Journal of Non-lethal Combatives, Aug 2004


Judo in the Strategic Air Command

Submitted by Grady Overstreet

Copyright © EJMAS 2004. All rights reserved.

Editor's introduction: The following information comes from a pamphlet given to participants and spectators at the Fifteenth Air Force Judo Tournament, held at Fairchild Air Force Base, near Spokane, Washington, on March 22-23, 1962. Besides Grady Overstreet, tournament participants included the future movie star Chuck Norris, then Airman First Class (E-4) Carlos Norris, 2-kyu, of March Air Force Base, California.

Acronyms in the following document include SAC (Strategic Air Command, which was responsible for manned bombers), AFB (Air Force Base), ARDC (Air Research and Development Command, which was responsible for the Air Force missile program), A2C (Airman Second Class, E-3), SSgt (Staff Sergeant, E-5), and AAU (Amateur Athletic Union). In Japanese, a Yudanshakai is an organization of graded members, in this case, judo players, and the SAC-ARDC Yudanshakai mentioned below is the ancestor of today's US Judo Association.

Judo has been an important part of the SAC ground-training program since 1951 when a course in "combative measures" was introduced, including such skills as judo, wrestling, and police fighting. There was multiple purpose behind this innovation: general physical fitness; mental conditioning; preparedness for hand-to-hand combat.

There is more than one important connection between combative measures and interest in this type of training. At any moment during wartime, a SAC crew member might be forced to bail out over enemy territory and find an attacker on the ground below. Armed with a knowledge of the best combative techniques, today's SAC airmen will have a better chance of survival and escape.

During the SAC course in combative measures, the airman gains a variety of skills in such combative arts as judo, wrestling, and police fighting. He knows which of these techniques will be the most effective in any given situation, and he has the will to fight when he can see that his chances are good.

But concern for crew proficiency in self-defense is not SAC's sole reason for stressing combative training. Combined with a preliminary physical conditioning course, the specialized program in combative measures is designed to bring into play every muscle of the individual's body, keeping him in top condition for the many demands that flying SAC's giant aircraft impose.

Regulations require each SAC combat crew to complete both the "physical conditioning" and "combative measures" phase of SAC's ground training program. Once both phases of the program have been successfully completed, the crew members are still required to keep in top shape by participating in controlled sports three hours weekly. They are also encouraged to take part in "Sport Judo", which is an activity sponsored by Recreation Services at each SAC base.

In 1950 a model physical conditioning unit set up at Offutt Air Force Base proved so successful that SAC Commander in Chief, General Thomas S. Power, and Air Force Chief of Staff, General Curtis E. LeMay, directed that similar units be set up at other bases. Unable to find enough qualified civilian teachers, SAC developed its own, sending a group of carefully selected airmen for intensive study at Tokyo's Kodokan Judo Institute, capital of the judo world.

In 1955 the SAC-ARDC Yudanshakai was officially sanctioned by the Kodokan and inaugurated at Offutt Air Force Base, with Prof. Sumiyuki Kotani and Tadao Otaki, both of Kodokan, present. SAC-ARDC has sent strong competitors to the 1955, 1956, and 1957 National AAU Tournaments. In 1957 they won the Five-Man Team Event. The Grand Champion of the same year was a SAC non-commissioned officer.

In 1958 SAC again won the National AAU Championships along with the individual National Grand Champion award. The SAC team was later chosen to represent the US in the world championships in Tokyo where it garnered fifth place laurels.

In 1959 SAC won the first annual US Air Force World-Wide Judo Championships, placing 11 men on the 12 man all Air Force team.

In 1960 the SAC Judo Tournament was held at McConnell Air Force Base. Two outstanding judo men were selected from the SAC team to compete in the 1960 AAU Tournament. Both men, SSgt George Harris, Travis AFB and A2C Toshiyuki Seino, Davis-Monthan AFB won the National AAU championship that year.

In 1961 the SAC Judo Tournament was held at March Air Force Base. Eleven bases participated in this tournament which proved to be highly successful. SSgt Harris and A2C Seino again were selected to participate in the National Judo Championships and were declared winners in their weight class two years in succession.

For Further Reading

Dibrell, Agulla Gibbs. (1988). "Judo in the Armed Forces," in John Corcoran and Emil Farkas, Martial Arts: Traditions, History, People. New York: Gallery Books, pages 228-229.

"Friction Fractures U.S. Judo Factions. (1970, June). Black Belt Magazine. Reprinted at

Smith, Robert W. (1953, October). "Judo in the US Air Force," Budokwai Quarterly Bulletin, page 13. Reprinted at Journal of Non-Lethal Combatives, January 2000,

Svinth, Joseph R. (2001, February). "The Fairchild Air Force Base Judo Club, 1951-1960," Journal of Non-Lethal Combatives,

Svinth, Joseph R. (2003). "Spokane," in Getting a Grip: Judo in the Nikkei Communities of the Pacific Northwest 1900-1950, pages 181-187. Guelph, Ontario: Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences.

US Air Force (1963). "Combative Measures Instructor Training (Judo): Air Police Techniques." Reprinted at Journal of Non-Lethal Combatives, May 2001,

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