-ita Kyoei: Mutual Welfare and Benefit in -udo
Forty years ago, James Brewster Thompson was a young phenom training with the San Jose State rniversity judo team, the country’s premier collegiate program, when judo legend Masahiko Kimura — he of the famed bent-arm lock now popularly called the kimura —
“He was around 60, but he threw us all,” Thompson recalled. “I asked him how someone as old as he was could be so fast, and he said, ‘How can someone as young as you be so slow?’”
Years later, things have come full circle with Thompson, now a grappling veteran, showing the kids a thing or two. In 2008 the 55-year-old Thomp ϐ Ǥ Ǥ - ; ϐ Ǥ says he’s contemplating coming out of retirement once again in 2017 to com Ǥ Ǥ - ! =͵Ǥ who began his judo career with only two throws and didn’t expand his arsenal for nearly a decade. “I STARTED at age 13 when I earned a ǡǳ - son said. “I tried boxing there but got beat up by the older kids, so I didn’t like that. I tried weightlifting but was too skinny for that. Then I tried judo. They showed us two throws: the circle throw and the hip throw. I practiced them all week, then at the end of the camp, I beat everyone with them and fell in love with judo.”
Thompson returned home at the end of the week and didn’t get to formally
practice judo at a club again until he was almost 21. But during all that time, he honed those two throws on friends, family members and anyone else who’d let him toss them. He also became a multi-sport star in high school in his native Salinas, California, before going on to play basketball and track at Hartnell College.
But Thompson became disenchanted with collegiate sports. Looking for something he thought would involve ! ǡ ϐ found a judo class at a local YMCA and resumed training in earnest.
He ascended quickly through the judo ranks, earning his black belt in less than 11 months and going to his ϐ " ! in 1976 after only two years of serious practice. Although he would return to the trials again in 1980, 1984, 1996 and 2008, his only national champion 1985 in the open-weight division.
“I always felt I hadn’t accomplished some things I wanted to in the sport, so I just kept trying,” he said. “The one thing I always had was perseverance.” THOMPSON WAS never averse to any form of challenge in the grappling art. When San Jose State judo standout Dave Camarillo began touting the ben ϐ V jiu-jitsu in the 1990s, Thompson decided to test him. The two arranged a private match at the school of Camarillo’s instructor Ralph Gracie.
“Dave was the best judo madman at San Jose State back then but was only like 150 pounds,” Thompson recalled. “We agreed to just do mat work, and I wouldn’t be able to slam him.”
Camarillo managed to catch Thompson in an armbar, at which point Thompson used his great strength to lift Camarillo and carry him off the mat. Thompson said he was just showing what he could do and didn’t intend to slam Camarillo, but others interpreted his movement toward the front door as intent to carry Camarillo outside and smash him into the sidewalk.
Camarillo said that he couldn’t recall what exact rules they’d agreed to but that when he sunk in the armbar, he had his eyes closed, and when he opened them, Thompson was running toward the door, making him believe the situation was turning serious. He eventually cranked the armbar with everything he had, breaking Thompson’s arm. ALTHOUGH THE confrontation has been interpreted as an angry challenge match, both men downplay that portrayal. “Brewster is simply a nice guy,” Camarillo said. “He’s always been a nice guy.”
For his part, Thompson admitted that he learned from the experience: “My ego was such that I didn’t think he could get an armbar on me, but he did. I underestimated him, and he got an honest armbar and beat me. I learned an important lesson that you shouldn’t let your ego get the best of you and not ϐ ! Ǥǳ
Thompson’s desire to keep competing was so strong that it soon led him to new challenges. He took up sumo wrestling in 1994 when a judo coach he knew was recruiting an American team in the run-up to the world championships. Thompson leapt at the chance and managed to become part of Ǥ Ǥ ϐ event. He enjoyed the experience so much that he continued to compete in ǡ ʹ\\^ ϐ $ the world championships at age 52.
“In a way, I actually liked sumo the best of anything I’ve competed in,” he said. “It’s the most honorable and respectful event I’ve ever been in. You watch other sports, and people aren’t humble when they win. But you watch the Japanese when they do sumo, and after a match, you can’t tell if they won or lost from looking at them. I always liked the idea of handling yourself in that humble, classy way.” IN ADDITION to the lack of humility, ! ϐ - ing with the current state of the arts is ego getting in the way of training. He ϐ ! train with at local judo schools because many just don’t want to get on the mat with him.
“In my day, a lower belt would never turn down the chance to work out with a black belt, but now a lot of kids don’t want to practice with me,” he said. “I think a lot of it is ego — they don’t want to take the chance of losing to someone my age.”
Thompson attributes his remarkable longevity in judo to a fanatical dedica ϐ Ǥ ǡ ǯ " ϐ ! on television and became determined to build his body so he could perform similar feats of strength. Among his notable accomplishments: doing push-ups on his thumbs and bagging the world record for jumping rope — with 410 pounds on his back. In fact, he turned this routine into a strength act that he’s performed around the country, including twice at the White House. Thompson also combines his strength routine with a ventriloquism ǡ " ! V ! ϐ Ǧ ! awareness among youth.
“In 1994 I was the recipient of the Bay Area Good Neighbor Award for community service,” Thompson said. “That’s probably the thing I’m most proud of in my career. Helping out in your own neighborhood is the best way a martial artist can give back to society.”
James Brewster Thompson also combines his strength routine with a ventriloquism act, which he does at events organized to encourage fitness and anti-drug awareness among youth.