Reay Miura Hoare Bregman at Kodokan
Tony Reay, Sensei Miura, Syd Hoare, Jim Bregman in the Kodokan; from A Slow Boat to Yokohama
Since that time in December, 1954, when Syd Hoare came to a judo dojo in London, he understood that the very best judoka trained in Japan. Seven years later, Hoare got a ticket on a steamer that took seven weeks before it pulled into Yokohama. He made it to the Mecca of Judo.

A friend from England met him at the port, and drove him into Tokyo. That evening he had soba for dinner, and fell into a sleep so deep he didn’t feel an earthquake that rumbled in the middle of the night. In his first full day in Japan, he opened up a bank account, visited the legendary home of judo, the Kodokan, and then bought his judo wear, called judo-gi.

Hoare-Syd-A-slow-boat-to-Yokohama-a-Judo-odyssey1On Day two in Japan, Hoare had his initiation to Japanese judo. He picked up his brand-new judo-gi and made his way back to the Kodokan. He bumped into fellow Brit and judoka, George Kerr, who helped Hoare navigate in his new judo world. Hoare watched George and another friend John, walking where they walked, bowing when they bowed. And when he entered the main dojo, as he explains in his wonderful autobiography, A Slow Boat to Yokohama, Hoare was impressed.

I had never seen so many black belts in one place before. All were standing to one side, waiting for the mass bow to the teachers. In one corner on a wooden stand stood a massive barrel-shaped drum. An old grey- headed sensei approached it and hammered out a tattoo of about fifteen beats which quickly got faster, followed by two slow bangs at the end. Then on the command “seiza!”we all moved forward and knelt down in orderly ranks. Next followed “Ki o tsuke! Sensei ni rei!” and we all lowered our hands and head to the mat.

Hoare of course trusted Kerr to guide him in the right way in his first few days in Japan. After all, he was literally fresh off the boat. Kerr said that Hoare could go up to anyone on the floor and ask for a tussle, called a “randori”. Kerr pointed out a “fairly chunky Japanese” standing near them, and suggested that Hoare ask for a randori. Hoare didn’t think too much about it and did as was suggested.

Isao Inokuma in action
Isao Inokuma
I went up to him and in halting Japanese said “Onegai-shimasu”. He looked surprised, paused a moment, then walked out on to the mat where we bowed to each other. I soon found myself in a very vigorous randori.

At that time I had done virtually nothing in the way of judo or any other kind of training for nearly two months, and it felt a bit weird to be back on the mat. After about three minutes when nothing much had happened, we stumbled to the ground and I got him in an immobilization hold called kuzure-kesagatame. I think, he wasn’t trying too hard and let it happen. I kept him under control for about twenty seconds (a thirty second hold-down would have been a loss) during which time his struggles got rougher and rougher.

The hold-down was one I had worked on quite a lot in the UK and was deceptively strong. He broke out of the hold just before time, and when we stood up again he began pasting me from one end of the hall to the other. I took a hammering and endured it for about ten minutes, then said “mairimashita” and bowed off. I staggered back to George and asked him who he was. “Oh”, he said most innocently, “that was Inokuma, the current All-Japan champion.”

Isao Inokuma, who took gold as a heavyweight at the 1964 Olympics, was at that time actually the runner up in the 1960 and 1961 All-Japan Championships, but became All-Japan champion in 1963. At any rate, Inokuma was a judo legend, and Hoare’s painful introduction to judo in Japan.

Japanese gymnast, Yukio Endo celebrates his gold medal victory in the parallel bars in 1964, with teammate Shuji Tsurumi, who won silver, in an era when the Japanese ruled in men’s gymnastics.


Officials in Japan are aiming for 16 gold medals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

“Medals will encourage athletes,” Olympics minister Toshiaki Endo was quoted as saying in this November 27 Japan Times article. “It will be better to have a goal, so that the state can support (those who would be able to) offer hopes and dreams to children.”

Fifty-six years ago, on the eve of the start of the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo, Kenkichi Oshima, head of the Japanese Olympic delegation, said basically the same thing, stating that Japan must win at least 15 gold medals as “an encouragement to this country’s upcoming generation.”

The Japanese team pulled in 16 gold medals in 1964, with the third highest medal haul in those games. It is common for the host country to do well in the medals race, but the Japanese team continued its success vis-a-vis other countries through the early 1980s, as you can see in this table.

Japan Medal Table.PNG

But as the number of countries rose, as did the level of competitiveness, Japan began to slip in the medal rankings between 1988 and 2000. With a renewed effort, Japan matched its 16 gold medals in Athens, and more recently in London grabbed 38 overall medals, more than it had ever done before.

Over the years, judo, gymnastics and wrestling have been Japan’s strongest competitive advantages, with assists from weightlifting and archery, but in recent years, Japan has become a power in swimming.

Is a target of 16 gold medals in 2020 reasonable for the third largest economy in the world? Rio in 2016 will give us a clue.

Tadahiro Nomura with His Three Gold Medals
Tadahiro Nomura (left), a three-time Olympic judo champion at 60 kg, attends a Monday news conference in Osaka. | KYODO

He won gold medals in the 1996 Atlanta Games, the 2000 Sydney Games and the 2004 Athens Games in the extra lightweight (-60kg) judo division. No other judo-ka has ever accomplished such consistency for so long.

On August 31, Tadahiro Nomura (野村忠宏) announced his retirement from competitive judo at the age of 40. As he was quoted in this Kyodo news report, “I began to feel my physical limit,” the 40-year-old Nomura said at a news conference. “I’ve done everything I can. I have no regrets.”

In addition to his three consecutive Olympic golds, he also won gold in the Judo World Championships in 1997, as well as bronze in the 2003 World Championships in Osaka. The man from Nara, Japan often won in spectacular fashion. He employed a seoi-nage technique, a throw where the thrower’s feet get in between the opponent’s legs in lightning fashion, and the thrower is able to toss the opponent over his back and shoulder with unexpected ease.

See the video below for a visual explanation, which is in Japanese, but fairly self-explanatory. A more detailed explanation of the seoi-nage in English can be found at this link.

Nomura comes from judo pedigree – his uncle Toyokazu Nomura was the gold medalist in the -70 kg division of the 1973 Games in Munich, while his father coached Shinji Hosokawa to gold at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

Team picture of 1964  US Judo Team from DC Judo; from left to right: Paul Maruyama, Jim Bregman, George Harris, Ben Nighthorse Campbell)
Team picture of 1964 US Judo Team from DC Judo; from left to right: Paul Maruyama, Jim Bregman, George Harris, Ben Nighthorse Campbell

Paul Maruyama grew up in Tokyo with three other brothers who were always fighting each other. His mother, a Seattle-born Nisei, was fed up and said, “if you’re going to fight, then fight at the dojo.” She dragged the brothers to a neighborhood judo dojo, where the brothers all started their journey to black belt. For Paul, his journey would continue as member of the US Judo Olympic team in 1964, and Head Coach of the 1980 and 1984 US Judo Olympic Teams.

Competing at the Olympic level is a challenge. But Paul Maruyama readily acknowledges that his efforts and accomplishment pale in comparison to those of his father.

After the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the Soviet Union invaded Manchuria, where the Japanese had a significant colonial population. The Soviet army captured Japanese Imperial Army soldiers and sent them to labor camps in Siberia, while non-combatant Japanese who were in many cases pioneer families who volunteered to cultivate farmlands in Manchuria, were trapped on the Asian continent, denied exit by the Soviet Union.

Maruyama’s father, Kunio Maruyama, had made his way to Japan with two other men, Hachiro Shinpo and Masamichi Musashi. As Paul Maruyama describes in his book, Escape from Manchuria, the three men maneuvered covertly out of Manchuria. They were on a mission to inform the government in Japan that some 1.5 to 1.7 million Japanese were unable to leave the former Japanese colony, where thousands were dying daily due to disease and starvation, as well as at the hands of Soviet soldiers, and revenge-seeking Chinese and Manchurian mobs.

Escape from Manchuria coverThe three then had to convince the head of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP), General Douglas MacArthur, that an urgent rescue was needed. It took over two years, but by August 1948, three years after the end of the second world war, American warships had repatriated over a million Japanese. So many more remained – children abandoned or taken in by Chinese families, Japanese women married to Chinese and their children who were not considered Japanese citizens, as well as men who were imprisoned in Siberia.

What a legacy! Think about it. The greatest growth in Japan’s

From the book, “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”

He was 6 foot 6 inches or nearly 2 meters tall. When Anton Geesink entered a judo tournament, in a time when there were no weight classes and a 120-kilogram giant like Geesink could compete against a 70-kilo judo-ka, he intimidated. Geesink was a European storm, and the Japanese could hear it coming in the early 1960s. In 1961, Geesink defeated the Japanese champion Koji Sone, ending Japanese domination in the sport.

In 1964, it seemed pre-ordained that Geesink would make it to the finals. But the Japanese held out hope that Akio Kaminaga, would rise to the occasion and uphold national pride. And there they were, in the Budokan, facing off. Ada Kok, winner of two silver medals in swimming at the Tokyo Olympics, was there to witness. Kok is Dutch, and as a reward to medalists, the Dutch Olympic Committee invited Kok to watch her compatriot, Geesink, in the judo open weight finals.

Geesink vs Kaminaga_Tokyo Olympiad 1964_The Kyodo News Service
Geesink asking the crowd to quiet down. From the book “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”

“I had just turned 16, so I accepted this invitation as something normal. It was just a fight to me at the time. But on reflection, I realized I was watching a culture shock of sorts, going throughout Japan. The Budokan was silent. Quiet. I could hear people crying. It was like a solar eclipse had suddenly blackened out all of Japan. It was a feeling of doom.

“But of course, it was tremendous for us, the Dutch. And I remember the Dutch officials were elated, and wanted to jump on

I am American, but of Japanese ancestry, so when I’m in Japan, I don’t get the “gai-jin” treatment – gawked at, overly praised for rudimentary Japanese, etc.

When Syd Hoare moved from England to Japan to train in judo in the early 1960s, he found the “constant attention” irritating. As he related in his book, A Slow Boat to Yokohama, “Wherever I went I was stared at, which was not that surprising since gaijin were bigger on average, with different color of hair, eyes, and skin.”

Hoare went on to tell this strange-but-true phenomenon where certain Japanese are so un-used to dealing with foreigners that they can’t quite rationalize one who speaks Japanese. Even though Hoare describes an incident from the early 1960s, as you can see in the above video, this brain cramping still occurs with certain Japanese. Both the story below and the video above are hysterical.

One time, when I was in Kyoto, an old shortsighted couple came up to me. The man asked me in Japanese where the Kiyomizu Temple was. Just as he neared the end of his question, his wife noticed that I was a foreigner and began badgering him. ‘Gaikoku no kata desu yo’. (‘He is a foreigner.’) By that time I had told him in Japanese exactly where the temple was. He was trapped between the information I had given him and the warning from his wife. The problem was that one part of his brain was telling him that he did not speak English, while the other half was telling him that gaijin cannot speak Japanese. I repeated the directions and walked on.

katahajime_180x210Training in the martial arts can be brutal. Olympian Syd Hoare felt this keenly when he moved from his home country of England to Japan to study judo with the very best. Wrenched knees, broken noses, dislocated shoulders, ripped-off toe nails – doesn’t matter. Stay calm, and carry on.

One of the more notorious training routines of judo (back in the day) was to purposely strangle someone to unconsciousness. This was partly done to teach the judoka how to revive the unconscious. It was also done to educate (to not get oneself in a position to be strangled, I suppose).

Hoare-Syd-A-slow-boat-to-Yokohama-a-Judo-odyssey1Hoare, who represented Great Britain at the 1964 Summer Games, wrote in his wonderful book, “A Slow Boat to Yokohama”, how his training in England included the “kata-hajime” strangle technique. Here is a somewhat chilling description.

“Then it was my turn to strangle my partner out but he was one of the fighters. Even as I was putting my hands in place for the kata-hajime strangle, he tensed his neck, preventing me from taking the full position. So, I softly started again, and then locked it on hard and quickly. Immediately he grabbed my hands and tried to tear them away from his throat, but the strangle was on securely. He began to flail around gagging and choking. At one point he arched violently

Family Weekly, September 6, 1964
Family Weekly, September 6, 1964

Judo was first introduced to the Summer Games in Tokyo in 1964, with an obvious nod to the host country, Japan. But judo was already an established international phenomenon by that time, across America and Europe.

According to the Family Weekly article, “few sports are growing as swiftly in America today as judo. At the close of WWII, there were perhaps 10 judo clubs in the US and no more than 100 wearers of the black belt. Now there are at least 1,200 clubs, more than 2,000 black belts, and 300,000 people participating in the sport.”