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JUDO IN THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE
As commander-in-chief of the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC), General Curtis Emerson LeMay began to realize that his combat aircrews needed training in survival techniques. Shortly after WWII ended the Cold War started and lasted for more than four decades. He wanted also to keep airmen in top physical condition for the rigors of what he thought would surely come – the big war.
Gen. LeMay also recognized that a well organized Judo programs would not only help his airmen to increase physical fitness it would also teach aircrews to defend themselves if they were shot down into enemy territory. LeMay's first problem was finding enough qualified Judo instructors to carry out his program. He found the answer when he hired a former National wrestling champion and ranking Judo person Mr. Emilio ("Mel") Bruno (5th degree black belt) to organize and head up SAC's Judo and Physical Conditioning unit. So, in 1950 the SAC Judo program was born at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.
Since there were only a hand full of qualified Judo instructors, SAC then decided to train its own instructors by sending airmen with prior Judo experience to Japan's Kodokan Judo Institute for advanced training by the world's foremost experts. These airmen returned to instruct SAC airmen at the various bases. SAC also secured the services of ten of the Kodokan's highest ranking Judo experts to visit the United States and tour SAC bases to give advanced training to airmen in Judo, karate, and police methods.
Judo in Omaha began during the early 1950s. Mike Meriweather taught at the YMCA and Dr. Ashida (at 22 one of the youngest 5th-degree black belts) taught at the University in Lincoln. Also, a number of black belts practiced judo at Offutt Air Force Base. Among the better known military judoka were USAF Sargeants Mann, Augie Hauso, (1st Lt.)Phil Porter, Carl Flood, and La Verne Raab.
The first commercial judo school, the Omaha Judo Academy, was opened by La Verne Raab and Carl Flood after they left the military. Mel Bruno, who later became head of judo for SAC, taught judo at the Omaha YWCA and at the Omaha Athletic Club.
AIR FORCE JUDO GROUPS FORM UP
In 1952 General LeMay authorized a most innovative program to teach his SAC aircrews the art of "hand-to-hand combat." For a more officially sounding name, "combative measures" was coined by the Air Force. To accomplish this task, General LeMay directed the SAC Physical Conditioning units and Air Police units to select candidates for Martial Arts training at the Kodokan Judo Institute in Japan. The training sessions at the Kodokan would include Judo, jujitsu, karate, aikido, and other related forms that would eventually lead to certifying them to become instructors.
In 1953 the U.S. Air Force invited judo, karate, and aikido xperts from Japanto give demonstrations at many Air Force Bases over the United States. One purpose of this tour was to train judo instructors and combat crews to give exhibitions on and off base. A demonstration was also setup at the White House marking a mildstone in Judo development in America. Also, during 1953 the first National AAU Judo tournament was held at San Jose State College and the SAC team were invited to participate.
The SAC Judo Society was formed in 1954.
AMERICAN JUDO GOES INTERNATIONAL
In 1954, the first SAC Judo Tournament was held at Offutt AFB the Grand Champion was Airman Morris Curtis. Also in 1954, 26 SAC Air Police went to the Kodokan to study judo fourteen weeks. The curriculum consisted of police tactics, aikido, karate and, of course, judo. Two SAC judoists advanced to the last few rounds in the 1954 AAU National Championships at Kezar Stadium, San Francisco. The 12-man SAC team won 29 rounds and lost 19 but was unable to place a man. Sargeant Ed Maley, SAC, a member of the 1955 SAC Judo Team,placed in the 1955 AAU National championships-third in the 150-lb division. The Air Research and Development Command, USAD (ARDC), also entered a team in 1955, after only a year of competition, and A/1 C Vern Raab won an unofficial fourth place in the heavyweight division.
The year 1954 also brought a 10-man AAU-Air Force team visit to six Japanese cities to compete in 16 contests. Five members of the team were Air Force, and the most successful member of the team was to be heard from many times in the future. This man, Sargeant George Harris, won all of his 16 contests.
Seventy men from SAC and ARDC journeyed to the Kodokan in 1955 for instruction. Under the guidance of Gen. Power, who had taken over as ARDC Commander, the SAC-ARDC Judo Association was formed and received recognition from the Kodokan in 1956. Emilio Bruno was elected president, and the association was permitted to grant judo rank. This was the first and only Armed Forces judo association to be so recognized by the Kodokan. SAC and ARDC sent 280 Air Policemen for four-week classes at the Kodokan during 1956. Again in 1956, the Air Force placed one man in the national AAU Judo Tournament at Seattle. Returning from his successful Japanese tour, George Harris, then a 2nd dan, placed third in the heavyweight division.
In 1957, after only five years in judo, Sargeant George Harris won the Grand Championship in the National AAU Judo Championships in Hawaii. Harris was first in the heavyweight division; sweeping the division with him were Airman Lenwood Williams in second place and Airman Ed Mede, third. The Air Force also took the National 5-Man Team Championship for the first time. Winners of the SAC and ARDC tournaments represented the Air Force in the AAU tournaments on April 13 and 14 in Chicago. Twelve Air Force judoists participated, with George Harris successfully defending his Grand Championship, and the Air Force team captured the National 5-Man Team Championship for the second year in a row. Due to the great power of southern California in the lower weight divisions, the Air Force was unable to win the overall team championship.
In 1957 the Second Air Force held its championship tournament in Austin. Tex., and invited Roy H. (“Pop”) Moore to officiate the tournament. Pop decided to stay, and, with the help of Col. Walthrop, Beverly Sheffieid, from the Austin Recreation Department. and a young competitor, Jerry Reid, from Bergstrom Air Force Base. the Austin Judo Club opened its doors.
With the addition of members such as Bill Nagase and Sam Numahiri in Fort Worth, Karl Geis and Rick Landers in Houston, and Air Force Sargeant Rick Mertens in Shreveport, the Southwestern U.S. Judo Association came into being. The association annexed small areas out of several yudanshakais and covered the states of Texas, Louisiana, Arakansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. In 1959 the Southwestern U.S. Championships were held in Austin, Tex.. with over 300 competitors attending. In the late 1950s Bill Nagase and Gail Stolzenburg competed in the National AAU Senior Judo Championships.
The SAC Judo Team, consisting of L. Williams, E. Mede, G. Harris, J. Reid, R. Moxley, and M. O'Connor (trainer) was designated as the U.S. Pan-American Judo Team in 1958. Team members won first and fourth in the 3rd dan category (Harris and Williams), third in the 2nd dan (Reid), and second in the 1st dan (Mede). In the fall of 1958, George Harris and Ed Mede represented the U.S. in the 2nd World Tournament, held in Tokyo. Harris's three wins before losing to Sone, a Japanese 5th degree, placed him in a tie for fifth place along with the four other defeated quarter finalists. As a result of this fine record, George Harris was promoted to 4th degree in judo, the first Armed Forces man to be so honored.
By then Judo was only loosly orgainized into groups within Air Force Commands. Soon these groups formed a larger body to incompas the entire U.S Air Force and looked for someone to command the associations.
THE AIR FORCE JUDO ASSOCIATION
The Governance of U.S. Judo The development of a national governing body for U.S. judo started in 1952, through the efforts of Dr. Henry A. Stone, Major Donn Draeger (USMC), and others. At that time there was no national authority to give guidance to local judo communities and insure the logical and orderly development of judo as a sport. The Amateur Judo Association was a first attempt at establishing a national governing structure. Dr. Stone served as the first president. Authority to grant the most coveted Kodokan judo rank was assumed by the national organization. High ranking individuals were no longer permitted to grant promotions independently. The growth of local judo organizations was encouraged, promotion privileges were granted to yudanshakais, and a national communications avenue was opened.
One of the first Judo groups to organize was the 15th Air Force Judo Association that began in the Physical Conditioning Unit at March AFB in late 1956. Some people even credit this association wit the both of he Air Force Judo] Association.
In 1957, the Air Force Judo Association (AFJA) was admitted as a Black Belt Association with the Judo Black Belt Federation (JBBF) with Emelio ("Mel") Bruno 6th dan as the association's president.
THE ARMED FORCE JUDO ASSOCIATION
Around 1960, Darrell Darling, Phil Porter, Paul Own, Wally Barber, who was director of the local YMCA, and Mike Manly met at Dr. Ashida's house and decided to form a yudanshakai. They framed a constitution and made contacts with the yudanshakai officers in Chicago and Denver to implement the project. In 1961 the yudanshakai, which covered the greater part of six states, was formed.
In 1962, the Air Forces Association, as the JBBF referred to the AFJA, expanded to include all branches of the services and the name was changed to the Armed Forces Judo Association (AJFA). In 1966 Rick Mertens, who lived in Bossier City, retired from the U.S. Air Force and setup the AFJA office and started recruiting members to the newly formed Judo yudanshakai. Rick was the Executive Director of the AFJA throughout the 1960’s and after the formation of the United States Judo Association (USJA) in 1968. He remained as the director of the USJA until late 1976 when the headquarters was moved to St.Louis, Missouri.
THE UNITED STATES JUDO ASSOCIATION
The founding of the United States Judo Association was in 1968 by a group of experienced Judoists who met is a Chicago hotel room. Attending that meeting were George Bass, Robey Reed, Jim Bregman, Phil Porter, George Harris, Rick Mertins, and Karl Geis.
In 1969 the differences and positions that had been fought out at the meetings finally culminated in one of the yudanshakais (the Armed Forces Judo Association) withdrawing from the U.S. Judo Federation to start a rival national organization. The Armed Forces Judo Association adopted a name similar to that of the parent organization, the U.S. Judo Association. The association closely aligned itself with the philosophy and position of the Amateur Athletic Union.