Black Belt Magazine, June 1970

Early Leaders of US Judo

Left to Right: Dr. E.K. Koiwai, Jim Bregman, Phil Porter, US Senator Ben Campbell

U.S. judo is presently being racked by dissention and split by a power struggle between its two largest national organizations: the United States Judo Federation (USJF) and its new counterpart, the United States Judo Ass’n (USJA), formerly known as the Armed Forces Judo Ass’n (AFJA).

It’s not just a battle to keep the alphabetical abbreviations straight, but more so to understand just what happened, why and what will be the possible consequences.

It was the middle of 1969 when the AFJA officially withdrew from the USJF, changing its name to United States Judo Ass’n. The similarities in their initials – USJF vs USJA, or the traditionalists vs the liberal revisionists – are so close, one can’t help but think there was some purpose aforethought. Confusion, claims and counter charges were to be expected, but the similarities of the initials only clouds the issues more. Nevertheless, the battle was on.

Jim Bregman, a USJA Executive Committee member, states his case for the split, “Why did we split? We tried to balance unity against the evils of the existing system. Unfortunately, the evils were so many, and so great that after years of struggle, we were forced to conclude the value of unity was doubtful.

“Some judoists make fun of karate because that art is not unified in the U.S. Unity is supposed to bring with it many wonderful things. What has it brought to American judo? Tenth rate status in the world, and the stagnation of most judo programs here at home. What is the root of the problem? We felt that it was an outmoded dictatorial attitude and system.”

Bregman emphasizes, “Judo rank should be kept as a reward in fighting and coaching. Thus, the highest rank we have in the USJA is fifth (degree), and only two of them. We have about ten active fourth degrees … We aren’t in any race with each other for the prestige of rank. We don’t attach community position to judo rank. Most of us are in judo for the fighting -coaching activities involved rather than the social prestige, if indeed there is any in our American communities.”

Bregman feels, “This preoccupation with position and the prestige of rank has done irreparable harm to American judo. In fact, we can sense the complete disgust of the average American judoist with the existing system, and we know that rank, as such, may be banned at the AAU or governing body level in American judo because it has been abused so badly.

“Judo rank giving has been abused because it has been used as a controlling device. The ‘If you don’t do what I say, you’ll never get promoted’ attitude is what we have seen too much of. In short, we feel that the small group at the top in the JBBF (USJF) wants to control American judo, while we wanted, and still want, to build and develop it. The power of not to promote, or to keep others from getting ranks or having recognized ranks does not interest us, but it seems to interest the JBBF (USJF) very deeply.

“Half of our 1964 U.S. Olympic Team is in the USJA Our ranks were good yesterday, but they are no good today. By what political slight of hand were they made no-good or unrecognized?”

To better understand the issues, a jump back in time is necessary to the inception of the Strategic Air Command Judo Ass’n (SACJA), which eventually became the AFJA, which in turn changed its name to the USJA. Originally SACJA was created to better service active-duty military personnel and their dependents in the sport of judo.

According to George Bass, president of the newly formed USJA, in The American Judoman, “The AFJA started to become the USJA I 1964 when we asked to have no civilian members and to have all military People join the AFJA. This request was refused, and for nearly two years anyone could join any group.”

In a letter five years later to the chairman of the Interservice Sports Committee Capt. H. W. Hall Jr., USN, Dr. E, K. Koiwai President Of USJF, states, “Recently, the AFJA had abused its rights and had actively solicited civilians. It was not the primary intent of the USJF to force members of the Armed Forces to join the AFJA, but rather to prevent the AFJA from soliciting civilians not under their jurisdiction.”

It seemed to be an instance of the pot calling the kettle black as the break-away associations President Bass, referring back to their (USJA’s) two-year, open status when anyone could join, charged, “It impelled us to take in civilian members as a counter balance to the actions of some groups who took in large numbers of military people or who were of military people from the President on down, although claiming to be civilian yudanshakai.”

The USJF admits the opening of the AFJA to civilians in 1964 by the Judo Black Belt Federation (at that time there was only one national organization for judo which is now known as USJF) was an unwise move. Quoting an official USJF memo which details the background and attempts to clarify the issues, “The open registration which was passed was the result of frustration and continuing debate in the meetings about civilians being taken into the AFJA.”

Whatever the frustration, that misjudgment cost the USJF some points as the USJA reports about 100 civilian clubs joined their organization during that two-year span. The association now reports more than half (about 650) of the judo groups within its jurisdiction and since the break last year they have been actively recruiting more clubs in direct competition to the U.S. Judo Federation.

Both organizations are national in scope. However, to our understanding, the AFJA (now known as the USJA) began signing up civilian members long before 1964. Set up primarily for active military personnel, the AFJA over-stepped its bounds by admitting civilians.

At least it would seem that way, until we look to statements made by Capt. Hall of the Interservice Sports Committee, in order to “clarify the relationship between the Armed Forces of the United States and the organization known as the Armed Forces Judo Ass’n . . . this later organization does not carry the official sanction of the Armed Forces of the United States nor has it in any way officially represented us, collectively or individually. We are officially represented to appropriate sports organizations by individuals so designated at the headquarters level of each of the Armed Forces or collectively by individuals designated by the Interservice Sports Committee. The Armed Forces Judo Ass’n does not enjoy such representation.”

In this letter which was addressed to USJF President Koiwai, Capt. Hall goes on to explain, “As the Armed Forces Judo Ass’n is a private organization, active-duty military personnel may join, if they so desire, Because of its large military membership, local units in many cases have been allowed to utilize military installations for their activities. Such activities have represented a valued extension of local recreation programs.”

However, in behalf of the Interservice Sports Committee’s concern over the alleged policies that active-duty military personnel may be granted promotions in judo only through the Armed Forces Judo Ass’n, Capt. Hall said, “If this is true, it means that they are being forced to join this organization in order to advance in judo regardless of their own personal preferences or local participation.”

Military-Civilian Squabble

Thus we have the USJF fighting with the USJA over a jurisdictional dispute, so who’s supposed to go where? Under its old banner as the AFJA, the USJA implied a military affiliation and sanction, when in fact, it was a civilian association to begin with, run by civilians for military personnel. And there’s the Armed Forces Interservice Sports Committee saying they must leave it up to each individual to make up his own mind and yet it supports the AAU-sanctioned group, USJF.

All of the other associations which make up the USJF are confined to geographic areas, such as Southern California Yudanshakai or the Chicago Yudanshakai The USJF was made up of 20 such organizations.

Looking at the old AFJA, it wasn’t confined to any locale but was a tightly knit unit affiliate of the USJF, numbering some one-third of the total USJF membership. Membership dues were taken in from each of AFJA’s members and sent into the USJF. When the money was redistributed among each organization, it was parceled out and divided into 20 equal shares. This is the crux of the problem: the AFJA was contributing one-third of the USJF’s total income, but the AFJA was receiving in return only one-twentieth.

Contributing factors which muddy the waters is the AFJA’s jurisdiction surpassed the USJF’s boundaries in that military outposts in foreign countries were part of the AFJA. In other words, AFJA had a national organization which paralleled the USJF’s, plus it extended internationally by encompassing U.S. military personnel abroad. With such a widespread power structure, the AFJA needed a larger operating budget more in line with its size.

When the break finally happened, the newly formed USJA found itself without AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) sanction. The AAU is the official sports governing body for judo in the United States, recognized by the International Judo Federation, the Pan-American Judo Federation, and the Kodokan. This put USJA’s ranking license in question and led to the questionable practice of not requiring rank cards as proof of rank for competitors in their tournaments.

Since 1955 AAU drew up articles of agreement with the Judo Black Belt Federation, at that time the only national organization for judo in America, recognizing only JBBF judo belt ranks. In return the AAU kept control of all amateurism, tournament sanctioning, and international affairs in judo. USJA President Bass explains, “In short, the AAU retained all of the usual prerogatives of the governing body, but delegated to the JBBF exclusive recognition of their ranks by the AAU.”

Continuing, Bass details, “During the following 14 years until 1969, as part of the JBBF (or USJF), the AFJA grew faster than any other part of American judo. At the same time, the AFJA experienced increasing difficulty in working with the JBBF. Relations between the two organizations became increasingly strained, with the JBBF repeatedly threatening, and finally attempting, to dissolve or disband the AFJA. For these reasons, and others too numerous to detail here, the AFJA Board decided in the spring of 1969 to become an independent organization, with the name, the United States Judo Ass’n.

Pledges AAU Loyalty

Speaking directly to the AAU, Bass pledges continued loyalty to the union as the U.S. governing body for judo, and suggests a two-fold solution to the problem, “First, recognition of the USJA as an allied body of the AAU, and subsequently, alteration of the existing AAU-JBBF agreement so that recognition of JBBF ranks will be given by the AAU, but not exclusive recognition, so that recognition of USJA ranks can also be given. After all, it is a little illogical to insist that half of American judo, which was qualified to give ranks a few months ago when part of the JBBF, is now unqualified to do so.”

Regarding USJA members in limbo while waiting on the decision of a recent AAU meeting, Director of Development Phil Porter summarizes in a report to its members, “Following the AAU rules to the letter, the National AAU Membership Committee received, considered, accepted and voted to table the application of the USJA as an allied body of the AAU. Notice that this membership will not be finally approved or disapproved until the next AAU convention in December 1970 in San Francisco. We must all work hard to insure final approval. AAU club and individual membership is the answer.”

Yes, it seems to be the answer. Upon acceptance to the AAU, the U.S. Judo Ass’n would be in direct competition with the U.S. Judo Federation. It seems the USJA may have the upper hand because, with AAU sanction, its ranking must be recognized by the IJF, Pan-Am Federation and the Kodokan, who have already recognized the AAU as the governing body of U.S. judo. Ben Campbell, one of the finest judo players and leaders in U.S. judo, voiced his opinions on the fractured factions. Having close ties and life-long friends on both sides of the judo fissure, his views are especially pertinent.

Not exactly fed up with judo or the situation, but rather disillusioned, Campbell says, “My feeling on this issue is they (USJF and USJA) are both right and they are both wrong. Each group seems to be accusing the other of what they themselves are guilty.

“In my mind the biggest problem is the USJF is too conservative. Let me give you an example. At a recent USJF meeting there was a proposal to raise the annual USJF dues for contestants from $1.00 to $2.00 per year. This would have added an extra $30,000 a year in revenue which could have been used to hire a public relations man and an executive secretary to promote judo. It could have added extra money to the funds for our international teams or helped with the development of judo in rural areas. The motion was turned down. Now that’s what I call ultra-conservative.”

When asked if he thought the newly-formed opposition is doing a better job in being progressive, Campbell replied, “As far as organization goes, the USJA is far better. USJA dues are $10 a year, which gives the USJA far more money to work with. This money is not kept stagnant either but is constantly being redistributed in various forms.”

Just how was this money redistributed was a question of interest. Campbell outlined some examples of what the USJA practiced, “You are familiar with the idea of sensei-seito (teacher-student) relationship that says, ‘I’m the sensei, you’re the seito. I do not, or will not, talk to you about the problems of judo. I will only talk with other sensei.’ Not so with the USJA. Everyone is sent a news letter telling them what is going on within and without the organization and this is done monthly. Sometimes the stamp bill alone is $800 a month. At least everyone is informed and has a voice in the organization. The USJF, on the other hand, only sends information to the Yudanshakais’ (affiliate associations’) select people.

“If there is someone, let’s say in Podunk, Arkansas, who needs help in the form of a clinic or advice, they receive that help. Not next month, or next year, but right away. And if someone who has been practicing judo for several years should have a promotion, the USJA will get them their promotion. Usually, of course, only if that person really deserves to be promoted.

“However, I’ve seen letters from Risei Kano, letters from Palmer (president of IJF) and letters from the Pan American Union that specifically state they will not honor USJA certification. Unfortunately, I feel the USJF is right in trying to curb the wholesale distribution of degrees. Some of the USJA degrees are not worth the paper they are printed on.”

When asked if he were leaning towards the USJA because most of his ideas seemed to be in favor of the association as opposed to the federation, Campbell stated, “Some of their ideas are good and should be used. However, I do disagree with trying to build a new group in order to take the place of an old group. Anyone, with any background in social history knows that revolutions are nothing new. One regime will replace the old, then that regime will find another regime is ready to mushroom up and take its place. Why go through all the bother of a revolt? Why don’t we try to build on what we already have?”

Through all the haze and smoke of both sides taking pot shots at one another, one thing seems clear. USJA survival is dependent on the next AAU convention this coming December. If the USJA is affiliated and accepted, the old-order USJF must bend and satisfy the needs of its younger membership. USJF must actively woo membership with a continual flow of communications. Fees may have to be raised so that USJF may become competitive with USJA.

If the USJA is denied affiliation, its certification, the organization, indeed, its very existence is in jeopardy. Along with it, half of U.S, judo will be unaffiliated. It will then continue to be a very well organized association with good leadership, but for what purpose?

belt.gif Note: The development of a national body for US Judo started in 1952 with the creation of the Amateur Judo Association (AJA). The authority to grant Kodokan rank was assumed by the national organization and high-ranking individuals were no longer permitted to grant promotions on their own. The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) governed all US amateur sports at this time and the AJA was granted the right to represent the US in international competition. In cooperation with the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), the first National Judo Championship was held in 1953 in San Jose, California, and Judo eventually grew to be the third largest sport in the AAU.

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). Then within 12 years it changed its name to US Judo Federation (USJF). One of the USJF yudanshakai, the Armed Forces Judo Association, withdrew from the USJF and created the United States Judo Association (USJA) in 1969. 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.


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