When I was six years (1953) old my parents took me to Los Angeles, California to visit my maternal grandparents. My grandparents, Henry and Ida Davis lived in the 3600 block of 10th Avenue, which at the time was predominately Japanese-American.
My aunt and uncle, Harry and Irma Davis lived next door to the South, and the Kobiyashi family to the North. One day in June 1953, I saw Mr. Kobiyashi's son in the backyard of his home with several other people, and I asked my Mamare, "Why are they wearing pajamas in the late afternoon."
My grandmother said they were practicing Judo. I asked her if I could play with them, and she said no, they were not playing.
The next time I saw them playing, I asked my Mamare if I could meet Mr. Kobiyashi, and she said yes. I asked him if I could learn whatever he was doing, and he was very gracious and said Yes.
This was the beginning of an experience, which has lasted sixty-five years. When my vacation was over, and I had to return to Chicago, Illinois, there was no Judo that I knew of, and my father, a former professional boxer, wanted me to pursue that sport.
Every summer I would return to Los Angeles for summer vacation, and pick up where I left off in Judo, even if it was for a few months.
When I turned eleven (1958), I asked my father if I could enroll in a Judo program. My father took me to the Monroe YMCA, and I started learning more there, but I didn't like the instructors (Sensei's). So, my father enrolled me at the Jiu-Jitsu Institute on Wabash Avenue and Van Buren Street, which is in the "Loop." or downtown Chicago. I studied under Sensei Masato Tamura until I was fifteen, until an event occurred that almost derailed my life,
In June 1962, I was mowing the lawn in front of our home on 87th and Michigan Avenue, and my mother was working her garden in the front of the house, when three boys began walking towards me. I knew two of them to Tony and Sammy Neusteader and James Alexander who they called "Muskrat." James and I had issues with each other, and we had fought each other twice before, and I had out boxed him. On this afternoon, James began cursing at me, in front of my mother, and I asked him to stop. James became more belligerent, and he pulled a knife. James came at me, and I side stepped, and as he went by, I threw him onto the grass rather hard. During the fall, James lost control of the knife, and I picked it up, straddled him, and tried to stab him. James moved, and when I came down with the knife, it stuck into the grass. At that point I'm punching James, my mother is yelling and screaming, and a neighbor, Mr. Braxton pulled me off James.
The Chicago Police were called, and James was arrested for attempting to stab me. Somehow the police were never told I tried to stab James. After all, that was my neighborhood.
The next day, two Chicago Police juvenile detectives came to my home to interview me. My father was present, and when one of the detectives saw some of my Judo trophies and medals, he said, "So you do Judo?" Instead of answering Yes, I said it's none of your business, and my father slapped me clear across the living room. By saying, "You do Judo" is like a gang member saying, "Where you from?"
My father made me apologize, and when the two detectives were leaving, one of them said, "Stop by the Hyde Park YMCA sometime." Since I did not know what that meant, one day after visiting a girl I was seeing in Hyde Park, I snuck into the YMCA, and saw the same two detectives teaching their Judo class. What I did not know was one of the instructors was standing behind me, and asked, "Where's your gi (Judo clothing).
From that day on Sensei's Jackie Thomas and Charles Inge changed the course of my life. From 1962 to 1967 they took me on a journey to my First Degree Black Belt (Shodan), made me into a man, gave me confidence and ability, and turned me into a champion, where I won several tournaments. I began teaching Judo at Tuley Park off 90th and Martin Luther King Drive, and when I attended Western Illinois University, there was a Judo club on campus, and became the lead instructor due to my rank.
In 1968, I began competing in the US Nationals, became an alternate on the 1971 Pan American Team, and participated in International competition on numerous occasions.
But Sensei's Thomas and Inge gave me much more. Growing up in Chicago, I disliked the Chicago Police Department, because they were heavy handed and corrupt. On many occasions police officers would stop me for no reason other than they could. I went to all-boys Mendel Catholic High School, and because it was the early to middle sixties, I got into many fights because of my ethnic mixture. White students who knew Chicago Police officers in that area would point me out because I beat them.
What Jackie Thomas and Charles Inge showed me was their personal side, because I thought all police officers were the same. They showed me discipline, toughness, and confidence (not arrogance). It is because of those attributes I saw in them, that I became a police officer.
I have trained many students since 1967. I taught at the Chicago Park District, Western Illinois University, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (Mickey Matsumato), and thanks to the Prince George's County Police Department was able to have my own Judo club through community policing, where I didn't charge any student to learn Judo. Judo has given me the ability to use my skills in self defense with suspects, and not incur any use of force complaints, because I am confident of my abilities.
All martial arts have their positives and in some cases their negatives. But if you use your training in the right way, and continue to learn and train, your skills will never fail you.
I have made it to the rank of Godan (5th degree Black Belt). Many have asked, "Why don't I have a higher rank." That's simple, it's all about giving back. I never won the US Nationals, in fact the highest I achieved was fourth place. I didn't make the Olympic Team, because I had a law enforcement profession and I wanted to be the best in that also.
I miss competing. My last competition was in 2000. Unfortunately, I lost that match, and a few months later fractured my pelvis on duty. I have two knees that will have to be replaced, a partially torn rotator cuff in my left shoulder, bone chips and arthritis in both thumbs, and bone chips and arthritis in my left elbow, But I would never trade that summer day in 1953, when I asked my "Mamare," Why is that man wearing his pajamas?"
By: Tony Avendorph, Godan, Fifth Degree Black Belt