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James Takemori

James H Takemori

Inducted 2015

James H. Takemori wrote the following about his judo experiences.

In 1937 at the age of 11, I had my first taste of judo in the small town of Parlier, California. My sensei was a Buddhist reverend. When I first started practicing ukemi it gave me a headache and made me sick. I had to wait over 2 years to get into the judo club because they had too many kids practicing. My dad begged the sensei and finally the sensei consented to let me practice.

The Parlier club was closed after a couple of years (I don’t know the reason). The club moved to Reedley, California. By then, most of the kids stopped practicing and a few other kids and I and our black belts settled in our new dojo. The Reedley Judo Club became quite strong in the central California area. We competed in Northern California (San Francisco area). I was on of the shonen team (13-16 age) and we came in second to the Lodi, California team in competition before the war.

My family and I were incarcerated in the Gila, Arizona Relocation Camp during the war years. In camp, I practiced judo 5 days a week. Most of the judoka were black belts. I was shonen champ in camp.

At 18, I was the first draft from the camp in 1944 to the Army. I was in Camp Shelby, Mississippi, the home base for 442nd Infantry Battalion. I attained the rank of First Field Sergeant. I was sent to Italy. After the war in Europe was over, they asked for volunteers to go to the Japanese language school in Ft. Snelling, Minnesota. I took and passed the test and was sent back to the States. I was supposed to go to the language school, but the Company Commander wouldn’t allow me to go because he wanted me to keep the peace between the nisei kids from Hawaii and the States. I got out of the Army in 1946 and moved to Seabrook, New Jersey. After a couple of years, the family and I moved to Washington, D.C. and went into the restaurant business.

I started back to judo in September of 1952 when judo was started up by Bill Berndt and then Donn Draeger and Kenzo Uyeno, which became the Washington Judo Club. In 1953 they had the first National Judo Championships in San Jose, California. They had 4 weight categories- 139, 150, 180 and heavyweight. I fought in the 150 lbs division as a Nikyu and defeated three Nidans and received a batsugun promotion to Shodan.

In 1953 the Shufu Judo Yudanshakai was organized. It was the governing body of all judo clubs on the East Coast. There wasn’t much judo on the East Coast at that time. We officials traveled throughout the East Coast area- New England area as well as the Southern States helping the judo program. Many judoka were coming back from the orient, so there were people mostly from the Marine and Army bases. Of course there were many people interested in learning judo also.

I competed until 1960 and retired from competition at the age of 34. When my student Jimmy Bregman (the Bronze Medal winner of the first Olympics in which judo was included in 1964 in Tokyo, Japan) started throwing me around it was time for me to retire.

I was the United States Judo Federation Junior Chairman for many years. My first National Senior Men’s Coach job was at the World Championships in 1969 in Mexico City. I was coach to the first women’s senior world team in 1980 (first women’s World Championships) in New York City. I coached the women’s team until 1991. In that capacity, I traveled to Japan about 10 times, as well as Korea, Hong Kong, Moscow, Germany, Austria, France, Poland, England, Belgium, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Colombia and Venezuela.

I have held many positions with the United States Judo Federation and am now the Chairman of the Promotion Committee.

I am also an International Judo Federation class B referee. Four of my former students are International class A referees. One of my daughters is a class A referee. I have four daughters, three hold rank of Kodokan Godan, and one Sandan.

My judo rank is currently Hachidan (8th degree black belt). I teach judo three days a week at Georgetown University and two days a week at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

Awards and other highlights

Henry Stone Award – In recognition of significant contributions in promoting the efficient administration of the sport of Judo under the auspices of the United States Judo Inc. Presented by the Board of Directors, United States Judo, Inc. 1975
John Osaka Award – In recognition of his contribution to Judo as a referee by demonstrating integrity and selflessness to further Judo. Presented by Board of Directors, United States Judo, Inc. 1999
Ambassadors Citation – In working for the proliferation of the sport of Judo in the Washington, D.C. area contributed to the improvement of mutual understanding and friendship between Japan and America. With this citation, the Ambassador of Japan (Ryozo Kato) acknowledged distinguished service and expressed his deepest respect. Presented by Ambassador of Japan, Ryozo Kato- April 16th, 2002
New York Athletic Club- Lifetime Achievement Award – Presented at the 21st NY Open Judo Championships on March 7th, 2004 in recognition of his lifelong dedication to the sport of Judo.
Japan’s Emperor of Japan Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays – Presented for his lifetime contribution to Judo in the U.S. –presented on November 3rd, 2004
Virginia State Lifetime Achievement Award – Presented for many years of extraordinary dedication and devotion to Judo. Presented on March 4th, 2006

• Kodokan Hachidan
• International B Referee
• Four of his students: David Long, Gary Berliner, Roy Englert and daughter Teri Takemori have their International A Referee licenses. Michael “Tad” Nalls is an International B Referee. Many other students are National Referees.
• Class A Teachers Certificate
• Class A Kata Judge
• Class A recognized coach
• Three daughters, Miki, Robin, and Teri, are Kodokan Godans, and other daughter Chrissy is a Sandan
• Member of International Team that competed in Cuba in 1955
• US Men’s Coach at World Judo Championships in Mexico City in 1969
• US Women’s Coach at the first Women’s World Championships in 1980
• US Women’s Coach from 1980 to 1991.

Highlights of Coaching Career

• 1983 Pan American Championships in Venezuela when the women’s team won seven Golds and one Bronze – Coach.
• 1982 Pacific Rim Championships when the girl’s team won five Gold, two Silver and one Bronze – Coach.
• World Championships in 1984 when US won it’s first Gold medal by Ann Marie Burns – Coach.
• When my student, Jim Bregman won the Bronze medal in the middle weight division at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
• As a Shufu official helped to organize new Yudanshakais in the Shufu Yudanshakai area (East Coast). They were Rokushu Yudanshakai, Dixie States Yudanshakai, Hudson Yudanshakai and Florida Yudanshakai.
• At the last count, the membership in the Washington Judo Club is 87 judoka.
• At the present time, he works as jury to the referees in the USA
• At the present time in Shufu Judo Yudanshakai holds the position of Chairman of the Promotional Committee. In the US Judo Federation holds the position of the Chairman of the Promotion Committee.

Following his death Mr Takemori was recognized in the Congressional Record and some photos have been published.

Some interesting photos of James Takemori have been received.


Notice from the Congressional Record.

Read a letter from Ambassador Ryozo Kato to Paul Tagliabue in which he tells of a link with Jigoro Kano and Jimmy Takemori, “ambassador in judogi” and recipient of the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays. He writes of Mr Takemori’s character and activity, and that he had been awarded the rank of Kudan by the Kodokan, something “that is far harder to obtain than any university-awarded doctoral degree.” He further hopes that Georgetown University will be able to honor Mr Takemori for his thirty years of teaching there.

Photo of the Ambassadors honoring each other

Photo of the Ambassadors honoring each other.


James Takemori and President Obama

source: USJF