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Pennsylvania Judo Legend Seeks to Bring the Sport Back into the Spotlight

Eric Kowal
12 August 2011
Pennsylvania Judo Legend Seeks to Bring the Sport Back into ...

Over the last decade, mixed martial arts has gone from a fringe interest to the American combat sport. Other martial pursuits that have served as bases for up and coming athletes have also gained popularity in the wake of the MMA boom. Judo, once the most practiced Japanese art to come to the west, has not seen quite the same gain in traction from MMA practicioners. Master Eugene Kim, a Judo instructor at Kim’s Martial Arts and Fitness in Freedom, Pennsylvania, seeks to bring this fighting form back to the top where it once was.

Kim, a life-long martial artist who began training in Judo and Taekwondo under his Father, Grandmaster Kyu Ha Kim, at the age of five says that the sport faces many tough challenges.

“If you think about the public and private school systems, wrestling is the top competitive sport,” Kim said. “There are no judo teams, so American kids are brought up through wrestling as a base form of MMA.”

There have been several Judo stand outs in MMA over the years, but none that have garnered Chuck Liddell type fame.  Fighters like Hidehiko Yoshida, Yoshihiro Akiyama, and Karo Parisyan have all moved up the ranks but have never been able to claim the number one position in their division. Unfortunately for Judo, the lack of great banner men have done nothing to turn around its steady decline in American participation.

“Judo in this country, period, is small," said Kim. "There’s not many people that train judo.”

Judo, literally, “the way of yielding,” is a Japanese martial art created by Dr. Jiguro Kano in 1882 from Tenjin Shinyo ryu and Kito ryu Jiu-Jitsu as a means of inculcating moral principles and physical fitness. 

America's first introduction to Judo was in the late 1800's. In 1904, Yoshitsugu (Yoshiaki) Yamashita, one of Kano's students, traveled to the US and taught this Japanese sport to Theodore Roosevelt and West Point cadets.

World War II changed the development of Judo. Instead of being used for sport, Judo was now being taught as a combat skill. Those selected for commando and special operations training often achieved a high standard of expertise.

It was not until after World War II that American Judo began developing on a national basis. Many American servicemen studied Judo in Japan during the occupation and then returned home to teach it. As a result the Armed Forces Judo Association (AFJA) was established.

American Judo received a further boost in the early 1950's when General Curtis Lamay required its teaching to US Air Force personnel in the Strategic Air Command. In 1953 Judo was officially recognized as an AAU sport and national tournaments have been held since.

When Japan hosted the 1964 Olympics, Judo was given its first opportunity as an event. Of the sixteen medals awarded for Judo, Japan won three gold medals, and one silver medal. Judo was no longer a Japanese sport but had developed to become an international sport.

From a historical perspective, the rise and decline of Judo participation in the US was relatively short and could be cyclical.

“Judo was once the biggest martial art in this country,” Kim said. “Over the years you saw there become a change in trend, boxing took over, Karate took over, then Jiu-Jitsu, and wrestling, but Judo is making its way back.”

Kim is currently ranked as a sixth degree black belt in Judo and a sixth degree black belt in Taekwondo. He also holds the rank of brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and teaches all three forms at his school in Freedom, just north of Pittsburgh, Pa. His father heads the family’s other school in Pittsburgh.

The younger Kim is a five-time national judo champion and has taught in the Pittsburgh area for 25 years and has been the head instructor at the Cranberry location for the past 21 years.

Kim also takes his classes on the road to the University of Pittsburgh where students can receive credits for enrolling and actively participating in Judo.

At 44 years of age he has no intensions of having a professional mixed martial arts fight, however he would like to see the art of Judo which he feels so passionately about, become prevalent as it once was. Greater incorporation into MMA may be one root to that rise in popularity.

“Judo would be a fine base (for MMA) just as wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Muay-Thai,” Kim said.

The second development was the teaching of Judo to children. In the early days, it was thought much too dangerous to teach children because they would not have the self-discipline to avoid using it outside the club. Today many clubs are composed largely of junior membership.

Both Kim’s schools do offer classes for children.

He said that a child that starts early in the sport can usually achieve the rank of black belt within seven to ten years of consistent training while an adult may take six years.

For more information on Kim’s Martial Arts and Fitness go to

Photo:Eugene Kim, far left and several of his students at his school in Freedom, Pa.
Last Modified:
12 August 2011

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