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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.

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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

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Members of the US Olympic Judo Team in 1964: George Harris, James Bregman, Yoshihiro Uchida, Paul Maruyama and Ben Nighthorse Campbell

When it was announced in 1960 that judo would make its Olympic debut in 1964 in Tokyo, Ben Nighthorse Campbell knew he had to be there. He had to be there not only to compete in the Olympics, but also to train. Japan was the mecca for judo, a martial art developed by IOC’s first representative from Japan, legendary Jigoro Kano.

So after years of training in the United States in high school and college, as well as in the US Air Force in South Korea, Campbell resolved to go to Japan and train at the Japanese judo powerhouse, Meiji University. In the 1960s, there was no organized funding system to train and support American athletes in judo, so Campbell sold his car and his house, and even cashed in his life insurance policy to pay for his trip to Japan.

“I’m not sure what I was thinking,,,it’s really hard,” Campbell told me. “You can’t believe the difference (between training in the US and Japan). You have to live with a lot of bruises. I was training 5 hours a day, first at Keishicho (where the police trained) in the morning, and then at Meiji in the afternoon. If you broke your nose, you had to show up. If you broke something else, you had to stand at attention for hours until you healed.”

Campbell, who would go on to serve in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate from 1986 to 2005, representing the state of Colorado, said in his biography, Ben Nighthorse Campbell: An American Warrior, “the training, in fact, was absolutely brutal. My nose was broken a couple of times, I lost two teeth, and I guess I broke or dislocated virtually every finger and toe I’ve got and suffered any number of bruises, contusions, and swollen ears.”

Training with the very best judoka in the world twice a day every day in Japan shaped Campbell into a champion, as he won US national titles from 1961 to 1963, and a gold medal in the open weight division at the Pan American Games in 1963. He also attended the Tokyo International Sports Week, which was held precisely one year prior to the actual start of the 1964 Olympics. This was a dress rehearsal for officials and planners, a way to test out preliminary operational plans, including the opening ceremonies. But it was also a legitimate sports competition for athletes who were invited.

Campbell was already in Japan for Tokyo International Sports Week, and pulled off what was considered an upset at the time. He defeated the captain of the Meiji University team, someone who was considered a strong candidate to make the Japan judo team. So when Campbell went to New York City for the Olympic trials, he was at the top of his game. He went on to win seven out of seven matches, five of them on falls, and won a spot on the US Judo Team.

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With only four months to go before the Tokyo Olympics, Campbell had to stay in shape and stay away from major injury. Unfortunately, he was not in Japan, where the competition was keen. Instead he trained against a large number of inexperienced judoka, which according to Campbell, can be unpredictable, and lead to awkward maneuvers that can lead to injury. As it turned out, Campbell had just such an experience, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. With the Olympics around the corner, Campbell felt he had no choice but to grin and bear the pain.

In his first bout in the Budokan during the last days of the Tokyo Olympics, Campbell faced off against Thomas Ong of the Philippines. The match was over in seconds, as Campbell simply rushed Ong and swept his legs out from under him for an ip-pon. His second-round opponent was a far heavier opponent from Germany, Thomas Glahn. And in the midst of battle, Campbell’s knee gave way, and then so did any chance of winning a medal. Campbell forfeited and hobbled off the mat. “If my knee was OK, I could have beaten him,” Campbell told me.

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Campbell and Geesink, from the book Ben Nighthorse Campbell: An American Warrior

Glahn would go on to earn a bronze medal, but could not do better as he lost to Japanese judoka, Akio Kaminaga. As it turns out, Kaminaga was the only Japanese not to win gold when he lost famously to the huge and hugely talented Dutch man, Anton Geesink.

And then the Olympic Games ended. It was time to say farewell. Campbell was hanging out with one of his friends from California, Don Schollander. Having won four gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics, the swimming golden boy Schollander was pegged to carry out the American flag for the closing ceremonies. But according to Campbell, Schollander had to leave, literally during the closing ceremony. So somehow, during the march in the stadium, Schollander handed Campbell the flag for the rest of the march. Campbell’s knee was aching. Cold winds were whipping through the late October evening. And the flag and its pole, apparently, is not so light. But according to Campbell in his biography, it was a weight he would bear with pride, not just on that day, but throughout his days of service.

Campbell has never forgotten that moment. He remembered it clearly twenty-five years later when, as a member of Congress, he voted for the amendment to make desecrating the American flag a crime. “I got some heat from the liberals for that vote, but it made no difference to me. I told my colleagues on the House floor that I didn’t fight in Korea or carry our flag in the Olympics so some fool could burn it.”

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Olympian Paul Maruyama with me!

Paul Maruyama has three wishes for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics:

  1. For the USA to do the best overall at the 2020 Games
  2. For Japan to dominate in judo in Tokyo in 2020
  3. For the 1964 US judo team to reunite and visit Tokyo during the 2020 Olympics

I had the great pleasure of seeing Maruyama, member of the US Judo squad in 1964, in his visit to Tokyo recently. A second-generation Japanese-American, he is introducing his family from America to Japan. He is also catching up with people who helped him research his book about his father, his father’s friends, and their part in one of the greatest humanitarian acts in Asia – the repatriation of over a million Japanese abandoned in China after the end of the Pacific War. See my post about his book, Escape from Manchuria.

Escape from Manchuria coverMaruyama is a retired Air Force officer in the American military. Even though he was born in Japan in 1941, Paul had American citizenship due to the nationality of his Japanese-American mother. As an American, and a member of the 1964 US Olympic team, he naturally wants America to do well in the Olympic competition. But judo is a Japanese sport, and he believes the 2020 Games will be an opportunity for Japanese judo to shine again.

“Japan is not as dominant as they used to be,” Maruyama told me. “If they are dominant again, I think judo can become technique-oriented again, not wrestling-oriented. When I watch judo today, it’s hard for me to figure out what is superior technique and what isn’t.”

“Many try to win by wrestling the guy down. But the throw is the main thing. You want the guy to stand up straight, to commit, and to pick his opponent up and slam him down on his back. But it’s difficult to do that. You have to commit. If you don’t commit and follow through effectively, you expose your back to the opponent and open yourself up to attack. My dream would be that Japan shows the world again what judo really is, throwing for ip-pon – tai-otoshi, uchi-mata, seoi-nage.”

But finally, Maruyama wants to bring the band back together again, those Americans who came to the Tokyo Olympics to compete in the Games inaugural judo competition. While judoka, George Harris (heavyweight), has passed away, Maruyama (lightweight), bronze-medalist Jim Bregman (middleweight), and former 2-term US Senator from Colorado, Ben Nighthorse Campbell (open) intend to be in Tokyo for the 2020 Games. And their hope is to bring over their coach, Yosh Uchida, who recently turned 96.

Celebrating the 100th birthday of America’s most celebrated judo coach in the land of judo during the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo – Maruyama thinks about that and smiles.

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Left to right, George Harris (heavyweight), Jim Bregman (middleweight), Yosh Uchida (coach), Paul Maruyama (lightweight), and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (open weight division).  Bregman won bronze in his division. Campbell was a member of the US House of Representative and the US Senate. Uchida, Maruyama and Campbell have also been conferred the Imperial Decoration (kunsho) in Japan for their separate contributions in the promoting US-Japan relationship.
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Yoshihiro Uchida and students inside the Yoshihiro Uchida Hall, the judo dojo at San Jose State. Credit Alexis Cuarezma for The New York Times

In America, when you think of the father of baseball, you think Abner Doubleday. When you think basketball, you think James Naismith. And when you think judo in America, you think Yoshihiro Uchida.

Not only has Uchida led San Jose State University to become the most dominant force in judo in America, coaching the university to about 90% of all national championships over the past 50 years. He has officially established the sport in America from his base at San Jose State University. According to this video short by ESPN on Uchida, the Japanese American from California, helped ensure that the AAU sanctioned judo as a competitive sport in 1953, and then had San Jose State host the first national championships.

Uchida was also responsible for establishing a weight-class standard. Judo up to then was a sport where anyone could face off against any other judoka, no matter their weight. But he and others did not think that fair, and in order to make judo more competitive, and thus more popular, weight-classes, as was the case in boxing and wrestling, were established.

London Games bronze medalist, Marti Malloy, was a student of Uchida at San Jose State, and said in this Players Tribune article: “Yosh is to judo what Gregg Popovich is to the NBA. When you’ve been around judo for as long as he’s been, you’ve seen just about everything. He’s taught me classic Japanese judo, in which you manipulate the balance of your opponent using precise technique. That differs from other styles around the world, like in Europe, where judo can be more physical and resembles something closer to wrestling. Call it old-school, but Yosh has this thing about setting an example to the rest of the country about what it means to get an education and also be a judoka.”

But it wasn’t all that simple for Uchida, considering that Uchida was a young Japanese American in California, where Japanese were often discriminated against. Uchida’s family in California were treated as enemies of the State after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. While his parents were sent to an internment camp in Arizona, Uchida, who was an American citizen, was drafted into the US military. “[My parents] thought they would be thrown in there and they would be shot,” said Uchida in the ESPN documentary. “They were really