Judo in the US Air Force, 1953

Ed. by Joseph R. Svinth
Copyright © 2000 All rights reserved.

Journal of Non-lethal Combatives, January 2000

Editor's note: The most accessible source of information about the US Air Force's judo program of the 1950s and 1960s is "Judo in the Armed Forces" by Lt. Agulla Gibbs Dibrell" in John Corcoran and Emil Farkas, Martial Arts: Traditions, History, People (New York: Gallery Books, 1988), 228-229. (Ignore the surrounding drivels written by Dennis Helm; this section's actually pretty good.)

Nevertheless, the US Air Force judo program is today essentially forgotten, which is too bad, as it is one of the chief reasons behind the mainstreaming of Japanese martial arts in the United States following World War II. So, toward encouraging further research into this subject, the following are some contemporary descriptions of the Strategic Air Command judo tour of 1953.

The accompanying photographs are courtesy of the Strategic Air Command Museum in Bellevue, Nebraska. People with additional stories, photos, or clippings are invited to contact the editor at jrsvinth@juno.com.

American Commentary

By Robert W. Smith

From the Budokwai Quarterly Bulletin, October 1953, page 13. Copyright © 1953 by the Budokwai, London, England; reprinted by kind permission of the Budokwai.

Summer, which ordinarily passes for a slack judo season, has not been exactly that this year. Interest has been heightened and retained at a high pitch in the U.S. due largely to the efforts of the Kodokan 10 man team which is visiting the chief Strategic [Air Command] Air Force bases in this country. The team is composed of the following experts in judo, karate, and aikido:

Sumiyuki Kotani

Tadao Otaki

Chugo Sato

Takahiko Ishikawa

T. Ishikawa, SAC Museum

Kenji Tomiki

Kiyoshi Kobayashi

Hidetaka Nishiyama

Kusuo Hosakawa

Isao Obata

Toshio Kamada

I have been unable to see them but may be able to do so before September 12th, the date they return to Japan. I have received some information regarding their exhibitions and training sessions. It would seem that they are stressing functional judo, as the combat aspects of karate and aikijutsu are being emphasised. Nishiyama, one of the highest graded karate men in Japan, splits two-inch boards with his feet and hands while Tomiki pushes, pulls, and twists multiple opponents in his incomparable demonstrations of aikido. Judo, however, is not neglected. One report has Ishikawa (7th Dan), 1950 All Japan Champ, dropping six yudansha in 30 seconds; the mechanics of the art are ably demonstrated; and Kotani (8th Dan), even allows himself to be thrown by seven-year-old Alan Damron at the Castle Air Force Base in California.

"Judo Fighters Perform Here," Spokane Bomber Views, June 26, 1953, 3.

A group of the world's leading exponents of the art of Judo and self-defense demonstrated their skill at Fairchild [Air Force Base, Spokane, Washington] on Sunday and Monday before large groups of military and civilian personnel.

The group is touring the Strategic Air Command installations primarily to demonstrate the art of hand to hand combat to air crews, however the public was invited to the Sunday afternoon performance and all base personnel were invited to attend the Monday programs.

Included with the group as it tours the country are Mr. Mel Bruno, Strategic Air Command physical conditioning supervisor and A/1CL [Airman First Class] Leo Paulin, a first degree black belt holder. Mr. Bruno is in charge of the group and Airman Paulin is assigned to assist Mr. Bruno on the tour.

K. Tomiki, SAC museum
Highlights of the program were in disarming assailants, the art of combating a knife or bayonet attack, demonstrations in throwing, and the use of feet in close combat as well as the art of breaking several one-inch thick boards with the hand or foot.

A tense situation occurred during the Monday morning demonstrations. Mr. Bruno, using a Fairchild airman as an aid in his instructions, found his aid to be an adversary rather than an assistant.

Realizing the aggressive intent by the airman, Mr. Bruno proceeded to put him to sleep with a pressure squeeze on his neck. The airman was only too happy to cooperate after being revived.

JNC Jan 2000