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U.S. History of Judo


Judo- a Japanese martial art system dating back to Feudal Japan. Judo is the modern form of Jujitsu; Dr. Kano modernized it in the late 19th century. It consists of throwing movements, which often lead to broken limbs of the thrown victim. The United States has an interesting growth of Judo. The first major contact between Judo and America came with President Grant in 1879. He was in Japan for a state visit and observed a Judo demonstration. Later, in 1889, Master Kano (very active figure in Japanese Judo) gave a lecture on the philosophy of Judo to several Americans; however, the lecture had little effect on main stream Judo growth. The first American to actually study Judo came with Prof. Ladd from Yale University in late in 1889. He trained at the Kodokan in Japan for about ten years; by 1908 about 13 Americans were training there. A couple of years later, 1919, Prof. John Dewey of Columbia University came to visit Prof. Ladd and Master Kano, many years later he would take his knowledge back to Columbia and began the first U.S. college Judo program. While some students were training in Japan there was some action in the U.S. Perhaps one of the most important figures in the U.S. development of Judo is Yoshiaki Yamashita. Yoshiaki came to the U.S. in 1902 in order to teach Judo to the Japanese community. Yoshiaki ended up teaching to Sen. Wadsworth’s wife, who happened to attend the same country club as Theodore Roosevelt. Mrs. Wadsworth told Theodore about Judo and Roosevelt became interested in the sport. Yamashita was subsequently invited to Washington to give a demonstration at the White House. There was a contest with a wrestler by the name of John Graft, who was the coach at the U.S. Naval Academy and who was teaching President Roosevelt wrestling. Although Yamashita threw him time after time, Graft continued to get up. Finally, Yamashita decided that he would do mat work with Graft, since there seemed to be no end to the match. In the mat work, Yamashita got an arm lock on Graft, but the wrestler would not give up. Yamashita kept up the pressure until Graft groaned as his arm came close to breaking. President Roosevelt was impressed and took judo lessons. After leaving office, he kept mats in his home. Roosevelt studied judo for about a year, earning a brown belt in the process. Through the help of the president, Yamashita taught judo at the naval academy. Judo suddenly had its first strong roots in the United States. Yamashita decided to return to Japan, but other Japanese Judo participants followed his example. The Judo concentration was mainly centered in Washington before WWII. Judo first entered the Western United States when Dr. T Ito began teaching Judo in Denver in the 1930’s. During WWII Judo was banned in many areas due to the Japanese fear; however, a boom followed the war. Many service men picked up martial arts (especially Judo) during the war and returned home to teach them all across the country. The official Judo federations formed in the 50’s and 60’s. In modern times, Judo has taken a role in mainstream culture. In the late 60’s and early 70’s Judo became the third largest sport in the array of Amateur Athletic Union activities. Tournaments were quite frequent at this time and Judo was at its peak. In 1964, Judo was added to the Olympics. In present day, Judo is still widely practiced, but its lack of mainstream enthusiasm has caused it to step down to other martial art movements in the U.S. The future of Judo is a little cloudy; however, with the addition of Chinese Wu-Shu to the Summer Olympics, Judo and other Japanese arts will likely see a continual decline.