JNC Feb 2000

Martial Arts Training in Prisoner Camps of World War II

Ed. by Joseph R. Svinth
Copyright © 2000 All rights reserved. Readers with additional stories are invited to contact the editor at jrsvinth@juno.com.

Journal of Non-lethal Combatives, February 2000

Judo at Stalag 383, Bavaria, Germany

By Eric Dominy

From Budokwai Quarterly Bulletin, April 1945 to January 1946, 12-15. Copyright © 1945, the Budokwai, http://www.budokwai.org. Reprinted by permission of Richard Bowen.

The organisation of any sport in Prison Camps in Germany presented great difficulties, chiefly owning to the long hours the prisoners had to work and, of course, the complete lack of equipment. Even more obstructions were put in the way of self-defence of any description, as anything of this sort, being a potential danger to the German guards, was forbidden. Later these regulations were relaxed and boxing, and in some camps even "Catch" and "Free style" wrestling, were permitted or at least not stopped. Judo and jujutsu remained strictly forbidden.

In September, 1942, a special camp for W.Os. [warrant officers] and N.C.Os. [non-commissioned officers] who had refused to work was opened in Bavaria and there fortunately was a very easy-going and obliging Commandant. Quite early in the life of this camp a large stable was put at our disposal as a gym, and at a meeting held to decide what was to be done about the organisation of indoor sports, Percy Sekine was elected to the committee with the intention of forming a judo class.

So far everything had been easy, but now the equipment had to be provided. Boxing gloves were now being supplied by the Y.M.C.A., the "Catch" and "Free style" men wrestled naked, but what about judo outfits? And we had yet to obtain a mat!

A wrestling mat! Our first difficulty was that we had a brick floor, which, of course, gave far too solid a foundation for comfort. On this were placed thin wooden slats and across these wooden planks. On this plank base were laid about three layers of cardboard, from Red Cross food parcels, and on these two layers of empty canvas palliasses [the covers for thin straw pallets] stolen from German stores. Next an appeal was made for anyone who was interested in wrestling to supply a blanket, and finally we managed to obtain enough to permit a double thickness for a mat 12 ft. by 20 ft. in area. The top surface consisted of a canvas mat made from good quality, hard-to-obtain German palliasse canvas "found" by devious underhand methods. Volunteers were called for to stitch them, and finally the finished article, with smooth seams and stitched eyelets all round to permit it to be pulled tight with cords, was put down and our ring was complete -- for "Catch" and "Free style". Later the ring was doubled in area, measuring about 24 ft. by 20 ft.

Now for the judo gear! More palliasse canvas was obtained and the camp searched for tailors, who finally turned out some jackets looking somewhat civilian, but without pockets or buttons. Later, Sekine had his Japanese outfit sent out from England and all future jackets were based on this. Swimming trunks were worn and Sekine had the only pair of judo trousers. Other jackets were made from mail bags, much to the detriment of our skin, as they were rather rough. Two jackets were plainly marked across the back "Royal Mail" and another "Deutsche Reich Post". The marking and wearing of these jackets from German Army stuff and mail bags carried with it the danger of a court martial and conviction for sabotage and a possible penalty of ten years' imprisonment if any German officer had taken the matter seriously. Fortunately this never happened.

Now everything was ready for the class to commence operations, but where was the class to come from? The answer was conscription! The first pupils were a few unwilling victims, mostly R.A.F. from Sekine's own room in the camp, and to them goes the credit -- they were the first judo class in a German Prisoner Camp.

The class was allotted the mat from 12 to 3 o'clock daily and three evenings a week. Once practice was actually taking place interest was rapidly roused throughout the camp and new recruits rolled along. Within a few months the class numbered as many as thirty and as we practised frequently the progress of the original members was fairly rapid and soon one or two of them were assisting Instructor Sekine with the novices, teaching them breakfalls and other preliminary work.

Early in 1943 a competition was held, but although this aroused great interest from among the class, from the judo point of view it was a failure, as at the standard then reached the supporters of sheer physical strength defeated the numbers who relied on their skill at judo. For that reason this was the only competition ever held. Later a six-aside team contest was held, with Sekine acting as referee, and this was more successful.

At this time another difficulty arose. Our jackets would not stand the strain and a volunteer had to be found to help keep them in repair -- a full-time job. Also they had to be washed frequently. A second canvas was made to allow the old one to be cleaned -- this was done and it was hung out to dry. The next morning we found that it had been stolen -- hours of work had vanished. Later it was noticed that the camp theatre had a beautiful new canvas curtain about the same size as the missing mat.

Now that everything had been organised, the "Four Posts Club" was formed. Its name was devised from the four corner posts of a boxing ring, and it comprised all the members of classes using the gym. The club committee then commenced to produce shows consisting of boxing bouts, catch, free style, weight lifting, gymnastics and judo. The judo was only a demonstration and exhibition and not a contest. These shows made judo even more popular in camp and gained us more advocates.

Later, Percy Sekine and his assistant instructor, Harold Bennet, gave a public theoretical demonstration of how the throws should be made, and later in the boxing programme two of the "star" pupils took part in the contest, and it is to be feared that there was a great contrast between Sekine's "How it should be done" and "How it was done" later.

Everything ran smoothly, the only exception being the difficulty of getting the Chief Instructor out of bed when the time came to practise. Then in July, 1944, the small Air Force contingent were sent to an R.A.F. camp. Thus we lost Percy Sekine and Second in Command Bennet at the same time.

The club carried on under the two most proficient pupils, but to add to the difficulties the Four Posts Club decided to put on a gym show every Saturday evening to different sections of the camp each time. This was necessary, as the gym held from two to three hundred and the camp was 5,000 strong. In each of these shows judo was demanded and the two remaining "instructors," for want of a better title, obliged, putting on a five-minute exhibition each week.

In September, 1944, the food position became so serious that the British Medical Officers closed the gym, and, although three particularly keen enthusiasts carried on with theory practise in a room, that ended judo in the Prison Camps of Germany.

It had always been the ambition of Percy Sekine to bring a team to England with him from Stalag 383 to compete against a Budokwai team, but the breaking up of the camp prevented the fulfilment of his idea. However, when the ex-prisoners settle down again it is to be hoped that we shall see most of them making an appearance at 15, Lower Grosvenor Place [home of the Budokwai].

Judo and Kendo at Prisoner of War Camp 101, Ontario, Canada

By Robert K. Okazaki

From Robert K. Okazaki, The Nisei Mass Evacuation Group and P.O.W. Camp "101" Angler, Ontario, translated by Jean M. Okazaki and Curtis T. Okazaki (Scarborough, Ontario: Markham Litho Ltd., 1996). Copyright © 1996 by Robert K. Okazaki, all rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of Jean Okazaki.

Editor's note: Although there was never anyplace officially named Angler in Ontario, there was a railway station of that name located just north of Lake Superior, at approximately 48 degrees 46 minutes latitude, 86 degrees 25 minutes longitude. The station existed as a post office in the early 1900s so the name was in local use for a long time afterwards. During World War II POW Camp 101 was built nearby for the purpose of housing German and Italian prisoners of war. Says Canadian POW historian David Carter, "When you locate Marathon just to the north west of Pukaskwa National Park you should be able to find a small village of Heron Bay. The latter was the closest point to Angler." When the Germans and Italians started tunneling out of Angler in early 1942, they were sent to more escape-resistant camps and replaced with some 425 Japanese Canadian men arrested during the spring of 1942. Their crime? Protesting the government policy of forcibly relocating Japanese Canadians to remote interior camps and separating military-age men from their families.

For additional historical background, see the University of British Columbia site http://www.library.ubc.ca/asian/jcrc.html.

June 16 and 17, 1943:

Our physical health has always been a major concern while we've been confined. Most of us have lost weight because of the food shortage and lack of exercise, so to help correct this problem, we or doing "radio taiso," or radio exercise, early each morning. At first the tower guards looked down curiously as our younger internees hustled us through some very demanding military drills, but eventually even they started to exercise with us! Staff Sergeant Ward, one of the friendlier guards, often stood in awe as he watched our precision drilling! Commander Ellwood eventually banned our exercises, so we took up running and despite our heavy [and ill-fitting] army boots, we circled the compound fifty times, a good twenty-five kilometres each day! Many of us eventually quit the running, but a small, dedicated group did continue until the camp closed at the end of the war. Undaunted by their limited food intake for three years, the determination of this group was astounding (unless you spent time here, you cannot even begin to imagine the tenacity of these individuals)! When Lt.-Col. Kippen returned to take command of the camp, he urged us to resume our radio taiso because it was good for us both mentally and physically. We also encouraged everyone to play baseball and other outdoor sports. We skated in winter, and with a few talented judo and kendo internees, we've really delved into these two sports!

March 27, 1944:

[Motoo] Matsushita-sensei has been teaching us Kendo. Our equipment is getting very tattered from overuse, and is in need of major repairs! Our shinai (bamboo sword) were broken a long time ago, so we obtained permission from the Commandant to cut wood for new ones. We went out and split some straight, White Birch, and dried it the shade. After shaving and smoothing each shinai, we applied oil and wax to make them slippery-smooth. Everyone helped, and a lot of hard work was put into each shinai, but White Birch is heavier than bamboo and the heft slows our movements -- and if you get hit on the head, you sure see a lot of stars!

Our teaching began with Kendo fundamentals. Training the body and mind are essential, and youngsters to fifty-year olds all reverently practiced over and over again. It was such an inspiring sight! Although the Recreation Hall is a bit small, we use it as a Dojo and practice four days each week. With Matsushita-sensei's enthusiastic lessons, we have tackled seventeen Men-waza [head strikes], thirteen Kote-waza [body strikes], and ten Tsuki-waza [thrusting techniques]. The waza are very necessary Kendo elements, and along with this we also study how to judge and referee matches.

… I must also mention two other groups of dedicated internees. Despite the on-going food rationing, Mr. Masato Ishibashi and his Judo students are excelling at their sport. Their training awfully tough, and their "kakeoge" [shouting] reverberated throughout the camp. We have renamed our Recreation Hall "Yodokan" [Diversion House]! Then there's the young men who jog around the inner perimeter of the camp fifty times every day, rain or shine. Mr. T. Okubo first exercises them with a strenuous, military-style work-out before they go running, and the sweat from their under-nourished bodies shows their energy is well-spent! I really marvel at their self-discipline!

August 20, 1944

We participated in our camp's very first Kendo tournament, held in our officially named "Shoko Dojo" [essentially, "Mr. Matsushita’s Lakeside Kendo Club," an ironic reference to the nearby Lake Superior], and run by Messrs. [Motoo] Matsushita, [Haruo] Ichikawa and [Ken] Hibi-sensei! The event lasted all day, and the Recreation Hall was jammed full of spectators.

August 26, 1945

Summer is almost gone. The Kendo-ka have been training diligently, and we held our second, and likely last tournament in the "Shoko-Dojo". The bouts were not strictly win/lose, but clean-cut waza surfaced throughout the matches! Our spectators were surprised and awe-struck as the shiai showed the use of nito-ryu (2-sword kendo) and naginata (long-handled sword). The perpetual mending and patching of our worn-out kendo-gu (equipment) and the many hours of practice have really paid off for us!

April 29, 1946:

Finally, the day of our release has arrived! We have fought very hard against the abusive, inhumane government policies on evacuation and the separation of our families. The evacuation has destroyed the entire Japanese society in Canada and I don't believe it can be rebuilt to how it once was. When we cried out, no one listened, and we even tried to force the issue by voluntarily surrendering to the M.P.s at the Vancouver Immigration Building. Our last day here at the Angler P.O.W. Camp # 101 marks the end of four years and five days of confinement. We are leaving with too many bad memories, too many tragedies, and too few good recollections.

Editor’s update.

On October 2, 2001, Gord Campbell of Marathon, Ontario, sent the following e-mail:

Angler was Angler before the camp, which was originally known as Camp X. At the time of the war it was a small siding, and probably the marshalling yard siding for the construction of the CPR. The closest town was not Heron Bay; it was Peninsula Station, population 90, otherwise known as Peninsula. (For reference see The Last Spike by Pierre Burton.) Peninsula Station is about two miles south of Angler. It was absorbed into Marathon in 1944 or Peninsula was renamed Marathon depending on your viewpoint. I should know all this -- I grew up here.

There was a great escape here on April 18th 1942. The German POWs dug during the winter when the moisture in the ground gave the sand some frozen support. In the case of the Angler camp, the site was specifically picked because it was a non-cohesive, very clean, beach sand area. This sand collapses quite easily and is hard to support. Thus out of five tunnels, only one tunnel succeeded out of the wire. Every inch of the tunnel had to be shored up.

The particular group of German POWs that participated in the great escape was punished. They were shipped for a time to a barren windswept place called Orvada in southern Alberta. However, the rest of the prisoners weren’t moved because of the escape, but instead because logging zones up on the Little Martinet and Islington Lake areas were far less rugged on the horses.

During the war, prisoners had to be used for the logging operations as the lumber industry lost a high percentage of its labour to the military. After the war, the former lumbermen did not return to logging, having seen the world. Out of that labour shortage grew forest mechanization such as the chainsaw and the rubber-tired Timber Jack. Why the Timber Jack and not the horse? Lumber companies had to do something, as few teamsters returned after the war. And as the story states many German prisoners and civilian refugees found their working future in the Canadian forests.

On September 4, 2002, Robert J. Henderson of the Homefront Archives and Museum in Regina, Saskatchewan, wrote to add the following information:
The Angler Camp 101 for German Prisoners (other ranks)  ran from January 10, 1941 to July 29, 1946. 
Ozada (not Orvada as identified by Mr. Campbell) is located west of Calgary, and existed from May to December 1942, with a capacity for 10,000 Africa campaign prisoners of war who were recent arrivals to Canada.  There was no transfer of prisoners of war from Angler to Ozada.  The escapees were designated as "Blacks", e.g., hard core Nazis, and were not to be mixed with new batches.
Editor's note: See also http://www2.memlane.com/djcarter/notes.htm, http://www.ghosttownpix.com/alberta/ozada.html, and http://home.arcor.de/kriegsgefangene/greatbritain/canada/canada.html

JNC Feb 2000