I first studied Judo under Mr. Merichek, who taught classes at the Central YMCA. While most of my experiences in the class were uneventful, there were a few memorable events.
We had a professional wrestler in the classes for a while. He became frustrated with opponents being able to use the gi for pins and strangles. One day, he brought in some other professional wrestles and gave us a taste of performing their techniques.
I remember a Judo camp I attended where a Japanese Judo master and Olympian was part of the staff. I got on the mat and played with him one time, and was thrown all over the mat. Finally, he threw me into the crowd that was sitting around the mat. Since I was not stupid, instead of reentering the mat, I joined in with the crowd, and the master just moved on to another victim.
Master Byung Dae Suh
My second Judo instructor was Mr. Suh, a 6th degree and recent Korean immigrant, who taught Judo in the Chicago area. What I remember most about him was his arms, which could slide like snakes around your neck, and then instantly turn rock hard and choke you out in a second.
He had a wry sense of humor. If you showed pain, he would sit in front of you with a concerned look and ask “You gonna cry?” Sometimes Suh would get me an arm lock that caused me to tap out. Suh would say "too soon" and keep the lock applied. I would keep tapping until he thought I had learned to accept pain; then he would release the lock.
We had a married couple in the class. The husband was big and strong and the wife was small and fragile. Suh would play with the man and throw him all around the mat. Spectators would yell and clap in awe. Then Suh would play with the wife and let her throw him around. You could hear the spectators talking about how the small woman was whipping the master who had just whipped a big guy.
One night I was in playing with Suh and just happened to lift my foot as he performed a foot sweep. This caused his sweep to miss and caused him to slip and fall. Seeing me apparently throw the master, the spectator’s began to cheer. I motioned for them to stop but it was too late. For the next five minutes, the master tossed me around using every throw in the book. If I did not get up quickly enough, he pulled me up, and then threw me again.
Master Phyllis Harper
In the early 1970’s, I was a young Judoka training near Chicago. One of the visiting instructors was Phyllis Harper, who at the time was nearly 60 years of age, a 5th degree in Judo, and the highest raked woman in Judo in the United States. The first time I fought her, I wanted to be careful and not hurt her since I was young and strong and she was a thin, white-haired, grandmother. In spite of my efforts, there was some hurting going on, but it wasn’t her that was hurting. She whipped my butt! I tried to at least to save face, but it was not to be, I was not only whipped, I was humiliated.
Tomo Nage is a throw where you plant a foot on the opponent’s abdomen, drop to your back, and throw the opponent over the top of you to the floor behind you. Ms. Harper would gain a grip on each side of your upper chest and then drop her body and shoot it between your legs, Since she had a grip on your upper body, your head would be suddenly pulled down and between your legs so fast that you not only flipped to the floor but passed out from the sudden motion. I used to try the technique on others, but I usually just ended up dropping on my kidney area and lying there in pain.
Once at a Judo tournament in Rockford, Illinois, I was on the mat grappling with an opponent, I was going for my usual strangle hold when I heard my gi pants rip. As I applied the choke, I heard a bigger rip. My opponent tapped out, and, as I stood, I found that my pants had ripped from the bottom hem of one leg, up the inside seam, across the crotch, and down the inside seam of the other leg to the bottom hem. The crowd was yelling, clapping, and cheering at the free show. There was nothing I could do about the situation so I just bowed out and walked back the sidelines as if nothing had happened. Ms. Harper was a judge at the tournament so she let me use her gi pants. They were a little tight but they did not rip and went on to a third place win.
Grand Master Phil Porter
In about 1970, I attended a Judo clinic taught by Phil Porter, who at the time was about 45 years old. He later became the president of the United Sates Judo Association and one of the very few men to ever attain the rank of judan (10th degree) in Judo. I was about twenty-four and thought I was tough. As we performed the warm-up stretches, Porter, who was stocky and powerfully built, not thin and willowy, had us doing some flexibility exercises. As we sat on the floor, he had us pull a foot toward our abdomens, then toward our chests, then toward our chins, and then toward our ears. I did not get past the abdomen.
It was then and there that I decided that if a stocky guy who was 20 years older than me was able to do these things, then I also should be able to do them. I started daily morning stretches and have continued them ever since. Now I tell students, if a short, stocky man who is old enough to be your father or grandfather can do flexibility exercises, then they should also be able to do them. Master Porter went on to become O'Sensei, the highest ranking Judoka in the United Sates.