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Frank Moritsugu
December 18, 1961
Anton Geesink, neither small nor Oriental, dispelled two time-honored myths when he became the first non-Japanese to win the world judo championship. Here is an on-scene report from Paris by a Canadian magazine editor, a black-belt judo man himself
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December 18, 1961

A Deep Bow To A Big Dutchman

Anton Geesink, neither small nor Oriental, dispelled two time-honored myths when he became the first non-Japanese to win the world judo championship. Here is an on-scene report from Paris by a Canadian magazine editor, a black-belt judo man himself

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Judo will never be the same again. When Anton Geesink, a 6-foot 5-inch, 237-pound Dutchman from Utrecht, won the world judo championship two weeks ago in Paris from Koji Sone of Japan he unbalanced the cherished myths of the sport as much as he did the six men he beat on his irrepressible drive to the title.

Until Geesink, one unshaken judo myth was that the Japanese owned the sport. After all, it derived from jujitsu, the Japanese martial art; the first two world championships (1956, 1958) were held in Tokyo and were won by Japanese; in them no Japanese had ever lost to a non-Japanese.

The huge Dutchman's clear-cut triumph also plunged traditionalists into despair by disproving another and even more sacred myth—that in judo a good little man can cope with anyone of any size. Dr. Jigoro Kano, who formulated judo in Tokyo in 1882, was just over 5 feet. He taught the basic principle of Maximum Efficiency from Minimum Effort, which, theoretically, enables any small man to exploit a bigger opponent's size and power rather than be conquered by it. Although both previous world champions, Natsui and Sone, were in the 200-pound range, proposals to introduce weight classes have been rebuffed as sacrilegious.

Yet Geesink's victory, shattering though it was, was not quite the surprise that news reports have made out. The three Japanese entrants were the men to beat, but they were question marks nevertheless. Defending world champion Sone was overage at 33, and his forte, unhappily, is power (6 feet 1, 198 pounds), not superlative technique. The 1961 All- Japan champion, Akio Kaminaga, should have been the best from his country, but he was recovering from a knee injury. Third man Takeshi Koga was the smallest (5 feet 9, 176 pounds) and possessed the most exciting technique, but he had come along to Paris as an alternate after poor showings in recent meets in Japan. These were the best of the Japanese. Even before the championships they looked less than supermen to knowledgeable judoka.

And then there were the Koreans, who were the rivals the Japanese feared most. They were all of a size—sturdy, compact men around 185 pounds or a bit more, looking alike even to those who can tell Orientals apart most of the time. Their names, Kim Yip Pae, Kim Tok Yong and Han No San, didn't help any to ease the confusion. Like the Japanese, they trained secretly in Paris and came into the open only for receptions, trooping in in single file wearing identical dun-colored blazers marked KOREA.

But from the start Geesink had partisans. This perennial European champion is a superathlete who has played soccer, volleyball and basketball and who has wrestled internationally for Holland. At 28, he is at his peak. In European judo he is in a class by himself. Geesink is so big that he towers over any group he is in, but in street clothes and glasses he looks like an intellectual—and indeed he speaks four languages: Dutch, German, excellent English and some Japanese. Of the last he says, "It is not very much, because when I went to Japan this year it wasn't to learn the language." As it turned out, Geesink learned more about the Japanese judo greats than they did about him.

When he stepped on the tatami-matted stage of the Pierre de Coubertin Stadium, his long torso and relatively short and powerful legs were clearly defined. This is an ideal build for a judoka, because the center of gravity is low—allowing rocklike balance against attacks. His first opponent, Sudjono of Indonesia, fell in nine seconds. In that fleeting time Geesink proved himself perfectly coordinated, with miraculous reflexes, a straight and proper judo stance and an ability to blend strength and technique in the best judo manner.

Geesink next threw the young French champion, Michel Bourgoin, got rid of the Yugoslavian Stojac quickly, and the stage was set for the first big encounter of the championship: Geesink vs. Kaminaga, the All- Japan champion.

Kaminaga gave Geesink his toughest battle, fighting through to the end of the six-minute bout to a decision, the only bout the Dutchman did not end before the time limit (six minutes for the earlier bouts, 10 minutes for the semifinals, 20 minutes for the finals). The Japanese threw all his near-200 pounds of power and technique at the big European but couldn't budge him. On the other hand, Geesink caught Kaminaga with a left leg sweep as the minutes ran out, and dumped him on his seat. Decision by the referee and judges: clear-cut victory for Geesink. "There's the next world champion," said a Canadian judo colleague, and Geesink himself later told reporters he knew he had it won when he beat Kaminaga.

A neat "uchimata"

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