Judo training in Okinawa

Our sensei, Rich Moser, earned his black belt in judo while in the Navy stationed in Okinawa in the mid 1960s. He was privileged to be invited to the Naha Police Department dojo and was the only Caucasian to train there for over a year. The training was very tough and he had to earn the right to be taught. He trained for three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon, five to six days per week when his Navy job permitted. The following are some Rich’s experiences.


Rich was a Sankyu (3rd kyu brown belt) in judo when he arrived in Okinawa. He attended a judo clinic given for the Air Force by Eiichi Miyazato, who eventually went on to become a 10th Dan in Goju-ryu karate and a 7th Dan in judo (promoted to 8th Dan upon his death in 1999). Miyazato invited Rich to train at his dojo at the Naha Police Department.


Discipline was strict. Once one of the students was late for class and he was made to sit and observe for an entire week before being allowed back on the mats. When Rich arrived the first day, Miyazato addressed the other students (all police officers and all black belts of various ranks), said something in Japanese, which made everyone laugh. Then Rich began his training.


He said that for the first month they essentially “beat the crap” out of him, but he kept coming back for more. After he passed this “initiation” they began teaching him the fundamentals of judo.


Each session began with warm-up exercises, and then uchikomis (repetitive movements on throws up to the point of completing the throw) to build up the muscle memory. Rich was told what throws to practice uchikomis and he did them until he was told to stop. Then everyone practiced newaza or mat work (pins, chokes, or armlocks). And then when everyone was completely tired out, they did randori or informal contests. Lots and lots of randori.


It was widely (and correctly) believed that your best judo is when you are tired. Technique must be used because one has no strength left. Once when Rich was near exhaustion, he was literally hanging onto his opponent and bending forward in an improper position. He was suddenly kicked in the butt, and when he spun around to see who did it, he found Miyazato standing there with a small grin on his face, as if to say, “Do you have a problem?” Rich straightened up to the correct position. It’s amazing how the body can adjust!


Tournaments were held each Sunday to test all students. Problems were noted and then practiced the following week to prepare for the next tournaments. Once Rich lost a match by getting pinned. For the entire week following the tournament, he was pinned with the same pin and struggled and struggled until he could find a way to escape. Miyazato kept him pinned once and wouldn’t let him up. Rich finally gave up and acknowledged he couldn’t escape. Miyazato still wouldn’t let him up. Rich kept saying he couldn’t get out. Miyazato then spit in his face. Rich got out.


While still a Sankyu, Rich entered a tournament one Sunday, and won 12 matches in a row. On his 13th match, he fought someone nearly twice his size and was immediately defeated. When he reported for class the next day, Miyazato looked at him and rather gruffly told him he was wearing the wrong belt. As he took off his brown belt, Rich feared he had let his sensei down, but was surprised a few seconds later when he was awarded his Shodan, 1st degree black belt, skipping two other brown belt degrees.


There was a price to pay for this because the following Sunday at another higher level tournament, Rich “…got the crap beat out of me.” The lesson was not to enjoy victory very long, as there is always a lot more to learn.


The hard training continued, and the Naha dojo invited other clubs to practice with them. The Tenri University Judo Team visited the dojo and, according to Rich, easily defeated the police department team, causing some consternation among the members. At that time (early to mid 1960s), the Tenri University Judo Team was a collegiate powerhouse. Still more to learn.


Rich remembers working out with a guest one session, an older judoka, who was well past his competitive prime, but who was highly respected. He was doing mat work with the older gentleman, had him on his back and was moving in for the “kill”, so to speak. The older man reached up and the next thing Rich knew was that someone was waking him up.


When he regained consciousness, he asked what had happened and was informed the old man had choked him out. He asked if it was okay if he still could work out with him, and everyone heartily agreed. Rich went after him again, had him on his back, moved in for the “kill”, the old man reached up, and the next thing Rich knew was that someone was waking him up. To this day he confesses he doesn’t know how the old guy did it.


On the lighter side, Rich was accepted by the Naha police officers and spent quite a bit of his off-duty time socializing with them. By this he meant there was a lot of time spent in bars. Memories of some of those times are a little hard to come by, but he recalls one evening at a bar with several police officers, including Miyazato sitting at the head of the table (proper protocol for the sensei), when a little, elderly white-haired man, apparently a karate master, entered the bar. Miyazato jumped out of his chair and it was immediately offered to this person. Rich did not know who the man was, but for Miyazato to instantly defer to him, he figured he was somebody very important. It quite possibly could have been Hohan Soken, founder of the White Crane karate style.


After returning to the US, Rich enrolled in college, got a teaching degree and was a school teacher for 30 years. He kept up his judo training under some of Chicago’s best judo instructors, eventually earning his Yondan, 4th degree black belt, discovered Aikibudojujitsu and practiced that for many years, earning his Sandan, 3rd degree belt, and teaching classes at the Yorkville Aikibudo Club. While he is more or less retired now, he still contributes to the classes and is considered a Martial Arts Advisor to the club.

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