Anton Geesink set the judo world on fire by defeating Koji Sone in the 1961 World Championships. The tall and imposing Dutchman was the first non-Japanese judoka to win in any weight-class in a world championship.

However, Geesink wasn’t satisfied with the way he won. He wrote in his book, My Championship Judo, that he used a “halfway trick” to put Sone to the ground before immobolising him for victory. He felt that despite being the world champion, he needed to continue to improve.

When Geesink visited Japan in 1963 at the invitation of Tenri University, which had some of the best judoka in the world, he learned that Ne-Waza, or ground technique, was the Judo of the future. “In fact, it was the finals of the open weight class competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics when Geesink took advantage of a failed Tai-Otoshi attempt by his opponent, Akio Kaminaga. Geesink instead ended up pushing the Japanese to the mat, immediately maneuvering for a Ne-Waza technique Geesink no doubt sharpened at Tenri University.

My Championship Judo cover

 

Geesink wrote in his book that in his time (the 1960s), Ne-Waza, or ground technique, was considered minor by many Japanese judoka purists. “They are – in my opinion – too romantic with their insistence on deciding the contest by a spectacular throw.” But he learned in Japan that for training to be successful, 60% of the time needed to be spent on Ne-Waza, and the remaining 40% on Tachi-Waza.

Here is how Geesink explains a particular Ne-Waza technique – the Kesa-Gatame:

My opponent is recumbent on his back. I am at his right side, my right leg stretched forward, resting on the outside of the foot. My left leg is bent, so that I sit in what one might call a hurdling posture (think of hurdle-racing). My right arm passes around his head, so that I can hold his upper-arm with my right hand. With my left arm I lock in his right arm, which is gripped around my body. My armpit presses against his wrist and with my left hand I grip him precisely under his elbow. Consequently my opponent’s right arm forms a right angle; his elbow sticks out.

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Kesa Gatame, from the book, “My Championship Judo”

By concentrating my full weight on his trunk, resting only on the outside of my right foot and on the sole of my left foot, so that my buttocks have no contact with the ground, it has become impossible for him to move. If my opponent should succeed in resting the back of his head on the ground, he might be able to develop enough strength to free himself from my immobolising hold. To prevent this, I draw my right arm so tight that his head is moved forward, away from the ground. He has now become quite helpless, immobolised.

And when that actually happened in the finals of the open weight class at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, when Geesink immobolised Kaminaga in this Kesa-Gatame hold, an entire country fell into collective shock.

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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Uchi Mata 1, from the book, “My Championship Judo”

In part one, we learned that Anton Geesink started his journey as a championship judoka by mastering leg work that resulted in swift victories. But in 1952, he realized that his opponents were preparing for Okuri-Ashi-Harai or De-Ashi-Harai legwork techniques. Opponents learned to keep their legs spread further apart so that Geesink would have greater difficulty planting his left foot over their right foot to start the process.

But when the legs are spread apart, the judoka is, according to Geesink, more vulnerable to a quick over-the-thigh throw, or the Uchi-Mata technique. In his 1966 book, My Championship Judo, Geesink explains the footwork required to throw his opponent, “wind-mill” like, to the mat.

From Shizen-Tai I again more in obliquely with my right foot, my right hand high on my opponent’s left lapel, my left hand on his right sleeve at elbow level. Turning backwards to the left I next draw my left foot to the right, in such a manner that the back of my body is against the front of my opponent. Meanwhile, I have with my left hand pulled him well towards me and against me, and slipped my right arm under his left arm-pit, as with Tsuri-Komi-Goshi (picture 1).

With a slight give in my knees, I now – from a supple, strong position – perform my Uchi-Mata. No sooner have I adjusted my left leg, than I swing my right leg forward and upward in order to make again – by speed and impetus – a sweeping “wind-mill” of it. In doing so, I stand somewhat springily on my left forefoot, my knee slightly bent. My opponent has now completely lost his balance because I have pulled him with me as I bend obliquely forward. My sweeping “wind-mill” straight back between his legs, and the movement of my trunk, which simultaneously bends forward – nose pointing to the ground – bring my opponent to the ground with an enormous sweep (picture 2).

Uchi Mata 2_My Championship Judo
Uchi Mata 2
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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.

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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

I have searched far and wide for books in English about the 1964 Olympics, and have built a good collection of books by Olympians who competed in the Tokyo Olympiad.

My conclusion? Runners like to write! Of the 15 books written by ’64 Olympians I have purchased, 8 are by sprinting and distance track legends. But judoka and swimmers also applied their competitive focus to writing.

So if you are looking for inspiration in the words of the Olympians from the XVIII Olympiad, here is the ultimate reading list (in alphabetical order):

All Together

All Together – The Formidable Journey to the Gold with the 1964 Olympic Crew, is the story of the Vesper Eight crew from America that beat expectations and won gold as night fell at the Toda Rowing course, under the glare of rockets launched to light the course. The story of the famed Philadelphia-based club and its rowers, Vesper Boat Club, is told intimately and in great detail by a member of that gold-medal winning team, William Stowe.

The Amendment Killer cover

The Amendment Killer, is the sole novel in this list, a political thriller by Ron Barak, to be published in November of 2017. Barak was a member of the American men’s gymnastics team, who parlayed a law degree into a successful consulting business, as well as a side career as budding novelist.

Hoare-Syd-A-slow-boat-to-Yokohama-a-Judo-odyssey1

A Slow Boat to Yokohama – A Judo Odyssey, is a narrative of the life of British judoka, Syd Hoare, culminating in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics when judo debuted as an Olympic sport. Hoare provides a mini-history of British judo leading up to the Olympics, as well as fascinating insight into life in Japan in the early 1960s.

below the surface cover

Below the Surface – The Confessions of an Olympic Champion, is a rollicking narrative of a freewheeling freestyle champion, Dawn Fraser (with Harry Gordon), Below the Surface tells of Fraser’s triumphs in Melbourne, Rome and Tokyo and her incredible run of three consecutive 100-meter freestyle swimming Olympic championships. She reveals all, talking about her run ins with Australian authorities, and more famously, her run in with Japanese authorities over an alleged flag theft.

deep-water

Deep Water, is an autobiography of the most decorated athlete of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Don Schollander, who won four gold medals as the most dominant member of the dominant US men’s swimming team. Co-written with Duke Savage, Schollander writes intelligently of his craft, the technique and the psychological, finding a way for a swimmer strong in the middle distances, to sneak into victory in the 100-meter sprint.

Escape from Manchuria cover

Escape from Manchuria, is a mindblowing story by American judoka, Paul Maruyama, whose father was at the heart of one of Japan’s incredible rescues stories – the repatriation of over one million Japanese nationals who were stuck in China at the end of World War II.

Expression of Hope Cover

Expression of Hope: The Mel Pender Story tells the story of how Melvin Pender was discovered at the relatively late age of 25 in Okinawa, while serving in the US Army. Written by Dr Melvin Pender and his wife, Debbie Pender, Expression of Hope, is a story of disappointment in Tokyo, victory in Mexico City, and optimism, always.

Golden Girl cover

Golden Girl is by one of Australia’s greatest track stars, Betty Cuthbert, whose life path from track prodigy in Melbourne, to washed-up and injured in Rome, to unexpected triumph in Tokyo is told compellingly in her autobiography.

See the remaining book list in my next post, Part 2.

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George Gulack, former AAU gymnastics chairman and gold medalist at the 1932 Olympics, from the book Tales of Gold

Imagine you have a sport growing in popularity, growing so quickly that it takes roots in countries all over the world, developing at different speeds, with slightly different rules depending on where it was played. When judo first began holding international competitions, a rift occurred between the rules that dictate judo in its birthplace, Japan, and the rest of the world.

Judo-ka in Japan were traditionally not classified by weight classes, so you would have a 90 kg judoka face off against a 60 kg judoka. International bodies believed that fairness could be better achieved by having people of similar weight compete, as has been done with success in boxing.

Who makes the rules? Who decides who goes to a national or an international competition? In the case of the Olympics in the post-war years in America, when money began to be invested in the development of sportsmen and women, it was the Amateur Athletic Union, otherwise known as the AAU, which emerged as the national governing body for many sports disciplines, including track and field, gymnastics, wrestling, basketball and many others.

According to the book, “History of the United States Wrestling Federation / USA Wrestling” by Werner Holzer, the AAU had become a very powerful entity, frustrating coaches and athletes alike due to perceived lack of funding and support. This frustration was particular true in the “smaller” disciplines of wrestling and gymnastics where AAU mindshare appeared much greater in track and field.

Top of the list of complaints was the perceived AAU disregard for the views and expertise of the coaches to identify and select athletes for major competitions. Holzer explained that “the 1964 Olympic Games selection process personified the problem of the AAU being the ruling body for the sports of gymnastics. The AAU gymnastics chairman, George Gulack, selected the internationally inexperienced Vannie Edwards as the women’s 1964 Olympic Team coach. He appointed his wife, Fay Gulack, who was incapable and unknowledgeable about gymnastics, as the team manager. It was an arrangement destined for disaster!”

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Ron Barak

Ron Barak, a member of the 1964 men’s Olympic Gymnastics team, and today a practicing lawyer and novelist, first met George Gulack in 1962, when Barak was a sophomore at USC. Barak competed in that year’s National AAU Championships which served as the trials to select the U.S. men’s team that would represent the U.S. in the 1962 World Gymnastics Championships. Natural grade inflation in subjectively graded sports such as gymnastics, diving and figure skating favored the more established veterans in those sports. It’s just the way it was, according to Barak. This was Barak’s first appearance on the national scene, he told me, and he personally had no expectations of making the 1962 World Gymnastics Team and so he felt he was there to pay his dues and gain experience for what he was really after, a chance to make the 1964 Olympic Team.

But something strange happened over the three-day trials. For the first two days, Barak said he flew under the radar, largely unnoticed. He recalled that he was performing well and scoring well, and yet still felt more like a spectator than a competitor. However, after two days, he found himself in serious contention to make the 1962 World Games Team. He began to believe that all he had to do was perform at the same level on the last day and score at the same level, and he would make the World Games Team. Barak said he performed even better on the third day than on the first two days, but strangely, he told me, his scores plummeted, and he missed the team by a slim margin.

Barak said that Gulack came up to him after the competition was over and said “Don’t worry about it, Ron, your time will come. Just be patient.” Barak wasn’t sure what to make of Gulack’s words. Literally, they were nothing more than innocent words of encouragement. But Gulack, Barak said, presided over that three-day competition like it was his personal fiefdom and he was calling all the shots. Gulack was used to having his own way. He could occasionally be pleasant, Barak recalled, but more often he was a bully, if not an outright tyrant. Did Gulack’s words to Barak signify something more than their plain meaning? Lots of innuendo but no way to know.

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Gymnasts competing for the USA Men’s Gymnastics Team for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

Come 1964, Barak won the NCAA All Around Championships and finished high enough in the 1964 Olympic Trials to make the team . “Gulack continued to act as if he were making all the decisions, but the fact was that the seven U.S. gymnasts who made the U.S. men’s Olympic team in 1964 were the seven best male gymnasts in the country that year. No one made that team who didn’t earn it and no one not on that team deserved to be there.”

Barak suspected that because the male gymnasts on the whole were a veteran team, most of whom would not continue to compete much after 1964, Gulack had little to threaten them with even if he could.

According to others, Gulack appeared to exercise significant influence in the selection of the women’s gymnastics team. During the Olympic Games, several weeks after the official trials had ended in the United States and the women’s gymnastics team roster had been set, Gulack re-set the team roster in an unscheduled competition.

Members of the women’s team were rankled, and itching to push back. A rebellion was brewing and would come to a head in Tokyo in October of 1964.

Yasuhiro Yamashita overcome

Yasuhiro Yamashita won the gold medal in the open weightclass at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. He was the most dominant judoka of his generation. And he continues to be one of judo’s great ambassadors to the sport.

In an interview around 2004, Yamashita spoke about a talk he had had with an executive from NBC, the broadcaster in America that held the rights to coverage of the Olympics in the US. When Yamashita asked why judo was not so popular in America, the executive told Yamashita that it might be better to use English terms instead of the Japanese words used to describe the various judo techniques, and that the throws should incorporate a point system. More interestingly to me, the executive said that judo competitors should show more emotion. Yamashita said in the interview that he did not think that would be the right direction for judo.

I believe that the essence of judo should be protected at all costs. This essence is composed of, “Japanese language,” “courtesy and respect toward one’s opponent” and an “attitude that sets great value on the Ippon technique.” If these vital aspects of judo are lost, then the sport loses all the values that it has come to represent. In particular, I believe that the values of courtesy and respect are a most important foundation of the sport. In judo, even if you are victorious, you should avoid all temptation to show off, or to celebrate, and should maintain self-restraint and composure.

Yasuhiro Yamashita overcome 3

And yet, this debate over the proper way of carrying yourself as judoka, true to the way of the founder, Jigoro Kano, was why Yamashita’s victory at the 1984 Olympics was so poignant.

Yamashita carried himself stoicly during the competition, especially after he tore his right calf muscle in his opening match. He claimed in this video interview this attitude was a competitive advantage.

One of my strengths, though, is my grin and bear it attitude, and I knew there was no point in dwelling on it. I focused myself ready for the next match. If my injury became evident, it would make it harder. I was determined not to show any pain in my face and that I would chokehold my opponent to win. And that’s how I went into the remaining matches.

He competed without excuse or complaint, trying his best to hide his limp and intense pain, and ended up winning his four matches to win gold. That’s the judo way.

But when the judge signaled victory to the Japanese over the Egyptian, Mohamed Ali Rashwan, to win the gold medal, Yamashita lept to his feet. He thrust his arms into the air. Tears began to stream down his cheeks. In other words, Yamashita, who lost his chance for Olympic glory due to the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games, who was at great risk of losing his second chance, had somehow emerged victorious – finally, an Olympic champion. Again, here is Yamashita describing his emotions.

Yasuhiro Yamashita tossed in the airBefore I knew it I was standing up celebrating. I’ve never shown such emotion at a victory before. I had no time to feel anything like that. My injured leg had been hurting so much. I’d been fighting the pain all the way to victory. I just felt, “Yes! I’ve done it!” (Yatta!) I don’t think I really knew what was going on around me.

At the end of the match against Rashwan, you can see Yamashita limp off the mat, pausing to turn around and make a swift bow. He quickly turns around, and limps off. He cannot bend his right knee and yet you can see him racing off the stage and down the steps and into the arms of his teammates, who then proceeded to throw the huge Yamashita into the air with glee.

He could not help but celebrate. He could not maintain his composure. And that was all right. Yamashita had climbed a mountain. And he was on top of the world.