When Judo Was King

The Hoteikan System of Martial Arts

Senior Sensei  Jay Hager – ChiefJudo Advisor

7th Dan Judo – 5th Dan Kito Ryu Jujitsu

When Judo Was King

An overview of Martial Arts History

If you were with me in the early 1960’s and were looking to learn Martial Arts, there was not the wide choice of dojos to select from in terms of what was taught or advertised. They were all for Judo Dojos though there were listing for establishments like “NEISEI SCHOOL OF JUDO and JUJITSU”, “BRONX JUDO JUI-JITSU and KARATE DOJO” and “THE TREMONT SCHOOL OF JUDO and JUI-JITSU”. The Manhattan and Queens Yellow Pages did list a few Karate listings and an Aikido school.  O-Sensei Peter Urban listed his school as the “CHINATOWN DOJO”, Sifu Alan Lee listed the “NY Gung-Fu Kwon” and there was “The Aaron Banks School of Karate”. Other than that, Martial Art instruction meant JUDO which was also known as the Art of Self-Defense. What was being taught may very well have been Karate or Kung-Fu or Jujitsu. Back in that time period and for decades before, the public associated the fighting arts of Asia as JUDO and they had nothing to compare it to. One of the most popular actors of all time, James Cagney, was a NIDAN (at the time a VERY high rank here in America) with a California Black Belt Federation (NANKA) and he would sometimes demonstrate an O-GOSHI or IPPON SEIONAGE in a fight scene.

TV was the tool used to start to educate the public about the myriad of available Martial Arts in several ways [and I am just naming the 2 most significant ones]. First was on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show”.  Carson was a fan of Karate and like one fighter in particular, the “Golden Boy” of the tournament circuit in the early 1960’s. A good looking clean cut Korean Stylist named Chuck Norris.  Carson had Norris as a guest when the show was still based in NYC but went to Hollywood every few months before moving there for good around 1970. He had Norris do some basic demos on both the sport and self-defense aspects of the art plus they showed films of some of Chucks’ tournament matches. But the huge boost to Karate was from the TV series “The Green Hornet” which featured a young actor/Kung-Fu teacher, who was the co-star and played KATO.  His name was Bruce Lee who had also demonstrated Kung-Fu on the TV show “Longstreet” around the same era.

By the early 1960’s, advertisements would appear in comics and magazines alongside of the Charles Atlas Dynamic Tension System of body building, X-Ray Glasses, Learn Magic at Home and the like.  You could also find an ad for “How to kill with a simple touch – DIM MAK by the ballyhooed Count Dante (John Keehan) or a home study self-defense course by either Wallace Renumann (holder of a 4th degree black belt – symbol of highest possible proficiency) or Honorable Master Gung-Fu (his fellow Masters would punish him severely for making these ancient secrets available to the public) or, once in a great while, a brochure by a legitimate Martial Artist like Ed Parker or Jhoon Rhee where the brochure was really an ad to come to their dojo or the dojo of one of their students.  And Bruce Tegner was the author on everyone’s bookshelf [and he wrote about anything you would wear a gi to participate in.]

Here are two (2) of the ads I speak of. Look at those prices - ;)






A standing joke of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s was that the ads for Korean arts (Tae Kwon Do, Tang Soo Do, Hapkido) were available from a Master, all named KIM,  all 9th Dans and each claimed to be the President of the Korean __________ Federation [fill in the art]. 

  J                                         J                                                          J                                                           J   


A major player entered the game which changed the playing field - the publication of “BLACK BELT” magazine (circa 1963) which gave a true picture of Karate, the Korean Arts, Aikido, Jujitsu, Judo, Kendo and Sumo.  As interest in arts other than Judo started to gain popularity, BLACK BELT would start introducing various RYUs (systems) of the Arts and the Non-Asian Arts. Americans were introduced to Capoeria from Brazil, Pankration from Greece, some African Arts, Scottish Jacket wrestling (almost identical to early Judo) and many others including weapons like Katana, Nunchuka, Tonfa, Yawara Sticks and Sais.  BLACK BELT opened the Martial Arts Universe to the American public.


The decline of Judo was “solidified” at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo when the American team only managed a single Bronze Medal. The team consisted of 4 outstanding Judoka all from the U.S. Air Force (Paul Muruyama – George Harris – Ben NightHorse Campbell [plus a former multi-term member of the US House of Representatives and Senate] and James Bregman).  The Olympic tournament was dominated by the Japanese Team which won 3 of the 4 weight classes and Anton Geesink of Holland won the “OPEN” division. The showing was considered to be an embarrassment to the level of US Judo [in fact besides Bergman’s Bronze Medal, the other 3 members finished between 4th and 7th place. And what had been a ‘Strong Point” from a marketing point of view became a standing joke.  The team was not only the 4 best Judoka in the country but there was a Japanese-American (Muruyama), an African-American (Harris), a Jewish American (Bregman) and a Native American (Campbell). They became known as the “JAP, JEW, BLACK and INJUN” team.

Another factor working against American Judo [beyond being shown as a 3rd rate Judo “power”] was the stranglehold that the Kodokan/IJF held on ALL DAN RANKS.  Though each Yudanshikai was certified by Kodokan, ALL promotions had to be approved by the International Desk at the IJF and Kodokan. So if you passed your Shodan exam, you were given the “official” rank of Shodan-Ho until IJF/Kodokan signed off on the promotion.  It also forced any Judoka wishing to be tested for all rank above Sandan to go to Japan. [Even as a Hachidan, my Sensei, Professor Nakabayashi, had to say he trained/tested you in a dojo IN JAPAN to have his promotions accepted and he was something of a legend in Japan.] If you know your Judo history, the great/dominant champion, Kimura, was decertified for issuing DAN rank while teaching the Gracie family and others in Brazil. Kimura held 6th Dan at the time and an excellent technician yet Kodokan denied him the authority to promote to “DAN” level without their permission. In the striking arts, there were similar issues but to a far lower extent for a number of reasons.  A primary reason was that the use of the Obi to signify rank was a creation of Kano and Judo (as an Art). The older masters, including Funakoshi Sensei, were accustomed to issuing licenses (MENKYOs) to certify the holder as qualified to teach parts or the entire system.  The Obi was reflective of the holder’s skill level but was not a license to teach or, according to the Kodokan, judge the abilities of others. Thus, the Karate practitioners had less organized resistance to the ability of an individual to judge skill levels

Even though the politics delayed the growth of the many Karate RYUs somewhat, their Asian leadership gave their most senior people the ability to award higher level ranks. Yudo, Korean Judo, became quite popular since the waza is the same but they didn’t answer to Kodokan so many, many exceptional Judoka worked under the banner of YUDO.  Soke Reno (co-founder of the Hoteikan System of Martial Arts) earned several DAN ranks in YUDO under the great NY Sensei Hank Kraft.  Sensei Hank never got above 6th Dan in Judo but was rated at 9th Dan in the Korean version. [NB: According to my “official” record, both Nakabayashi (until his passing in 1977) and Master Hirga trained me in Osaka when I was promoted to 4th, 5th, and 6th Dan. I am sure that Mr. and Mrs. Takahashi, with whom I supposedly lived, remember me fondly without having ever met me – I am just that memorable.]

  As bad as the rivalry between Shotokan, Go-Ju, Shito-Ryu, Shorin-Ryu and others would be, they were tame compared to the old feuds between the USJF vs. USJA [or the older names for the organizations as the JBBFA (Judo Black Belt Federation of America) and the AFJA (Armed Forces Judo Association]. When “Judo” Gene LaBelle was a 2 time AAU Champion, he was banned from training at any JBBFA dojo since he was so prominent in the AFJA. His students had to compete as white belts then were penalized for not entering SHIAI with their proper rank. Here he was, the best Judoka in the country in the mid-1950 era and he was banned from any form of national/international competition.

The leadership of the JBBFA further shot themselves in the foot by putting greater emphasis on Ne-Waza and made an IPPON from Nage-Waza almost impossible. From the point of view of spectators (who USED to become Judoka. This also helped support Judo by paying the admission fee to watch tournaments). This type of what became known as “KOKA JUDO” with the philosophy of “knock ‘em down and hang on” was how most matches went – it was a step below watching paint dry and started a trend of Judo being viewed as Wrestling in pajamas!! The intended progression of Judo instruction where you went from SPORT to COMBAT was deemphasized as well.

Things did start to change politically, somewhat, when the teams from Europe starting beating the Japanese on a regular basis. In 1964, Anton Geesink was the dominant figure though the great Japanese technician, Isao Okano was a close 2nd.  Judo was off the Olympic calendar in 1968 but returned in 1972. Another Dutchman, On August 31st, the Dutch World Champion successor to Geesink, Wilm Ruska, won the Gold in the Heavyweight division.  He returned to the Tatami on September 9th to grab the Open division Gold. Due to the domination of Ruska, the rules were changed so an individual could only compete in 1 weight class [NB: Great Judoka like Yamashita, Doulette and Renner (both of France) could have matched Ruska as a double winner. In 1972, the Japanese won Gold in the 3 lightest weight classes. The “middle-heavyweight” was won by a young Russian Judoka, Shota Chochishville, who was a back-up player to the reigning World Champion. The closest American to the medal ceremony was Johnny Watts who lost in his Bronze Medal Match.


Each year, BLACK BELT did a popularity poll and by 1975 less than 25 Judoka bothered to fill out the questionnaire the magazine used to compile statistical information about the arts. The response of the public was to flock AWAY from the Judo Dojo and to Karate Dojos. As an additional consequence, the magazine drastically cut Judo coverage. At the trials for the 1976 Olympic Team some of the top candidates were 40 years old because they represented the most competitive Judoka in the US. The USJF and USJA had reached the early stages of co-existence in which the USJA would govern the “Randori” and Competitive side of Judo while the USJF would oversee Kata, Shinken-Shobu (Combat) and be a general clearing house for Judo history. They worked so well together that the USJF blocked entry into the Olympic trials in 1976 forcing eventual Bronze Medalist, Allen “BAD NEWS” Coage [the man who blew out my knee 4 years earlier and is still considered by me as the best American Heavyweight ever] had to SUE to get a chance to try-out for the team [and Bad News was far and away the BEST judoka in the USA].  This was possible because until 1980, it was the AAU that represented Judo to the IJF and the International Olympic Committee. At the US Nationals in 1973 or 1974, there were signs saying “USJA STAY AWAY”.  The ongoing feud between USJF President, Sensei Koiwa and USJA head Sensei Porter went on for decades as they vied for the top US Judo leadership [sort of like the leaders of BOTH organizations were emulating Captain Edward Smith – Skipper of the TITANIC, IMHO].

While this was going on, Karate forms were growing in leaps and bounds.  People would watch the Kumite and compare it to Judo and just up and leave the tatami en mass.  At its best, Judo was slow and methodical and the rules of the sport made it even slower and more methodical (translation: BORING!). Even during Kumi Kata, an inordinate amount of time was used during a match slowing things down even more.  Compare this to the various Ryus of Karate, Kung-Fu and Tae Kwon Do where the action was not just fast but the waza seemed far more spectacular.  People could understand a punch or kick far more easily than the throws of Judo.  Scoring was easier to understand – you would win at Kumite by punching or kicking your opponent.  Were there arguments over if a technique was deserving of a point?  Sure, there were but the PUBLIC could understand that a punch or kick COULD disable a foe or MIGHT knock them out.  Since it was basically a game of tag back then, there was many an argument if a technique was close enough to do damage or in the vital area.  Judo had a partial advantage since there was no doubt when Judoka #1 threw Judoka #2.  If the call was Ippon or Wazari, very few of those watching could differentiate between them.  When Judoka #1 applied Ude-Gatame, there was no doubt when Judoka #2 tapped-out or passed out from Hadaka-Jime.  This debate became academic with the popularity of MMA.  But in less than 20 years, the signs outside of Dojos read KARATE or TAE KWON DO or KUNG-FU and not JUDO (or even Jujitsu until UFC introduced Brazilian Jujitsu).  Judo was not just no longer KING, it wasn’t even part of the Royal Court.



US Judo started on a comeback thanks to our friends in Europe and South Korea. Simply put, they started beating the Japanese on the Tatami. By 1976, the Japanese were not just throwing their OBI on the mat to win Gold Medals at the World Championships or Olympics. The Europeans started to incorporate both gymnastics and wrestling into their Randori and the Korean teams were “out-Judo-ing” Japanese Judoka. In the 1972 Olympics, the Japanese “only” won 3 of the 6 available Gold medals and in the light-heavyweight division they were not on the platform at all. Judoka from France, Russia/USSR and Holland became at least Japanese Judos’ equal while South Korea was considered the #1 Judo power from 1984-2000.

Women’s judo became an Olympic event in 1992.  Japan has been the #1 power but Cuba is the next highest medalist along with England, both Koreas and the China.  Prior to 2008 when Ronda Rousey won a Bronze, American Women had done no better than the men.  But Marti Malloy and Kayla Harrison won Bronze (Malloy in 2012) and Harrison won Americas first (and ONLY) 2 Golds in 2012 and 2016.  Thanks to the success of these 3 Judoka, interest has spiked upward for the first time in decades, a good deal due to Rousey becoming a MMA/UFC superstar. Beside Ronda, the only other American Judo Medalist to make a living in a way related to Judo was my old friend, the Late Allan Coage.  Allan portrayed “Bad News Brown” in the WWF around 1984-1988 but also was very popular as a pro-wrestler in the Southern USA, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Canada and Japan.  It should be noted that numerous college/Olympic wrestlers entered pro-wrestling after college/Olympics since there was no “professional” league for them to enter.

The US Team had some success at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles and this is attributed to a boycott by the Eastern European nations as pay-back since the US and a block of allies boycotted the Moscow games of 1980. In1984. Eight (8) divisions were contested and the US team won 1 Bronze (Eddie Liddie) and 1 Silver (Bobby Breland). The “haul” was matched in 1988 in Korea when Team USA again won Bronze (Mike Swain) and Silver (Kevin Asano). The “OPEN” weight division was eliminated and only 7 divisions were contested. The Japanese only won 1 Gold and 3 Bronze.  1992 saw the addition of the Women on the Tatami though out of 14 divisions, the American Jason Morris was the only medalist winning Silver.  1996 saw Jimmy Pedro, Jr. earning the Bronze, a feat he repeated in 2004 but again was the ONLY American to win a medal. In 2008, the best known Judoka in the history of Team USA won a Bronze Medal but Ronda Rousey gained fame and fortune in MMA.

In 2012, an American finally earned the Gold as Kayla Harrison got the top spot on the platform.  Her teammate, Marti Malloy won a Bronze. At the recently completed 2016 Games in Brazil, an American man won a (Silver) medal after not making the platform since 2004 when Travis Stevens pulled an upset. However, Kayla Harrison again dominated her division to win her (and America’s) 2nd ever Judo Gold. So negative had the view of American Judo become that there was no spike in enrollment in Judo Dojos after Kayla triumphed. In contrast, Tae Kwon Do was added as a medal sport in 1988 and the Lopez family has won 5 of the 9 total American medals including Steven getting the Gold in 2000 + 2004 then a Bronze in 2008.  His brother Mark got the Silver in 2008 while their sister Diane won Bronze, also in 2008. The people lined up to learn the Korean Art.

Aside from limited international success, what worked against Judo also has hurt wrestling: It is not very exciting to watch and with the more conservative style of play used today, it is even more boring to the casual observer. In the limited exposure given to Judo at the recent Olympic Games was even worse since the medal matches tend to be even MORE methodical as the Judoka work hard not to be scored on.  Since the difference between winning and losing a match can be a SHIDO (penalty) which is enough to put 1 player ahead of the other and win the match [or even a medal]. When I watched the wrestling (free style and Greco-Roman) I generally saw more action.  Back in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, the prevailing strategy in Judo was knick-named “KOKA JUDO” which could be called “SHIDO JUDO” today as it entails getting any kind of lead then avoiding EVERYTHING. Like the “Prevent Defense” in football it doesn’t promote activity on the part of the leader.  The leader goes into a modified defensive posture (JIGO-TAI) and maintains distance via stiff-arming and disengaging the grip. Yeah, this will draw attention to the “action” and draw both fans and new Judoka into the Art.

The actual ART of Judo is dying a slow and painful death.  Here in the USA, the governing bodies {USJA, USJF, US JUDO Inc. and several minor groups base advancement on the “points” earned in Shiai and coaching of Judoka with high point totals.  The Judo I fell in love with over 50 years ago is almost impossible to find.  I consider myself fortunate to be part of an organization that promotes the ART of Judo and participation in competition is secondary. Hoteikan is a SELF-DEFENSE system.

When Professor Kano established the KODOKAN in 1882, his original vision of his Jujitsu was a 3 step process.

  1. Sport Judo as demonstrated in the Randori-no-Kata [consists of Nage-no-Kata (Forms of Throwing) and Katame-no-Kata (Forms of Grappling).

  2. Combat Judo (Shinken Shobu no Waza) as demonstrated in the Kime-no-Kata (Forms of Decision) and the Kodokan Goshin Jutsu-no-Kata (Forms of Self-Defense)

  3. Control through Movement Judo (Shintai no Waza) as seen in the Itsutsu-no-Kata (The FIVE Forms) and Koshiki-no-Kata (Ancient Forms)

The Ju-no-Kata is what I personally classify as a transitional or even a “review” as it contains elements of all 3 levels of Judo.  Additionally there is the Seiryoku Zen’Yo Kokumin Taiiku (National Physical Education Forms) which include ATEMI-Waza (Striking techniques) and Kimi-Shiki, a variation of the Kime-no-Kata.  It should also be noted that Professor Kano, as a professional educator, developed each Kata as a lesson plan with hints of what is to come. [Look at the Nage-no-Kata and in 4 Nage-Waza, UKE initiates the throw by attacking with a hand strike].  The “hint” of what is to follow is seen in the Kime-no-Kata and Goshin Jutsu when a defensive maneuver is completed by use of Tai Sabaki to avoid the attack then a simple pull or push disposes of the attacker].  It was Kano-Sensei’s wish that a Judoka could continue to practice the ART as he/she aged and remain strong and flexible.

Rewind the clock to the 1960’s and the SPORT of Judo was subtle but, to me, beautiful. It was a contest of physical chess. Each movement of the Judoka changed the strengths and weaknesses of the board.  Move the height of your lapel grip and you became more vulnerable to Seionage while lowering the grip opened a path to an ASHI-WAZA [foot/leg technique].  Push while you advance forward and you might find your opponent executing SUTEMI-WAZA [sacrifice throws].  Initiate an attack to your foes outer leg and you could find yourself counter attacked with a KOSHI-WZA [hip throw]. You would try to draw your opponent in to attack your exposed leg and you would react to the attack with Tai-Otoshi [standing body drop]. It was a constant game of “Action-Reaction > Throw and Counter Throw”.  Attacks would be in a chain with each movement designed to illicit a specific response and give YOU the advantage. Another type of player would “fake” an attack 4 or 5 times to gauge your response then exploit what they saw as your weakest position. The call of “Excess Passivity” was nearly unknown as the opponent would take your lack of attack as an advantage on their side of the coin. The use of pure strength was grounds for HANSUKO MAKE or disqualification.  Technique and smarts ruled the tatami.

Today, in a 4 or 5 minute bout you may see each Judoka attack 8 times.  THAT was considered “stalling” back in the days when I was competing. Releasing your grip was akin to tapping out and if your gi was open or your obi got untied and fell off the SHIMPAN might let you adjust them during a legitimate stop in the action.

When you executed a throw, it had to meet the following criteria:

  1. It had to be a recognizable throw

  2. It had to be delivered with excellent form

  3. It had to demonstrate speed, power and control

  4. TORI had to maintain balance

  5. UKE had to land on his/her back

For a throw, you might be awarded IPPON if all 5 categories were met. It the throw lacked one of the elements, a WAZARI might be awarded.  If it lacked more than 1 element, you could expect not a YUKO or KOKA but a comment of “Nice Try” and you would continue into Ne-Waza.

YUSEI GACHI was the last option for ending a match. The Referee and Judges would look at the number and quality of attacks and render their decision based on the “Rule of 3” which stated each official had one vote and to get the win, you needed at least 2 of the votes. If a clear majority did not exist, HIKI WAKI (a draw) was declared.  Most tournaments were Round Robin and each match carried a 10 point potential.  The points could be split by the Judoka.

  1. 10=Win by Ippon [throw, pin, submission]

  2. 9=Win by (Ni) Wazari Awasete Ippon [2 x ½ points equal 1 point]

  3. 8=Win by Wazari [throw lacking 1 element or Osaekomi for 20 seconds]*

  4. 7=Win by unanimous decision

  5. 6=Win by majority decision

  6. 5=DRAW

  7. 4=Loss by majority decision

  8. 3=Loss by unanimous decision

  9. 2=Loss by Wazari

  10. 1=Loss by Wazari Awasete Ippon

  11. 0=Loss by Ippon

With this system, at the end of the Round Robin, the Judoka with the most points wins OR the top 4 point earners face each other again (# 1 vs # 4 and # 2 vs. # 3) then the winners fight for 1st place and the losers fight for 3rd place.


When I won my first YMCA vs. YMHA championship, I fought a total of 9 matches and the first five had a 3 minute time limit then the quarter and semi-final bouts lasted 5 minutes. The “Gold Medal” match had a time limit of 10 minutes with up to FIVE OT sessions of two minutes each before they went to YUSEI GACHI or Judges Decision. If we had not been 14 year olds, we would have continued fighting until one of us scored SOMETHING.

Yes, Judo was a very different entity 50 years ago and I am glad I knew it then. To quote the great film maker and noted genius, Mel Brooks “It’s good to be the King” and once, long ago, Judo was the KING.