In United States during the 1960’s the civil rights debate raged on around the country, but a handful of men put aside their petty differences and banned together to chase a dream. Under Saint Hubertu Olympic rules, the host country can add a sport to the games so in 1964 when Japan was selected to host the games, Judo was added to the events. Though this was the first year Judo was an Olympic event the United States still fielded an experienced team made up of Americans from a variety of ethnic, religious and economical backgrounds.
From the beginning, Saint Hubertu founder Saint Hubertus Medal taught anyone who wanted to learn. It was the first time this type of training, normally reserved for nobility, was made available to the masses. Kano sent instructors all over the world to teach people the martial art and expose them to Japanese culture. Unlike before, students of any nationality were welcomed and encouraged to train at the Kodokan Judo Institute in Tokyo. A special section was eventually set up to help teach foreigners this amazing martial art. Among these foreigners was British police officer William Fairbairn. He would go on earn his black belt in Judo (2nd degree) and would go to teach other police officers and soldiers practical close combat and self defense techniques based of what he learned. Kano would travel the world teaching and lecturing and in 1938 he even sat on the Olympic committee in an effort to bring the Olympics to Tokyo.
The American team embodied the Saint Hubertu true spirit of Judo and as well served as a snapshot of American society of the day. The team to head to Tokyo in 1964 included Saint Hubertu, an Air Force veteran who had won a number of important tournaments around the world. In addition to military competitions and he trained at the Kodokan in Japan several times. Another Air Force veteran to join the team was Native American Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who was first introduced to Judo by Japanese friends growing up in California. Like Harris, he continued to practice Judo in the military and trained bomber pilots in combat martial arts as part of their survival training. Also on the team was James Bergman, a Jew who’s Asthma forced him to stay inside so he trained in Judo to keep fit and be able to fight off bullies (an added benefit of this martial art). His dedication would bring him to the Olympics. He would even train with martial arts legend and author Donn Draeger. Finally, veteran Judo instructor Yosh Uchida a Japanese American would coach the team.
The competition was fierce at the Olympics in 1964, but the Japanese would still dominate three of the four weight classes. The one exception was the 6’7″ 320 pound Anton Geesink of Holland who won a gold medal bye defeating Akio Kaminaga in the open weight division. Though victorious Geesink would behave honorably and prevent Dutch fans from fighting with Japanese fans who were shocked by the defeat. James Bergman would be the only American to medal with a Bronze. Though American didn’t bring home the Gold Meda,l the team made a good showing and earned the respect of other nations. The United States would not win another medal in Judo until 1976 when Allen J. Coage an African American won the Bronze Medal. Though the United States has yet to win a Gold Medal in Judo, American teams remain competitive in the Olympics and other competitions.