While attending graduate school, I began participating in the university’s judo club. This affiliation soon led me to begin practicing in one of the more local schools that were directly connected to the Takahiko Ishikawa lineage. It was here where I became personally inspired to begin exploring Ishikawa’s life further.

Born 1917 in Mitoyo, Japan, Takahiko Ishikawa would ultimately spend his adult life teaching judo internationally, from Japan to Cuba and finally, the United States. His time as an instructor would make a lasting impact on all those whom he would teach.

Ishikawa began training judo at the age of twelve under the guidance of his father and eventually earned his sandan while attending junior high school. Following his service in Manchuria during the Second World War, Ishikawa participated in the 1949 All Japan Judo Tournament, facing off against the legendary Masahiko Kimura. The two fought for twenty-five minutes, ending the match in a draw where both players were awarded as the victors. This was the first and only time such an event occurred in the Japanese tournament’s history.

In 1950, Ishikawa would again win the All-Japan Judo Tournament and in the next few years, he would continue to place in the event. His competition record helped secure him a job with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Academy in 1953. That same year, he also participated in a Strategic Air Command-sponsored goodwill tour of the United States, demonstrating judo alongside other high-ranking judoka and leading martial artists of the time including aikido’s Kenji Tomoki and Shotokan Karate’s Isao Obata and Hidetaka Nishiyama.

In 1955, in the midst of a family financial crisis and a foreign request from the Cuban Judo Association for elite instruction, the Kodokan dispatched Ishikawa to Cuba, an island that at the time was experiencing political strife between Fidel Castro and Fulgencio Batista. Despite the political climate, for the next two years, Ishikawa would teach the Cuban judo organization until mounting biased tensions erupted into violence, forcing him to leave the country.

Enter Helen Foos and General Curtis LeMay, when the two sponsored Ishikawa to relocate to Philadelphia in 1957 and ultimately take over as head instructor at the Philadelphia Judo Club – which would be renamed the Ishikawa Judo Club – and teach judo to American Airmen. There, he taught judo regularly, held clinics, and would host interschool tournaments with the local National Guard post every year. In his personal life Ishikawa would spend his free time with his daughter and grandchildren, and regularly played the Asian strategy game Go.

Ishikawa would stay in Philadelphia for the next twenty years, building up East Coast judo, until his move to Virginia Beach in 1977 at the request and persuasion of Foos once again.

By the mid-1980s Ishikawa felt that it was time to close this chapter on judo and return to Japan. In the years following his return to Japan, Ishikawa contended with several health issues which eventually lead to his passing in 2008.

What Takahiko Ishikawa left behind was the indomitable spirit and passion for an art he loved. This, in turn, acted as the motivation for those he taught to follow in his footsteps and continue his mission to bring the Gentle Way into many facets of society, such as colleges, universities, night schools, police departments, military bases, and to the national judo population by way of annual tournaments and competitors. Ishikawa left behind students who made judo their way of life, which propelled their drive to spread judo and make their instructor proud. Ishikawa inspired all those who knew him; his inspiration will not be forgotten.

Over the last four years I have consulted many previously untapped sources and have spoken with a number of former students and the Ishikawa family to create the most definitive biography of this judo legend to date. The end result is my new book, Takahiko Ishikawa: Judo’s Gentle Master
by Antonio Aloia, releasing in September 2024.
Author Bio:

Antonio Aloia is an American historian with a focus in Martial Arts History, authoring Aikido Comes to America in 2020 and serving as chief editor of the online chronicle Martial Arts of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (MAYTT) since 2019. Antonio is a lifelong martial arts practitioner, training in a mixture of aikido, judo, and jujutsu, among other Japanese forms.

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