kg foreign giant vs the 1.8-meter tall, 102 kg Japanese.

Even though judo purists know that skill, balance and coordination are more important to winning than size, deep down many likely felt that the bigger, stronger foreigner was going to win. After all, the bigger, stronger US soldiers and their allies had defeated the Imperial forces of Japan in the Pacific War.

And so Geesink did, defeating Kaminaga handily, sending the Japanese nation into a funk.

That was late in the afternoon on October 23. About 13 kilometers southwest of the Nippon Budokan and the site of Kaminaga’s defeat, the Japanese women’s volleyball team was preparing for their finals at the Komazawa Indoor Stadium. They too were going up against bigger, stronger adversaries, from the USSR.

In this case, however, there was a lingering sense that their magical women of volleyball would defeat the Soviets. They had in fact already done so at the World Championships in 1962, walking into the lioness’ den in Moscow and winning the finals. So when nearly every citizen in Japan had settled in front of their televisions that Friday evening, having the choice of four channels to choose from to watch the match, they were gearing up to explode in celebration.

And yet, Geesink had just sunk Kaminaga, as well as Japan’s hopes of sweeping gold in the only sport at the Olympics native to Japan. Maybe we just aren’t big enough, or strong enough, some may have thought.

Hirobumi Daimatsu, coach of the women’s volleyball team, accepted the challenge and worked over the years to train his players to compensate for relative weaknesses in size and strength, with speed, technique and guts. And much to the relief and joy of the nation, the Japanese defeated the Soviet Union in straight sets: 15-11, 15-8 and a tantalizingly close final set, 15-13.

Japan's Women's Volleyball team victorious 1964_Bi to Chikara
Japan’s Women’s Volleyball team victorious from the book, Bi to Chikara

And on that Friday evening, the day before the final day of Japan’s two-week Olympic journey to show the world that they were a nation to be recognized and respected, a team of diminutive Japanese women took down the larger Soviet women.

Whatever lingering sting from Kaminaga’s loss remained, whatever bad feelings of boycotts by the Indonesians or the North Koreans may have left, even perhaps, whatever shame that came from “enduring the unendurable” after the nation’s defeat in the Second World War, may have washed away in that moment the ball fell to the ground for the final point of the match.

On that day, Japan was a nation re-born – young, confident, world-beaters.

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A friend of mine in Denmark recently sent me a wonderful gift – a commemorative souvenir stamp sheet that went on sale on October 10, 1964, the opening day of XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo.

It is a beautiful set that show off some of the iconic venues of the Tokyo Games, including the 30-yen stamp featuring the Nippon Budokan Hall. The popular Japanese martial art of judo was debuting at the 1964 Games, and the Japanese government decided to build  a structure just for judo at the Olympics.

Not only was the stamp publicizing the Budokan, it was helping to pay for it.

From the first Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens, governments have raised funds for Olympiads through the issuance of stamps. According to the IOC, more than 50 million Olympic stamp series have been issued since 1896, generating revenue for Olympic operating committees through surcharges on stamps.

Receipts of Olympic Fund Raising Association
From the final report of the Olympic Games

An organization called the Olympic Fund Raising Association was created in December, 1960, mandated with raising funds primarily from private sources. The Association was responsible for raising funds for the Olympic Organizing Committee, the Japan Amateur Sports Associations to help raise the performance level of athletes in Japan, as well as for the construction of the Budokan.

And according to the final report of the Olympic Games published by the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee, stamps were the Association’s best money maker, as you can see in the table below. What’s also interesting is the number of fund raising projects the Association oversaw: advertising in telephone books and trains. And not only did they make money off of selling cigarettes, but also thanks to legalized gambling in motorboat, bicycle and motorcycle racing, among many other things.

The Olympic Fund Raising Association raised a total of around JPY6 billion (USD16 million), and 16% or JPY963 million was due to stamps.

 

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The inside of the commemorative stamp booklet.
Syd Hoare_A Slow Boat to Yokohama
Syd Hoare, from his book, “A Slow Boat to Yokohama”

Syd Hoare, a member of Team Great Britain’s judo team in 1964, the year judo debuted as an Olympic sport in Tokyo, died on September 12, 2017. While I never had the honor to interview him, I did read his wonderful book, “A Slow Boat to Yokohama – A Judo Odyssey.”

Based on his life story as a young judoka, “A Slow Boat to Yokohama” tells well his journey to Japan to learn at the mecca of Judo in the early 1960s, and then competing at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. I have borrowed those stories for a few of my blog posts:

For a wonderful look at Hoare’s past, here is an obituary penned by his daughter, Sasha Hoare, in The Guardian.

My father, Syd Hoare, who has died aged 78, was an Olympic judo competitor, author and commentator.

The son of Alfred Hoare, an executive officer at the Ministry of Defence, and Petrone (nee Gerveliute), a waitress, Syd enjoyed a wild childhood in postwar London: scrumping, climbing trees, jumping out of bombed-out houses on to piles of sand and being chased by park keepers. At 14, while a pupil at Alperton secondary modern school, Wembley, he wandered into WH Smith and found a book on jujitsu, which led to judo lessons at the Budokwai club in Kensington and sparked a lifelong passion for the sport.

Syd quickly became obsessed with judo and underwent intense training, often running the seven miles back to his home in Wembley to lift weights after a two-hour session at the Budokwai. In 1955, at 16 he was the youngest Briton to obtain a black belt and two years later won a place in the British judo team. He respected not only judo’s physical and mental aspects but its link to eastern philosophy.

For more, click here.

Syd Hoare from The A to Z of Judo
Syd Hoare portrait from back cover of his book, The A to Z of Judo
Okuri Ashi Harai 1_My Championship Judo
Okuri Ashi Harai 1, from “My Championship Judo”. Geesink is the judoka in the background.

In 1964, when judo debuted at the Tokyo Olympics, it had already built up a strong international following. Still, the Japanese were the dominant competitors by far, and Japan was the mecca for judoka around the world.

The Judo community at the time was aware of the rise of Dutch judo giant, Anton Geesink, because of his surprise victory at the 1961 Judo World Championships in the open weight class, the only non-Japanese to ever win an international title at the time. But Geesink’s victory at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics let the entire world know that judo was very much an international sport.

After winning the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, Geesink put his energies into coaching others in judo. He wrote a book in Dutch called “Mijn Judo,” in 1966, which was translated into English the same year. I recently got a hold of that book, My Championship Judo, and saw that Geesink’s development as a judoka was a series of building blocks of techniques he learned throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

“My Championship Judo” is predominantly a training manual, explaining and showing in detail the key judo techniques. But at the end of the book, Geesink talks about how his development went through different phases of focus: Ashi-Waza (leg work) to Uchi-Mata (over-the-thigh throw) to Sasae-Tsuri-Komi-Ashi (which Geesink called “Lifting Leg Block”), and Ne-Waza (ground work). This four-part series will share Geesink’s insight into each of those techniques.

When Geesink was a teenage judo sensation in the Netherlands, he loved his leg work. He said that he played a lot of football where legwork was important, where speed and mobility were vital to success. Thus Geesink believed, is why he developed his Okuri-Ashi-Harai technique, a throw under the category of Ashi-Waza (leg technique), so early in his career.

Okuri Ashi Harai 2_My Championship Judo
Okuri Ashi Harai 2, from the book,”My Championship Judo”

Here’s how he explains the Okuri-Ashi-Harai technique in his book, My Championship Judo:

To perform Okuri-Ashi-Harai I have put my left leg closely round my opponent’s right leg in order to get my foot against the outside of his ankle. As he has not drawn his legs together, he can turn his right foot so far that my foot gets only as far as his instep. Now Okuri-Ashi-Harai has become impossible and I again product a combination. I quickly take my foot off his instep, place it about 2 inches in front of his toes and keep tugging at him, so that his full weight is transferred to his right leg. (See picture 1.) I have acquired a splendid position for O-Soto-Gari. I raise my right foot high to the front (picture 2) and with a terrific sweep of that leg I shear my opponent backwards of his feet (picture 3)

Okuri Ashi Harai 3_My Championship Judo
Okuri Ashi Harai 3
Sports Symbols 1964 and 2020
Can you guess which symbols represent which sports from 1964? Go to the end for answers.

A picture, they say, tells a thousand words. You could also say, it tells it in a thousand languages as well.

In 1964, as organizers were preparing for the arrival of tens of thousands of foreigners for the Tokyo Olympics, the Japanese were concerned with how to direct people to the right places and the right events with the least amount of error, particularly in a country where foreign language proficiency was poor.

The decision was to use symbols to show people where various places were, like the toilets, the water fountain, first aid and the phone. Symbols were also used to identify the 20+ sporting events on the schedule for the Tokyo Olympics. Due to this particular cultural concern, the 18th Olympiad in Japan was the first time that pictograms were specifically designed for the Games.

Over 50 years later, the symbols have become de rigeur for presentation in Olympic collaterols and signage.

Karate symbol_asahi shimbun Karate competitor Kiyou Shimizu poses in a similar manner as the karate kata pictogram in Tokyo’s Koto Ward on March 12. (Takuya Isayama)

On March 12, 2019, the day when officials announced that there were only 500 days to go to the commemcementof the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, they introduced the pictograms designed for the 2020 Games.

“I was thrilled with being able to participate in the history of Olympics,” said Masaaki Hiromura in this Asahi Shimbun article, a Tokyo graphic designer who designed the pictograms for the 2020 Games. “I was able to make them in which we can be proud of as the country of origin that first made pictograms for the Games.”

At the top of the post is a comparison of the symbols designed by Yoshiro Yamashita in 1964 (in gray), and the symbols designed by Himomura (in blue).

For 2020, as you can see below, there are far more sporting events…which means far more tickets. Those tickets go on sale in April.

Tokyo 2020 pictograms 2019-03-12-pictograms-tokyo-thumbnail
Masaaki Hiromura: Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games pictograms

Answers to caption question: 1 – athletics; 2 – fencing; 3 – wrestling; 4 – volleyball; 5 – canoeing; 6 – soccer; 7 – aquatics; 8 – weightlifting; 9 – artistic gymnastics; 10 – modern pentathlon; 11 – sailing; 12 – boxing; 13 – basketball; 14 – equestrian; 15 – rowing; 16 – hockey; 17 – archery; 18 – cycling; 19 – judo; 20 – shooting

Oriental Witches_4_Tokyo Shimbun
That instant when the weight of a nation fell off their shoulders, from Tokyo Shimbun.

October 23, 1964 was a momentous day for Japan. Two of the most memorable sports events in Japanese history took place on that day, both which left irrevocable imprints on the Japanese psyche.

That afternoon, hulkingingly tall Anton Geesink of the Netherlands handily defeated Akio Kaminaga of Japan in the open weight class of the judo competition at the Budokan, thus denying Japan to win gold in all four weight classes in judo’s debut at the Tokyo Olympics.

That evening, the Japanese women’s volleyball team closed out the Soviet Union in three straight sets to win gold at the Komazawa Indoor Ball Sports Field, thus fulfilling the expectations of an entire nation.

The Japanese judoka did their country proud by dominating and winning in the other weight classes of a sport that was born in Japan. But despite the fact that Geesink had already defeated Kaminaga in the past, including in this particular Olympic tournament, the shock to the nation of a non-Japanese winning a judo competition was significant.

In comparison to the “West”, the Japanese saw themselves as underdogs. After all, it was only 19 years earlier when the Allied Forces flattened Japan with its superior weaponry, and then ruled over Japan as occupiers for over 5 years. Judo was a Japanese creation, and yet a taller, stronger Westerner easily defeated Japan’s best. Was Geesink’s victory yet another symbol of Japan’s “inferiority”?

But only a few hours later, the national psychology was already undergoing a shift, as people all over the country completed their day’s work, settled down to meals, or gathered in public places to watch the finals of the women’s volleyball competition. The Japanese team had never lost since joining international competition and losing to the Soviet Union in the volleyball world championships in 1960. This very team had already defeated the Soviet Union at the 1962 world championships…in Moscow. And so, the weight of an entire country pushed heavily on the shoulders of these Japanese women, particularly after the jarring disappointment of that day’s judo finals.

Fortunately, the women of the Japanese volleyball team restored their country’s faith in themselves by easily defeating the Soviet Union in three sets. The shorter, less muscular team from Asia defeated the taller, more powerful team from the West, on the biggest sports stage in the world, on the final competitive day of the 1964 Olympics.

Oriental Witches_5_Asahi Graf
The Japanese women’s volleyball team sharing their success with one of the owners of a hotel the team often used on their trips around the country, from the Asahi Graf.

In fact, the way the Japanese women – aka, The Oriental Witches – won became a symbol for Japan and its dramatic turnaround, from a nation defeated and devastated to a nation most resilient and proud. Christian Tagsold of Heinrich Heine University describes this symbolism in his article entitled, “Remember to Get Back on Your Feet Quickly: the Japanese Women’s Volleyball team at the 1964 Olympics as a ‘Realm of Memory’.”

… the Oriental Witches were clearly linked to the economic and technological progress of the 1960s. This success replaced the more classical notions of the nation in Japan and supported a new type of nationalism. Economic achievements were vital for regaining international standing as a nation, because the GNP acted as a yardstick for national pride. The Oriental Witches embodied this new self-assurance.

Tagsold is referring in his title to a particular maneuver developed by team coach Hirobumi Daimatsu, a technique called “kaiten reshibu” (receive and rotate). Players were trained to dive for balls, using their momentum to roll as they hit the ground, like a judoka would, so that they could emerge back on their feet quickly to take on another attack. This technique was a competitive advantage as Japanese players were more willing to dive to the hard court floors and quicker to their feet than players on other teams.

Tagsold highlights this technique as a symbol of how the underdog Japanese can outperform bigger stronger foes, not only on the volleyball court, but also on the global economic stage.

(The kaiten reshibu) was a symbol for the means in which Japan had invested to regain her economic strength only two decades after suffering the worst. The invention of clever technical solutions was imperative to the country, which saw itself as small island without natural resources to offer. Daimatsu did for volleyball and Japanese sports, in general, what Morita Akio did as a leader of Sony and what Ohno Taiichi achieved at Toyota by introducing the Toyota Production System. The rolling dive recovered lost time and reduced the burden on Japanese bodies caused by their inferiority compared to Western athletes.

… the kaiten reshıbu could be read very naively as the story of post-war Japan. The Japanese fell, but they got back on their feet again quickly. It had taken the country only 19 years to be back on top, both economically and in women’s volleyball…. The women overcame all hard attacks and rolled on the ground only momentarily. But falling was part of the success in the end. Many conservatives in the 1960s began to stress the sacrifice that the country had made in the Second World War as a cause for their current prosperity. In their opinion, it seemed inevitable to stumble once in order to be in a much better position in the future.

 

Sasae Tsuri Komi Ashi 1_My Championship Judo
Sasae Tsuri Komi Ashi 1, from the book “My Championship Judo”

In the second half of the 1950s, Anton Geesink made a commitment to improving his judo technique by training in Japan for 3-month periods. One of the techniques he learned in Japan was Sasae-Tsuri-Komi-Ashi, which literally means blocking, propping, lifting and pulling. Geesink called it the Lifting Leg Block, and it became yet another weapon in the Dutchman’s arsenal.

In the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, that is the technique Geesink used to handily defeat Ted Boronovskis of Australia in the semi-finals of the open weight competition.

Here is how Geesink explained this technique in his 1966 judo manual, My Championship Judo.

From Shizen-Tai I firmly advance my right foot to my opponent’s left leg and place this foot against the inside of his left foot almost as if I am trying to lift his leg. My opponent’s natural reflex will then be to raise that leg. My first aim has been attained: he has shifted his full weight on to one leg (his right) and on that leg I am now going to concentrate my attack. (in the picture) you can see how I have moved in; my body strongly inclined to the right, my right foot on the inside of his left foot; he has instinctively lifted his left foot (Picture 1).

Pressing my body tightly against his, I now raise my left arm towards me, thus pulling him forward, and – as with any other throw – place the elbow of my right arm against his left side. At the same time I put my left sole against the outside of his right ankle, my leg being practically straight. Thus his full weight is shifted towards his toes and he is, therefore completely off balance. By pulling my body still a little further to the left and by continuing to prop his right foot with my stretched left leg, I can easily bring him to the ground (Picture 2).

By developing the techniques of Okuri-Ashi-Harai, Uchi Mata, and Sasae-Tsuri-Komi-Ashi, Geesink became a well-rounded judoka. This development in technique, combined with his strength, led to a thunderclap heard throughout the judo world in 1961. Geesink became the first non-Japanese in any weight class to win the world championships. He did so in the open weight class by defeating some of the strongest Japanese judoka: Akio Kaminaga, Hitoshi Koga, and Koji Sone. And yet Geesink felt he still needed to evolve. See part 4 for why and how he developed his Ne-Waza capability.

Sasae Tsuri Komi Ashi 2_My Championship Judo
Picture 2
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From the “United States Olympic Book”

The pictures are the first two pages of photo profiles of Americans on the US Olympic squad, from the summary report of American performance at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. As you can see and likely understand, America at the time demographically was generally perceived to be white. But it was changing, as minority groups, be they black, latino or Asian for example, were growing in size. Consequently, their representation in American Olympic squads were also growing.

But this was 1964, and race relations were beginning to brew, and get attention. In fact, it was October 14, 1964, the fifth day of the Tokyo Olympics, when the powers that be in Norway awarded Dr. Martin Luther King Jr the Nobel Peace Prize.

usolympic-team-portraits-1964_2
Note James Bregman’s head shot in the upper right-hand corner

In 1964, diversity and inclusion were not buzzwords in corporate America. They were in some ways an alien concept, something that you might only visualize if you happen to be passing through the United Nations when it was in session. But there was one shining example of that on Team USA in 1964 – the Judo team – represented by a Caucasian Jew (James Bregman), a person of Native American Indian descent (Ben Nighthorse Campbell), a Japanese-American (Paul Maruyama) and an African American (George Harris).

Judo is not a team sport. It is very much mano-a-mano, and while you learn from others, training can be done independently. In other words, in the case of the 1964 Team USA judo squad, their diverse make up did not necessarily contribute to their actual performance beyond the fact that they were all good friends, four of the few foreigners who ventured to the mecca of judo in Tokyo to live and train.

 

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L to R: George Harris, James  Bregman, Yoshihiro Uchida, Paul Maruyama, Ben Nighthorse Campbell

 

But for James Bregman, who won a bronze medal in the middleweight class at the 1964 Games, the “rainbow team” was an inspiration to him.

“I grew up in a black ghetto,” Bregman told me. “I was a Jewish kid with white skin who was picked on by black kids who were brutes. I actually experienced segregation. My father had a grocery store in Green Valley, Virginia, and we lived above it on the second floor. Behind our store was Drew Elementary School, only two blocks away. I could play basketball with the other kids there, but in the 1950s I couldn’t go to that school. Instead, they bussed me out to Fairlington Elementary School in a white neighborhood 30 minutes away.”

Bregman didn’t object to being bussed out – he said he really wasn’t conscious of the socio-economic context of race relations at that time. But he did know that he was beat up in his neighborhood. Very often the bullies would be black, but Bregman told me that he was brought up not to judge, that he should be respectful to everybody and that a few bad guys did not represent an entire group.

And yet, he was getting beat up nonetheless.

Bregman was a small boy, often sick, dealing with bronchitis and asthma as a child. His parents thought that keeping him active indoors would help, so he got lessons in baton twirling, tap dancing, gymnastics, acrobatics as a kid. But one day, his parents learned of a judo club in the officers’ athletic club at the Pentagon in Washington D. C. that also was open to the public. Bregman’s parents took him to the club and suddenly, he was hooked on judo. And the officer’s club was also eye opening, the closest he would come to being inside the United Nations.

Although the Officer’s Athletic Club was located in Virginia, it was not segregated since the Pentagon was the Federal Government’s military headquarters. You had black, whites, hispanics, Japanese, Chinese, people from embassies all over the world. The club membership was multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-religious. From the time I was 13 years old, those were the people I hung out with. Maybe it was subliminal, but it gave me an understanding that hatred based on these externalities was ridiculous.

In fact, what Bregman understood, as did his teammates on the US judo team, what brought them together was far more substantial than what set them apart. Harris, Campbell, Maruyama and Bregman had all trained together in Japan for 3 or 4 years, their tight friendship forged in the common experience of two-a-day training – relentless, punishing and exhausting training. According to Bregman, they were more interested in becoming waza-shi, or highly proficient in judo technique, than winning competitions.

Bregman felt that his team was the representation of an ideal America, a team built on merit and performance, not race or religion. “Being on the rainbow team had a tremendous impact on me personally. This team represented America, not the one I grew up in, but one I wanted to live in.”

Judoka James Bregman Part 1: To Be a Waza-shi

Judoka James Bregman Part 2: The Stoic Professionalism of Judo