By Jon Bluming
The Beast of Amsterdam
Copyright © Jon Bluming 2000 all rights reserved. Used by permission.
The first Olympic training for the Kenshusei took place in August 1960. This was a Kodokan program for judoka expected to be future champions and teachers, and to give you an idea of just how elite this group was, Doug Rogers, George Kerr, and Jimmy Bregman were all members. While the regular instructors included Daigo, Kawamura, and Osawa, members also got to attend special seminars given by teachers like Mifune and Samura. From my standpoint, the best feature of all was that members didn't have to pay monthly fees.
Anyway, this meant all kinds of university exchanges and training consisted of randori and again randori. In between were exchanges of techniques and methods by famous old sensei who in their younger days had been great champions.
During the summer training there were always lots of visitors, especially from the regional universities around Japan. One day Bill Backhus came into the dressing room and suggested that I put on one of the judogi left by one of the foreigners who had left in disgust, as it had a different name on it. Next, said Bill, put on a white belt, knotted like a stupid beginner, high on your belly. Then walk into the main dojo looking out of place and kind of timid.
All the other foreigners caught on quick, and of course didn't let on a thing. The Japanese regulars did, too. Meanwhile the captain of a visiting team spotted fresh meat and sent a teammate over to get hold of the gaijin who looked like he could take nice long falls.
Up he came running, with his eager cry of "Onegashimasu!" No matter what he did I stumbled and flew like a swan lost at night. Every time I hit the deck with a great bang he beamed.
After awhile he got bored, too easy, and his captain came up. He bowed to have a go, screamed "Tsugoi!" (which is a sort of sporty challenge) and tore into me. And was stopped dead in his tracks. No matter what he did he was stopped hard and hurtful. He did not have a clue what was happening. He turned red in the face and started to sweat and even farted a few times after being bounced off a wall. Then I really worked him over using my best throws. In desperation he dragged me to the ground where I choked him out cold.
After he woke up I bowed politely and thanked him for his time and the lesson.
Humiliated, he asked me my grade. I said fourth dan at the Kodokan and fifth dan in Holland. He then asked my name. When I told him he smacked his forehead with his hand and turned laughing to his mates, saying, "He played a trick on us, it is the Dutch animal Bluming."
Then they told me to wait and went to bait some other team captains but very soon the word was out and the fun over. The next day I was summoned to the office of Risei Kano, where he and Daigo Sensei told me that as a member of the Kenshusei I had to adhere to the honor code and wear my own judogi and belt, the ones with my name on them, and quit behaving so childishly.
Later that same summer (1960) something happened that was not so funny. One day I fought a very young 1-dan, a big fat kid weighing about 130 kilo (286 pounds). When I tried to throw him with a left osotogari, big outer leg throw, my foot went faster than the rest of my body and hooked after his left leg. My toe went under my foot and the fat kid just sat on it like he had a comfortable small chair instead of my calf. The toe gave a sound like somebody broke a big dried stick and I nearly fainted from pain and despair.
For every foreigner studying budo in Japan, the biggest worry, besides money, was injuries, as these could put an end to his dreams or to the study altogether.
Especially knees, ankles, backs, and wrist injuries were feared, and before I even hopped out of the dojo the foot was already swollen twice its size and becoming dark-colored. I could scream with chagrin thinking about the weeks ahead of pain and not been able to train.
Next day Donn Draeger looked at the foot and said that he had a kind of old-fashioned horse medicine that would cure the toe a hell of a lot faster than what I had in mind. By then the colors were darkgreen with yellow and dark blue, and Karel Appel , the Dutch painter, would have loved it. Me, I just said like a movie Indian, "HOW?"
"Well," said Donn, "instead of behaving like a old lady we will now see if you are a man."
A bit annoyed I said, "Let's have it then."
We were downstairs at the Kodokan at the time, so Donn told me to go upstairs to the smaller dojo where there were fewer people around.
Bill tagged along, as did a bunch of Japanese. Then Donn said I must take my toe firmly between my fingers and swing it around until it loosened up. Then he said that I had to do that a couple times a day until I fell over from the pain. Then I could stop for awhile. He was grinning, so I think that was US Marine humor from the Iwo Jima days.
The Japanese university judoka were showing their sympathy with the toe by shaking their heads and hissing through their teeth. You could hear them thinking, what a terrible toe but it sure looks good on him. But they didn't understand what Donn was saying, for their English was still poor in those days. Bill translated for them and that aroused their interest.
I asked Donn if he was kidding me. To my horror he said, "No Jon, it works, but you will not have much fun doing it."
When I saw all those grinning faces I wanted to hit them, but instead I gripped my toe firmly and started to turn the damn thing as if my life depended on it. A red-hot flame shot from my toe through my whole body and a nauseating pain took over and I nearly passed out. Bill told me later that my face was nearly as blue as my toe and I know I almost wet my pants and didn't care who saw the tears running down my face. And a couple of the Japanese almost threw up as they heard the sickening crackle of the brittle bone coming loose. The rest just stared in amazement, as if at a horror show.
Then a strange thing happened. The pain went away and I honestly felt almost nothing anymore and thought, "Now I will make a real show for my Kenshusei brothers."
I stood up, shook my head, and asked the biggest Japanese in sight to attack. "Onegaishimasu," I said, then bowed and screamed "Tsugoi!" I hit him like a mad ape and boy, did I get whacked on my ass.
After that I decided maybe I needed a few more days of rest. I got their respect anyway that day and from then on they nicknamed me (behind my back) Oranda no Dobutsu, which means that animal from Holland.
It sure made my day.