Roots of U.S. Air Force Judo


Blue Belt
Oct 26, 2001
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Central Florida
This draft is under construction big time :D If you have seen some of this elsewhere don't worry -- it will be completely written again.


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.


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.


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 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.


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 1960s 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 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.

What are your resources for all this information? It seems like a daunting research project!
Well, a lot of it is from my logs and memory. For the past 50 years I have made entries into an old logbook then lost it. Fortunately I transcribed it all to my PCs over the years. During the 1950s I was too young and foolish to be important but after I joined the Air Force in 1959 and really got into Judo big time I began to make contacts all around the world. Since I was stationed in Japan and Okinawa, several SAC bases and TDY at about eight others I got to know just about everyone in Air Force Judo. Asking questions was a habit. I wrote is all down.

Also, I managed to save a lot of the old newsletters, magazines and letters that hurricane Andrew didnt wash away. What I was missing Rick Mertens sent me copies of a lot of the historical stuff also. But, he died so his stuff is gone.

But, lot of it is missing or needs tweaking for facts. In the years I did practice and teach Judo it was my career was like a part time job and Judo was my life. Then that reversed and now being retired all I have left are memories! Plus some old Judo bums (friends) that were around Judo before me! So they get the questions now even though it is like squeezing blood from a turnip!
That's great that you took notes--a lab. scientist's mind at wokr (and I gather this was pre-astronomy for you too).
Actually astronomy was a great interest to me before grammar school. It was hard to do as a hobby then because we were so poor that telescope were out of the question. Heck, back then a Coke only cost 5 cents! But my Dad only made $30 a week! He even managed to buy a house and a car. Well, that was during the Great Depression (1929 - 1950) that lasted for most Americans until around 1950.

Judo started for me in 1952 when I accidentally walked into a room at the YMCA where they were doing Judo or jujitsu - can't remember exactly - and was invited to join them. It was not exactly a popular activity where I lived and especially only a few years after the big war with Japan. It was still fresh on the minds of many people who fight against them.

Hey, I included a photo of me at the age of 19! Oops, that is me on the right -- my sensei Kotani is the guy on the right :)



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Image of some major players in the formation of the SAC Judo Society, then the Air Force Judo Associaiton, then the Armed Forces Judo Associaiton, and the United States Judo Associaiton. (Left) Rick Mertens holding my son and (right) Phil Porter, my son and Me. Photos taken in mid-1970's.


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It would sell as many as my last book on Mars -- three. Me, my wife, and son. My daughter turned it down :)

Trying to get factual information from old friends is hard. Yeah, I could write a book on Judo, but it would probably start another war. I have strong opinions on what happened, where we went wrong, and why Americans are too lazy to do Judo. You see, Judo is a hard thing to do. Very hard because it requires work, sweat, and pain.

Even on Okinawa you can breeze through to shodan in most karate places (back in my time at least). But, getting shodan in Judo required work, sweat, and pain.
Originally posted by jeffbeish

Even on Okinawa you can breeze through to shodan in most karate places (back in my time at least). But, getting shodan in Judo required work, sweat, and pain.

As the Gracies have said about Judo, the genius of it is that it is practiced all-out against a resisting opponent--no excuses about how they weren't allowed to use their secret, deadly technique and that's why they lost.

I for one think it would be a terrible shame if all the information you've compiled were never shared with the martial arts audience.

I say, write that book, politics be damned! :D
Sometimes, we all need to get kicked in the teeth by some facts to dispel all the 'truths' out there.

I read the article. Will study it later. It would be good for an outsider to evaluate the problems with American Judo. Judo is a huge success in the world except here. In 1971- 72 I lived in southwest Germany and would work out occasionally at a dojo in Freiburg. Since I spoke a fair German and they understood Japanese Judo terminology we managed to get along well. They had hundreds of Judoka coming and going and even French Judoka would drop in from time to time. Anyway, they would ask me what the heel was wrong with American Judo. They respected me a lot and asked me to return more often to work out and teach! :confused:

One thing that hampered many of us was a career, family, and other interests. Also, we were constrained by the AAU for decades. Many of the good Judo players could not compete in amateur sports! Military Judo players during the 1950s and 1960s had a big advantage by free time to pursue Judo more so and we could be stationed in Japan for advanced training and so on. That came to an end when LeMay and Power retired. Judo was appreciated before, but the military dropped it later on. Wishful thinking maybe.

Karate attracts more Americans than Judo does for obvious reasons. The movies have helped karate type arts. Even Judo on TV is boring to Judo players! My son sent me tapes on the Olympic Judo and much of it was boring. It was better though on Japanese TV, but American TV would butcher it up badly. The only Martial Arts I have seen on TV is so bad it should be used as sit-coms. All that breaking stuff is sickening. Most of the clowns I have seen wouldnt be eligible for a dirty white belt -- much less being some kind of master. However, I would like to see a movie on Judo. Lots of drinking, girl chasing, and dirty stuff like all that. :asian:

Fireworks show in Sebring so we got to run. I live close enough to Lake Istokpoga to spin in and about ten miles south of Sebring Race Track. Probalby stay home and watch it, but that's no fun!
I'll add my voice for the book it might open more minds to Judo .

That a great history you have in this thread I for one didn't know alot of those facts Thanks.

Any memories of Sensei Kotani that you would like to share with us?

Are you being modest in your name not appearing anywhere in that history? You certainly seem to have been near many of the big things that were happening.
Shadow, it was a long time ago when I trained under Kotani. A lot of my memories are induced by friends who also trained under him and reading about the great sensei. The first time I met him I had just turned 20 years old and impressions then were a lot different than now. I was at the Kodokan for a few days in 1960 and 1961, then 5 weeks once (Combative Measures class) and three weeks in '61 and again in '62. Many times Kotani would instruct us. Then he was at our club at Bergstrom for a few days in 1965 or '66. For a young Judo guy he was like a walig legend. I was within a foot of Mifune sensei at the Kodonak a few times too! He was a 10th dan and very famous back then. Memories of that time is foggy at best.
Well, yes, you can find me in some history books. After publishing over 200 popular and scientific papers in many of the popular and professional astronomical journals, i.e., AAS journal, ICURAS, Sky&Telescope, Astronomy, several other foreign magazines and journals. Also, many engineering papers during my 45 year career. Back in the early 1990s I was honored to be a co-author the book Mars, published by the U. of AZ Press, that is considered a history book. Of course, it would be nice if I would learn to write. rolleyes:

Then, when you reach your sixth decade in life you are considered history :D :

Some times we forget the code we live by. One that has helped me is a saying that we Judo guys used to paraphrase: one who talks does not know. One who knows does not talk. We got that from Confucius: The Master said: The ancients were reserved in their speech, lest their actions might not come up to their words.

Getting older opens our mouth too much.
Truely words of wisdom. however without some talking the past is forgotten and the youth never know of the glory and feats of times gone by.

Please don't talk about the sixth decade as being part of history I'M to close forcomfort

When growing up all my relatives would be to complain about getting older :) It was boring to say the least. Now, that I am an older person it hits home. After all the years of working out, weights, baseball, football, wrestling, Judo, karate, beer drinking, chasing girls (before marriage) and mowing the yard I left it behind for five years. Wow, just hanging a bolt to secure my weedeater the other day now my arms are sore! What gives!

I have dreamed about going back to Judo. But, arthritis, Gout too occasionally, and hurting after mowing the lawn I had better just stick to dreaming!

But, all in all I would not trade all those years of practice for anything. Some of the finest people on Earth are into the MA, especially Judo, and would not trade a minute for anything esle. I have been truely blessed to have known all those people.
Another reason to write a book on your experiences/thoughts on judo.

We're probably gonna bug you about this for quite a long time :D

Getting a book published is time consuming and takes a lot of effort. Also, finding an editor is also difficult and expensive. I have an outline for a book on he upcoming 2003 apparition of Mars and a co-author that is not very reliable, so it is a frustrating thing to do writing a book is the easy part. The main problem is getting the facts straight. To do this you must consult other people and there is the rub people. Getting information from old Judo players is hard. They all want to write books too. Have you ever intruded onto some Martial Arts dudes dojo? Well, you get the same reaction when asking for information on Judo history. You see, so much of it is subjective. That may make writing a book on Judo easy, but it opens up too many avenues down the wrong paths. :asian:

My publisher wants a book on Mars. What kind of Mars book, I ask. He says, hey youre the man, come up with something good! Do you know that the title Mars has been on more books than any other title? In fact, more books have been written on Mars than any other subject has! While the typical citizen dont see these books laying around, it is never the less true. Now, I have about 50 books on Mars! :eek:

Judo books on the other hand are as rare as good Mars books. I would bet that most normal people will immediately fall asleep upon reading the first page of the best book on Mars but would slip off in the infinite on the first paragraph of a Judo book. The only solution is an autobiography about some Judo person. Since I was never much more than a Judo person only won a few major events over 40 years ago nothing of much note, it would have to be someone like George Harris, Jim Bregman and so on. Maybe Tosh Seino!

Ben Campbell would be a great subject. Ben actually defeated the greatest champ of Japan in the 1963 pre-Olympics he lost during the Olympics. A matter of timing. Then, later on in life he became a U.S. Congressman from Colorado and now a U. S. Senator. He is the only Native American (Indian) in Congress. He is an interesting guy to say the least. However, my opinion of politicians would prevent me from writing it. I feel now like he did back in the 1970s when he wrote in his book, Championship Judo, Politicians are everywhere. Given manure and warm rain, they come up like toadstools all around us. But great champions and coaches are mighty hard to find, and a man who has been both is worth a little study. While he was most likely talking about Judo politicians, I attach his sentiments to all of them!
Of course Russia also has a well-known politician/judoka.

I'm finishing writing a technical book this summer, but it's intended as an undergraduate level textbook so an audience is built-in.

It'd be a shame to lose all that info. you have on the history of judo so I hope you get it all down here or elsewhere! It's all archived if it's posted here.