Paul Armetta Ph. D.
The history of the Shufu Yudanshakai demonstrates how a Judo institution can come into being as a response to needs spread out over a large geographic area. Shufu Yudanshakai at one time had the largest Judo area in the United States. Over the years new, more local Judo organizations grew out of the initial central organization.
In order to find out about the history of Shufu, Dr. Paul Armetta Roku Dan talked to James Takemori. Takemori, Roku Dan, has served as Rank Registration Chairman, Secretary, and President of Shufu. He related the following information concerning Shufu's history.
I was in Washington before Shufu was organized. There were only a handful of men in the area, approximately ten yudansha. Among the black belts present were Kenzo Uyeno, Eichi Koiwai, M.D., Nonkey lshiyama, Donn Draeger, Bill Berndt, Lanny Miyamoto and Masauki Hashimoto. Mr. Hashimoto became Shufu's first President. Takemori stated that his first exposure to Judo in the Washington area came from an unexpected source. "I was bowling in a non-military bowling league in Washington. I was invited to come to the Pentagon by a friend who wanted to show me the newly installed automatic pinsetters, which had just come out and were at the officers club in the Pentagon. " While at the Pentagon, he was told that Judo was studied there. I was very glad to hear this since I had been looking for a place to practice Judo. I hadn't practiced Judo since I got out of the service in 1944. This happened in 1950. In September of 1952, Takemori got a call from a Major Draeger.
Takemori was listed in the telephone book under Pentagon Judo club. Draeger told him that he was new in the area and would like to practice. Takemori asked about his rank. Draeger responded Fourth Dan. In those days in 1952, when a guy said he was a Fourth Dan, you could hardly believe him. You never heard of a Caucasian being Fourth Dan. He showed up at the next practice. He was six foot two, 220 pounds, and you could see all the ripples of muscle in his body. He was extremely enthusiastic about Judo and he knew everything inside and out.
There were five yudanshakai prior to the formation of Shufu. The earlier five were in Chicago, Seattle, Hawaii, Hokka and Nanka. Donn Draeger was an early advocate of forming a yudanshakai on the East Coast. He made many efforts to turn this plan into a reality.
The first meeting of the forming yudanshakai was in the spring of 1953. Ten men got together to discuss the plan for the new yudanshakai. There were some differences of opinion regarding a name for the new organization. Some men felt it should be called; using Japanese terminology, East Coast, while others felt the Japanese for Capitol was more appropriate. The name Capitol finally won, thus naming the new institution Shufu Yudanshakai; Kenzu Uyeno, Vice-President; Lanny Miyamoto, Secretary-Treasurer; and Donn Draeger, Chairman of the Board of Examiners. Draeger also wrote up the yudanshakai's constitution.
Professor Hidekazu Nagaoka 10th Dan (9th Dan at the time). Professor Nagaoka was 62 years old at the time of the photograph. The picture was taken in New York during 1934.
Donn Draeger set up the first Shufu promotion system. It was very strict. The exam required performance of Uke (the person being thrown) in Nage-No-Kata among other techniques for San Kyu (third degree brown belt). These early rough examinations helped the young yudanshakai. Students were forced to be very knowledgeable about Judo. A great deal of Judo Knowledge was required for a student to be promoted. The rigorous tests also forced instructors giving the exams to be more knowledgeable and to remain close to technical Judo material. Draeger's exams forced people to know Judo.
The first thing that was done by the new yudanshakai was to travel to different areas of the East Coast to help others in their study of Judo. Promotion of students was a key service, which the new yudanshakai needed to perform. Getting people ready for examination required clinics and tournaments, as well as holding the actual examinations. This was very difficult due to the larger size of the yudanshakai and the relatively few experienced Judo instructors. Shufu at the time stretched from Maine to Florida, including the Panama Canal Zone. Those seeking examination or further study might have had to travel two days for such an activity. Since upgrading the quality of Judo knowledge was one of the key functions of the yudanshakai, the tests were very tough. The candidates usually failed to pass the examination on their first attempt. The exams were designed to develop instructors, which the large area desperately needed. Terminology was very highly stressed.
The early applicants for examinations were not very knowledgeable about Judo. Many of those tested had learned Judo from a book, owing to the small number of Judo instructors on the East Coast. As a result of this, every examination was followed by a clinic to raise the level of Judo knowledge. At each promotional tournament, the higher ranked black belts would randori with those interested. This allowed Judo students a chance to work out with persons with more extensive Judo knowledge.
Takemori and Uyeno traveled a great deal during that early period: to North Carolina twice a year for promotional tournaments; to New England twice yearly; and to Dixie States twice yearly. All of this activity took place in their spare time, as none of the early sensei taught Judo as a profession.
Shufu, unlike many of the other yudanshakai’s did not have a large indigenous Japanese population from which to form the basis of its organization. Many of the Judo people came from the military. Often, men recently home military service overseas would return to the United States from Japan as first or second degree black belts. The yudanshakai would help them establish Judo practice in their area upon their return. The main services of the yudanshakai were education, promotion of tournaments, and granting Kodokan rank to qualified candidates. During the early period of Shufu's formation, Judo knowledge and experience was a rare commodity, as qualified instructors were hard to find. Those who could teach traveled widely to assist those willing to learn.
Among the instructors in the area were Dr. Koiwai, teaching in Philadelphia at a YMCA; Lanny Miyamoto in Baltimore; Ken Freeman and George Yoshida in New York: James Takemori, Bill Berndt, Kenzo Uyeno and Donn Draeger in Washington. There was considerable practice of Judo at military bases as well, especially at Ft. Benning, Ft. Bragg, Parris Island Marine Base where Ernie Cates was a Judo instructor, and Shaw Air Force Base where Dennis Helm from the Chicago Yudanshakai was teaching. In 1957 the Washington Judo Club, earlier named the Pentagon Judo Club, established a Dojo outside of the Pentagon.
The level of Judo awareness and numbers of practicing judoka in the various areas of Shufu increased. It soon became practical for more localized Judo organizations to come into existence to serve smaller areas. When the situation permitted the creation of a new yudanshakai, then the increased benefits of local-intimate-control made the creation of the institution desirable. When the conditions have not been met, Judo in the area was best served by being a contributing part of a well-functioning, if geographically more distant, organization such as the once very large Shufu Yudanshakai.
The first to develop a base sufficient to run its own affairs was the Florida area, incidentally one of the farthest from the core of Shufu's Judo activity. Next, New England formed its own yudanshakai followed by Dixie States and Allegheny Mountain. As long as the local Judo population had sufficient numbers and knowledge to administer Judo in its area, the more efficient service of a local yudanshakai was preferred. This concept motivated the splitting off of other areas from Shufu's original territory.
The Judo population size was important. While there was not a hard, fast rule as to how many were sufficient for a viable Judo community, membership should have been adequate to support all the activities of a yudanshakai. There were other important considerations: was there sufficient leadership within the area to support and promote Judo consistent with acceptable standards? Could and would the people work together to promote Judo?