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.

Kesa Gatame_My Championship Judo
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.

Paul Maruyama and Roy 2
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.