Judo master is not too bothered by boundaries
Aug. 11, 2001
Greg Johnson
Staff Writer

Former Beltsville resident Edwin Takemori remembers playing a lot of games when he was a child. He and his friends shot marbles, played capture the flag and amused themselves in ways other typical kids enjoyed.

Takemori, however, played his childhood games within a military compound, surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire.

"It was a fenced-in area," Takemori said. "So you couldn't just walk out. When you think about a concentration camp... that's where you are. You are not going to walk out, because you've got guards, guard towers and stuff like that all along."

Takemori and his family were among the more than 120,000 Japanese Americans who were forced to live in relocation camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor 60 years ago. Takemori can reflect on this experience, however, knowing the fences put up around him as a child did not stop him from becoming a judo champion and expert instructor years later.

He has also turned his energy to running two judo courses in Prince George's County and has launched a campaign to show others the benefits of a discipline that helped build his own character.

"Judo is probably the best sport out there for kids on up," Takemori said. "It does multiple things for kids."

Takemori was about 5 years old, he recalls, when his parents and five siblings were ordered to gather their belongings into several suitcases. Taken to Gila River, Arizona, his family was housed with other Japanese Americans whom the government suspected might try to aid their fatherland.

These prodigious world events were lost, however, on the young Takemori.

"It was not something that I thought about a lot," said Takemori, now 64. "It was just another place you live."

The displacement of Japanese Americans during World War II finally received national attention in the 1980s. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 offered an official apology to those affected by the policy and provided funds to compensate them for their losses.

Edwin Takemori said he recognizes that many families were hurt by the relocation project, but he personally harbors few negative feelings. The relocation camps literally forced Japanese Americans to stick together, Takemori said.

It also made Japanese Americans want to work hard to prove themselves as good workers and valuable citizens.

"The opportunity to prove themselves as Americans," Takemori said, "that was the biggest thing."

Takemori's elder brother, James, got the opportunity when he was drafted into the 442nd Regimental Combat Team out of the interment camp before he had even graduated from high school.

Edwin Takemori, who refers to himself as a born-again Christian, first studied judo from his brother, James, who returned from the war without seeing combat after moving to the Washington area with his family. James taught at a judo club in the District and was able to coax Takemori into taking his class one day in 1953.

He continued with the lessons and won the East Coast championship for brown belts twice before earning his black belt. Takemori followed up by becoming a sixth-degree black belt and a judo instructor himself.

Takemori, who moved from Beltsville to Severna Park six years ago, currently heads the Prince George's Judo Club. He's been teaching judo since 1958, and currently directs one class at the Deerfield Run Community Center in Laurel and another at the Glenn Dale Community Center.

His brother, James, now 75, still runs the Washington Judo Club and teaches at Georgetown University and the Naval Academy.

"He's real thorough in his studies in judo, even more than me," James Takemori said. "He's taught so many people good judo. He's always been a very good technician."

Brian Greene, an Oxon Hill resident and fourth-degree black belt, describes Takemori as a very dedicated and skilled instructor.

"He's willing to give 110 percent as long as you are prepared to receive 110 percent," Greene said. "He's very good at getting his point across. And he's willing to show you -- and that's key."

Joe Cox, a Bowie resident and county police officer, said he started taking classes from Takemori several years ago and was amazed at his physical condition.

"He's just amazing," Cox said. "He's in his 60s and he's out there throwing me around. It's just incredible."

Judo, which is translated as "the gentle way", was founded in Japan by Jigoro Kano in 1882. Unlike other self-defense techniques, judo involves no kicking or punching. Leverage and momentum are used to overcome an opponent, according to judo doctrine, not brute force.

Takemori considers judo more of a sport than a martial art. Although judo can be a difficult and demanding activity, Takemori said, it can also be much more rewarding than other disciplines.

"The difference between judo, compared to everybody else, is that we combine everything that is necessary to know," Takemori said.

Takemori has found satisfaction during his 43 years as an instructor by watching kids develop confidence and discover physical abilities they didn't know they had. Learning judo also keeps students in shape for other sports, Takemori said, and helps them develop mentally.

"They become a good person," Takemori said. "You see respect develop between the students."

Monica Kiraly started taking judo 23 years ago and decided to pass the experience on to her 8-year-old daughter Amelia. Kiraly started teaching her own classes this year at Rockledge Elementary School, where she works as a substitute teacher. A lot of the school kids became interested in the sport, Kiraly said, but her daughter still comes back for Takemori's class. "He's so patient," Kiraly said. "For him, (Amelia) will do anything."

If he has his wish, a lot more people would be seeking Takemori's instruction. Some judo authorities believe the popularity of the sport is decreasing, Takemori said, but he believes a lot of people would take up the sport if they had the opportunity.

There are about six judo clubs in Prince George's County, Takemori said, but only one or two can be found in Anne Arundel, Howard or Montgomery counties. About 30 students regularly attend classes Takemori teaches in Laurel and Glenn Dale.