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.


Doug Rogers_Judoka_10828_LG
Doug Rogers in the documentary, “Judoka”, by director Josef Reeve

“So far in my film career, I’ve been an SS trooper, a submarine commander, and the fastest gun in the East,” said Doug Rogers of his part-time work in Japan in the early 1960s. “But I’m getting tired of being the villain. I want to be a hero for a while.”

And so, he became the hero. Doug Rogers not only won a silver medal in the first Olympic Judo championship ever at the Tokyo Summer Games in 1964, he starred in a short black and white documentary by director Josef Reeve – “Judoka“. (This link takes you to the full-length high def version.)

Rogers moved to Tokyo at the age of 19 in 1960 after learning all he could about judo in Montreal, Canada. The birthplace of Judo, Japan, was where judoka from all over the world aspired to train. Rogers was part of a small but growing number of foreign judoka desiring to train in the Kodokan, and grapple with the university students and policemen who made up the most competitive pool of judo talent in the world.

The documentary is a wonderful look inside the mind of Rogers as he reflects on his five years in Japan, on the judo training regimen, and more broadly, on life in Tokyo in the mid-1960s. The scenes of Rogers resting in his small apartment, walking his neighborhood streets and attempting to get in a crowded train are impactful, cleanly framed on black and white film.

Judoka_Rogers Outside his Apt
Screen capture of Rogers outside his apartment, from the documentary, “Judoka”

It’s the training scenes, up close with occasional slow motion takes, that demonstrate the intensity of the judoka’s training – the opening scene when they are running barefoot shouting “ichi…ni”, when they are doing push-ups, or when they are sending each other tumbling to the mat. Rogers talks about how fortunate he was to be able to train under legendary judoka sensei, Masahiko Kimura. Kimura’s training regimen was brutal, but effective. Rogers explained that they would do 600 push ups a day, sometimes a thousand, explaining that they all knew it was unreasonable to push their bodies that far, except that, they did indeed get stronger.

As Rogers said in the film, “No one before Kimura, no one after. I’m the only Westerner he ever taught. He said I could be champion. In fact he says I must be champion. I don’t think Kimura recognizes physical limitations. He just trains beyond whatever happens to come up. For me, he says he stays up nights thinking of ways to make me stronger, better. With him I can win now.”

The humbleness of the documentary’s production is echoed by the humility of Rogers’ words, when he ruminates on life in Japan. The film is only 18 minutes long, and yet you get a quick sense from the narrative that Rogers grew from a boy to a man in Japan. In a wonderful passage where he and another judoka named Morita are filmed at an empty Budokan (the stadium built for the Olympic Judo championships in 1964), Rogers reflects on how his thinking matured.

“I went into judo trying to be tough and be strong. But I found as you get more and more skillful, the desire to act big and tough, sort of works the other way. I know I have the skill now. I don’t have to talk about it.”

Doug Rogers (far left), Isao Inokuma, Parnaoz Chikviladze and Anzor Kiknadze at the 1964 Olympics

Rogers would go on to become a judo champion as a member of the Takushoku University team in the All-Japan University Championships, as well as at the World Championships in Rio de Janeiro in 1965. He