Sensei Ishikawa

Takahiko Ishikawa Sensei

Takahiko Ishikawa has been retired to Japan for over ten years, going home after an adventure of thirty years abroad. Sensei Ishikawa's odyssey has included long stays in Cuba, Philadelphia and then, Virginia Beach. It has seen him leaving a prestigious position as chief instructor of Judo for the Tokyo Metropolitan Police to having his own schools in Philadelphia and Virginia Beach. This odyssey brought him from 6th degree black belt when he left Japan to his promotion to 9th degree black belt, three years prior to his return to Japan.

The accomplishments of his life in Judo and his personal tale make a rich story, full of great successes and unfortunate circumstances. It is a story that has not been told often enough. For those fortunate to know or have been taught by Sensei Ishikawa his art and passion for Judo spoke volumes even while Sensei was reticent to acknowledge his greatness.

It is hoped that this article is a tribute to Sensei Takahiko Ishikawa, America's first Kudan, and to the ideals of Judo that he sought to advance. It is also hoped that readers of this article will understand that Ishikawa Sensei's personal journey, especially to and from America, provides a framework to judge the history of Judo. The promise for American Judo was high when he arrived. At his departure the poverty of the dream of American Judo was clear.

Coming out of World War II Sensei Ishikawa was thirty-one. Now, that age would leave him suspect today as to whether he could handle the rigors of top competition and training. Back then the interruption caused by the War left little choice. And in a way the war's own hardships were a marshalling circumstance for Ishikawa Sensei's greatness. Sensei was stationed in Manchuria. Sensei recalled how during that time he often trained under very adverse conditions. Frequently, he worked so hard that that there was no obvious trace of salt coming through his sweat. After one such workout, when his body was in a very heated state, he plunged into the icy cold of a local stream. Years later he still remembers that day as the day his heart stopped working. While today's training method are more effective in skill development it is doubtful that they are as an effective test of courage and determination.

shikawa All Japan ChampSensei would need that determination to overcome the harsh conditions in post-war Japan. Obtaining food was difficult at first, leaving him in a steady condition of hunger during the first year after the war. With some help from a benefactor, Sensei started to gain weight and strength and entered the All Japan in 1949. Playing without weight categories Sensei weighed in near 183 pounds.

Differences in weight did not prevent Sensei from making history that year. He did something that has never been and never will be duplicated. He fought the legendary Kimura to a draw after 25 minutes of fighting with neither party earning any score. Sensei later would reveal that he fought the entire match with Kimura with a considerable injury to his testicles, sustained in the semi finals. His recovery forced him to be bedridden for a long period of time. Both were awarded the All Japan trophy. There had never been co-champions and, of course, with the current rules there will never be co-champions again. In the following year, Sensei Ishikawa won the All Japan outright. And in the three succeeding All Japans he took third, second and third.

One very interesting historical twist is that Kimura later went to Brazil and fought Helio Gracie, the founder of the now prominent Gracie JuJitsu in a match. Under Judo rules Helio was beaten by numerous throws. However he would only concede defeat when Kimura ended the match by breaking his arm in a Judo arm bar to which Gracie did not submit. It is ironic that the self promoted claim to fame of Gracie JuJitsu is matwork yet it was matwork which ended this match.

For Sensei Ishikawa, Judo was not just a matter of superior skills and style. Judo's real value is how it contributes to the way we handle ourselves in society. Judo was important for the way it facilitated and supported everyday contribution to an individual's life

His victories came in a period of Japan's history when it was looking for heroes and Sensei Ishikawa became such a hero. His growing reputation placed him as senior instructor at Tokyo Metropolitan Police where the historic battle for Judo supremacy over JuJitsu was fought some years earlier. An excellent article on this battle is the Four Heavenly Lords of Judo. It circulates on many Web Sites such as the Nova Scotia Home Page. Sensei was promoted to this plum teaching position over numerous senior instructors. Sensei built his contest career on o-soto-gari, seoi-nage, o-uchi-gari and tai-otoshi and very strong groundwork. His approach was to set a pattern of movement, force his opponent into it and execute one of the four techniques. His was not a spontaneous adjustment from one move to another but a methodical, clinical dissection leaving little doubt as to the outcome.

Sensei like any other great player added some innovation to the traditional skills. He developed a mat turnover, which today is still called the Ishikawa Squeeze and developed the full application of counters such as te-guruma into Judo. Personal tragedy broke his ascendancy in Japanese Judo. Sensei felt compelled to go abroad to cover the debts of one of his brothers. The war had already cost him one brother who was a kamikaze pilot.

In one of the ironies of history one of Sensei's sponsors abroad abroad was General Curtis LeMay who commanded SAC and was responsible for the design and implementation of the bombing of Tokyo during the war. After the war General LeMay LeMay’s support for Judo earned recognition by the Kodokan. They awarded him a rank equal to the rank of anyone who was in General LeMay presence. In other words, if there was a 6th degree back bet in the room General Le May was a sixth. If the highest rank was a ninth degree black belt General Le May was 9th. General LeMay felt that training in the martial arts was invaluable for the military and brought a team of Japanese martial artists on a tour of the US. Sensei Ishikawa was one of the Judo people chosen.

With General Le May sponsorship's Sensei toured many US military bases throughout the US and conducted many demonstrations often outside on the ground itself. There are stories of how he dispatched one veteran player after another with throws so hard that internal bleeding occurred.

His sponsor, General LeMay, remains a intresting historical figure. He was George Wallace’s running mate when Wallace made an unsuccessful bid for the Presidency. LeMay was said to have, in his role as SAC commander, his own private nuclear arsenal which with to launch a first strike against the Soviets.

At any rate the tour over, Sensei went to Cuba during a time when Castro rebels were terrorizing the city. Sensei knew it was time to leave when all the windows of the dojo were shot out by the Castro rebels when a class was in session.

An excellent source on Mr. Ishikawa in general and his stay in Cuba in particular can be found in Robert Smith’s book, Martial Musings. It has many wonderful stories on Sensei.

His move to Philadelphia and the early years there remained a struggle for Ishikawa. His three children, Atsuko, Fumiko and Hajime and his wife lived with Mrs. Foos, a wealthy coal broker and a serious student of Judo. After his wife's return to Japan and the untimely death of his 14 year old son, Hajime, the two daughters were adopted by Mrs. Foos. Remaining close to the children Mr. Ishikawa built a very strong Judo program at the Ishikawa Judo School in the business district of Philadelphia. Many national players practiced and were developed there. At his dojo Mr. Ishikawa pioneered one of the early versions of a sprung floor which made for a strong, dynamic style of Judo among his students.

His move to Virginia Beach in the early 1970’s brought him a world class building. Mrs Foos had moved there several years before with Atsuko and Fumiko and put up a large facility. The dojo was close to 3000 ft and included a larger version of the sprung floor he had introduced in Philadelphia. His club made strides in getting Judo accepted as a martial art in the Virginia Beach community but he did not have the large, active population of Judokas as he had in Philadelphia. The Ishikawa Judo School in Virginia Beach followed the closure of Mrs. Foos business operation there. Sensei then returned to Japan to the city of Yokohama.

His presence in Judo in America and in Philadelphia remains in many of his students who continue to teach, practice and enjoy the large benefits of Judo.

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