By: Jeff Beish, USJA Member

To my knowledge the history of organized Judo in the United States has never been officially published in a single volume.  Any article of this history would necessarily be based on personal memories and articles scattered about the Martial Arts world.  I will attempt to record the history of the United States Judo Association from my personal memories and papers.  Bear in mind first and foremost this is based on my personal knowledge and is subject to human error. This is a work in progress.

My first contact with organized Judo came in 1960 when attending basic training in the U.S. Air Force (USAF). I had been practicing Judo on and off since 1952; however, had no knowledge of organized Judo except for the local dojo I attended. Our drill instructor at Lackland AFB, Texas was SSGT Linan, who was black belt in Kodokan Judo.  Also I met a new friend, Masato Yamashita, another black belt in Judo. He and I were allowed to workout with the base Judo club.

After our basic training ended Yamashita and I were transferred to Chanute AFB, Illinois to attend technical school.  We found that the Chanute Judo Club had 20 or 30 students and we had plenty of Judo activity for off duty times.  Once an older Judoka came to visit our class and was introduced as SSgt. Rick Mertens who was active in the Air Force Judo Association (AFJA), so he recruited club members into the organization.   We both joined the AFJA and I would remain a regular member until 1969 when I became a life member. 

I remained in the USAF until early 1968 and participated in the Judo activities at each base within the JBBF and AFJA.  After that I was unattached and remained with the JBBF until the AFJA split from them and formed the United States Judo Association (USJA).  Except for just having fun practicing Judo I avoided Judo politics and have been a much happier camper for that.  Here is an outline of the history as I remember it. This is a work in progress and suggestions are welcome.


It all began back in 1951 when USAF General Curtiss LeMay authorized a most innovative program to teach his Strategic Air Command (SAC) aircrews the art of "hand-to-hand combat." For a more officially sounding name, "combative measures" was coined by the Air Force. To accomplish this task, General LeMay directed the SAC Physical Conditioning units and Air Police units to select candidates for Martial Arts training at the Kodokan Judo Institute in Japan.  The training sessions at the Kodokan would include Judo, jujitsu, karate, aikido, and other related forms that would eventually lead to certifying them to become “combative measures” instructors.   As commander-in-chief of the USAF Strategic Air Command (SAC), General Curtis E. LeMay came to realize that in the time of the Cold War there was a great need to train his combat crews in survival techniques.

Gen. LeMay also recognized that a well organized Judo programs would not only help his airmen to increase physical fitness it would also teach aircrews to defend themselves if they were shot down into enemy territory.  LeMay's first problem was finding enough qualified Judo instructors to carry out his program. He found the answer when he hired a former National wrestling champion and ranking Judo person Mr. Emilio ("Mel") Bruno (6th degree black belt) to organize and head up the SAC Judo and Physical Conditioning unit . So, in 1952 the SAC - ARDC Combatives Measures Program was born at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska .

Since there were only a hand full of qualified Judo instructors, SAC then decided to train its own instructors by sending airmen with prior Judo experience to Japan's Kodokan Judo Institute for advanced training by the world's foremost experts.  These airmen returned to instruct SAC airmen at the various bases.  SAC also secured the services of ten of the highest ranking Judo experts from the Kodokan to visit the United States and tour SAC bases to give advanced training to airmen in Judo, karate, and police methods.

Judo in Omaha began during the early 1950s. Mike Meriweather taught at the YMCA and Dr. Ashida (at 22 one of the youngest 5th-degree black belts) taught at the University in Lincoln.  Also, a number of black belts practiced judo at Offutt Air Force Base. Among the better known military judoka were Sgt. Mann, Augie Hauso, Phil Porter, Carl Flood, and La Verne Raab.  The first commercial judo school, the Omaha Judo Academy, was opened by La Verne Raab and Carl Flood after they left the military. Mel Bruno, who later became head of judo for SAC, taught judo at the Omaha YWCA and at the Omaha Athletic Club. In the Governance of U.S. Judo the development of a national governing body for U.S. judo started in 1952 through the efforts of Dr. Henry A. Stone, Major Draeger, and others. At that time there was no national authority to give guidance to local judo communities and insure the logical and orderly development of judo as a sport. Additional information on the Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences . [ EJMAS, 2010].  


In 1953 the U.S. Air Force invited judo, karate, and aikido experts from Japan to give demonstrations at many Air Force Bases over the United States .  One purpose of this tour was to train judo instructors and combat crews to give exhibitions on and off base. A demonstration was also setup at the White House marking a millstone in Judo development in America . The SAC Judo Society was created and became a chartered black belt organization under the Kodokan. The Amateur Judo Association (AJA) was also created for the purpose of bringing together the various judo organizations in the US under one roof.  Also, during 1953, the first National AAU Judo tournament was held at San Jose State College and the SAC team was invited to participate.

The Amateur Judo Association was a first attempt at establishing a national governing structure. Dr. Stone served as the first president. Authority to grant the most coveted Kodokan judo rank was assumed by the national organization. High ranking individuals were no longer permitted to grant promotions independently. The growth of local judo organizations was encouraged, promotion privileges were granted to yudanshakai, and a national communications avenue was opened.


In 1954, the first SAC Judo Tournament was held at Offutt AFB. The Grand Champion was Airman Morris Curtis.  Two SAC judoists advanced to the last few rounds in the 1954 AAU National Championships at Kezar Stadium, San Francisco . The 12-man, SAC team won 29 rounds and lost 19 but was unable to place a man. Staff Sgt. Ed Maley, SAC, a member of the 1955 SAC Judo Team, placed in the 1955 AAU National championships-third in the 150-lb division. The Air Research and Development Command, USAD (ARDC), also entered a team in 1955, after only a year of competition, and A/1 C Vern Raab won an unofficial fourth place in the heavyweight division.

SAC sent 26 Air Police went to the Kodokan to study judo fourteen weeks. The curriculum consisted of police tactics, aikido, karate and judo. Also, that same years SAC brought S. Kotani and T. Otaki to the US to help conduct the first SAC tournament and to coach the SAC judo team.  A 10-man, AAU-Air Force team visited six Japanese cities to compete in 16 contests. Five members of the team were Air Force, and the most successful member of the team was to be heard from many times in the future. This man, Staff Sgt. George Harris, won all of his 16 contests.

In 1955 the AJA changed its name to Judo Black Belt Federation (JBBF) to recognize its role as a national federation of local yudanshakai (black belt associations). During this time the JBBF controlled judo ranking and the Amateur Athletics Union (AAU) oversaw the amateur aspects of the sport.  Then in 1963 the JBBF began using the name US Judo Federation for its business purposes.

Under the guidance of Gen. Power (ARDC Commander) the SAC Judo Society received recognition from the Kodokan in 1956. Emilio Bruno was elected president and the association was permitted to grant judo rank. This was the first and only Armed Forces judo association to be so recognized by the Kodokan. SAC and ARDC sent 280 Air Policemen for four-week classes at the Kodokan during 1956. 

In 1957, after only five years in judo, Staff Sgt. George Harris won the Grand Championship in the National AAU Judo Championships in Hawaii . Harris was first in the heavyweight division; sweeping the division with him were A/1 C Lenwood Williams in second place and A/2C Ed Mede, third. The Air Force also took the National 5-Man Team Championship for the first time.  Winners of the SAC and ARDC tournaments represented the Air Force in the AAU tournaments on April 13 and 14 in Chicago . Twelve Air Force judoists participated, with George Harris successfully defending his Grand Championship, and the Air Force team captured the National 5-Man Team Championship for the second year in a row. Due to the great power of southern California in the lower weight divisions, the Air Force was unable to win the overall team championship.  

In 1957 the Second Air Force held its championship tournament in Austin, Texas and invited Roy H. (“Pop”) Moore to officiate the tournament. Pop decided to stay and the Austin Judo Club opened its doors; with the help of Col. Walthrop, Beverly Sheffieid, from the Austin Recreation Department and a young competitor, Jerry Reid, from Bergstrom Air Force Base.

Meanwhile the SAC Judo Society was also changing and developing. In 1958 the society became the Subsequently it was renamed the Strategic Air Command Judo Association (SACJA), then SAC-ARDC Judo Society and shortly there after to the SAC-ARDC Judo Society. Originally SACJA was created for service active-duty military personnel and their dependents. This also included civilian personnel who worked for the Air Force and eventually members who left the Air Force would remain as members.

The SAC Judo Team, consisting of L. Williams, E. Mede, G. Harris, J. Reid, R. Moxley, and M. O'Connor (trainer) was designated as the U.S. Pan-American Judo Team in 1958. Team members won first and fourth in the 3rd dan category (Harris and Williams), third in the 2nd dan (Reid), and second in the 1st dan (Mede). In the fall of 1958, George Harris and Ed Mede represented the U.S. in the 2nd World Tournament, held in Tokyo. Harris's three wins before losing to Sone, a Japanese 5th degree, placed him in a tie for fifth place along with the four other defeated quarter finalists. As a result of this fine record, George Harris was promoted to 4th degree in judo, the first Armed Forces man to be so honored.  By then Judo was only loosely organized into groups within Air Force Commands. Soon these groups formed a larger body to encompass the entire U.S  Air Force and looked for someone to command the associations.

With the addition of members such as Bill Nagase and Sam Numahiri in Fort Worth, Karl Geis and Rick Landers in Houston, and Rick Mertens in Shreveport , the Southwestern U.S. Judo Association came into being. The association annexed small areas out of several yudanshakais and covered the states of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico . In 1959 the Southwestern U.S. Championships were held in Austin, TX with over 300 competitors attending. In the late 1950s Bill Nagase and Gail Stolzenburg competed in the National AAU Senior Judo Championships.

In 1958 the name was again changed to the Air Force Judo Association (AFJA). The growth of judo and the AFJA was so rapid in the services that in 1961 the AFJA became the Armed Forces Judo Association (AFJA). This organization governed judo in all branches of the US military. However as the AFJA grew, problems between it and the JBBF developed when the JBBF would not give the association equal representation in the federation, even though at one time its membership was larger than the JBBF.

The military people did not get involved in civilian judo until about 1958. Around 1960, Darrell Darling, Phil Porter, Paul Own, Wally Barber, who was director of the local YMCA, and Mike Manly met at Dr. Ashida's house and decided to form a yudanshakai. They framed a constitution and made contacts with the yudanshakai officers in Chicago and Denver to implement the project. In the autumn of 1961 the yudanshakai, which covered the greater part of six states, was formed and became Armed Forces Judo Association (AFJA).

In 1962 the International Judo Federation was formed and became the governing body for judo internationally.   The Air Forces Association, as the JBBF referred to the AFJA, in April 1962 expanded to include all branches of the services, i.e., the Navy/Marine Judo Association and the Army Judo Association and the name was changed to the Armed Forces Judo Association (AJFA).   An eight-man Armed Forces Judo team from Kanto Base Command Tokyo won third place in the Tama Games in Fuchu City earlier in 1965. 


The founding of the USJA was in 1968 by a group of experienced Judoists who met is a Chicago hotel room.  Attending that meeting were George Bass, Robey Reed,  Jim Bregman, Phil Porter, George Harris, Rick Mertens, and Karl Geis. In 1969 the differences and positions that had been fought out at the meetings finally culminated in one of the yudanshakai (the Armed Forces Judo Association) withdrawing from the U.S. Judo Federation to start a rival national organization. The Armed Forces Judo Association adopted a name similar to that of the parent organization, the United States Judo Association (USJA) . The association closely aligned itself with the philosophy and position of the Amateur Athletic Union.   Eventually, as a result of a court case, the USJA was granted the same rights as USJF to award Judo ranks. The AAU was later replaced by the United States Judo Incorporated (USJI) as the governing body for Judo in the US, and both the USJF and USJA are equal organizational members.

Since its inception the USJA has become the leader for American judo. Phil Porter developed a ranking system that has become a model for American Judo. Jim Bregman and Ben Campbell [both 1964 US Olympians] pioneered the summer camp movement. During the early 70s, Camp Olympus was the technical center for American Judo.

In the United States, the USJI along with USJA and USJF are the governing bodies for judo. There are other organizations such as the Dai-Nippon Seibu-kan Budol Bugei-Kai, the American Society of Classical Judoka (ASCJ), and the Eastern Collegiate Judo Association.

Additional History:  Some words of wisdom from the late Rick Mertens, former USJA Executive Secretary.


Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences (EJMAS), http://ejmas.com/