Takahiko Ishikawa and the Philadelphia Judo Club

Below is a short biography on Takahiko Ishikawa and his time in Philadelphia, based on a few interviews on MAYTT and some outside sources. This is by no means an extensive biography of the judo champion from Japan. This is, however, an overview of his actions and influences during his time in the city. Being based in the Philadelphia area, Ishikawa’s name and influence comes up quite regularly in judo circles.

In Philadelphia and the surrounding areas, many older judoka recall training under the highest ranked judoka outside of Japan. His name was Takahiko Ishikawa. In the thirteen years of teaching and coaching judo in the city, Ishikawa promoted over sixty black belts and national champions, and influenced the lives of the many students under him. Those who studied under him mention the great influence and impact he was on their respective training. Today, we dive into the man that was Takahiko Ishikawa and his time in Philadelphia.

Japan Years

Takahiko Ishikawa. Source: Main Line Judo.

Born in 1917, Takahiko Ishikawa began his judo journey at a young age, somewhat against his will. His father, a physical education teacher, would wake him in the early hours of the day, long before he had to go to school, and would train his son in judo, along with other physical activities. During Ishikawa’s time in the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War in Manchuria, he drove a supply truck from base to base, camp to camp. When he was off-duty, he spent his free time training in extreme weather of Northeast China – the humid and tropical heat during the summer, and the windy and dry Artic cold during the winter. These conditions would result in his sweat to have no salt content in them. However, all his training would come to a halt when Japan lost the war in 1945. He and many others like him were left destitute and without the proper resources for sustained life in a beaten, broken, and destroyed Japan. It was not until a benefactor sponsored him to enter the All Japan Judo Tournament in 1949, that he resumed his judo training. During the tournament-winning match, he became the first and only co-winner of the tournament with Masahiko Kimura, the man who won against Hélio Gracie in 1951. After placing in the top three for four consecutive years, he earned a teaching position at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police school.[1]

Ishikawa’s first visit to America was with General Curtis LeMay of Strategic Air Command (SAC) and his sponsored tour of Japanese Martial arts across the country’s military bases in 1953. Though Ishikawa visited Philadelphia on this tour, he chose to travel to Cuba and teach there. He promptly left the country, however, once Fidel Castro assumed control.[2]


Ishikawa after winning an All Japan Judo Tournament in the early 1950s. Source: Judo Info.

Upon leaving Cuba, Ishikawa made his way into Philadelphia with the aid of LeMay, who assisted him with the required paperwork. Once the paperwork cleared, Ishikawa, his wife, and three children arrived in Philadelphia in 1962. In the city, he found the already existing Philadelphia Judo Club under the direction of Dr. Eichi Koiwai. Ishikawa, being the highest-ranking judoka outside of Japan at the time, immediately assumed control of the club. Though this action was considered customary within the judo community at the time, many longtime students of both Koiwai and the school supported Ishikawa, including Helen Foos, a wife of a successful coal broker. With the financial backing of Helen Foos, what resulted could be termed as a “judo coup.” In addition, the event stemmed a rivalry between Ishikawa and Koiwai and the former forming the Ishikawa Judo Club while latter, while branching off, created his own version of the Philadelphia Judo Club.[3]

Helen Foos, according to longtime judoka and close friend of Ishikawa, Art Bourgeau, had been training judo in Philadelphia since its inception as the Philadelphia Jujitsu Club, founded by Jack Feinsinger in 1949. She, also according to Bourgeau, was one of the first women to be awarded a black belt in any martial art in Philadelphia. Foos became a major factor in sustaining and spreading Ishikawa’s judo program, as she “could build an organization like nobody’s business” and was influential in recruiting and maintaining members. Besides financially supporting Ishikawa’s judo endeavors, she also housed Ishikawa and his family during the majority of his stay in the city, even going as far as to adopt his daughters so he could focus on the club. Foos, according to both Bourgeau and Main Line Judo head instructor, Thomas Blair, was “keenly intelligent, highly opinionated,” and had a “fireball” of a personality. With such a combination of personality, financial support, and business know-how, she was the main component of honing the overall judo program that Ishikawa offered. Foos would later publish a handful of Ishikawa’s writings in aptly titles publications, Ishikawa Journals.[4]

Throughout his time in the city, Ishikawa produced a total of sixty-five black belts and many more regional and national competitors. Though he was not all too happy allowing someone from outside the club lead classes, he deferred to others only three times during his tenure in the city, according to Bourgeau. Those three were Keiko Fukuda, the highest-ranking female judoka in the world, James Bregman, the first United States Olympic medal winner for judo, and Yoshisada Yonezuka, a classmate of Ishikawa.  Blair recalls, however, that a Dickie Walter also taught at the club when Ishikawa visited Japan. [5]

Ishikawa (left) with Hal Sharp (center) and Maurice Gruel (right) at the Tokyo Police Dojo. Source: Judo Info.

Koiwai, now President of the United States Judo Federation (USJF), contacted Ishikawa in preparation of the 1972 Olympics. The conversation and the outcome were not a positive one. Koiwai wanted to implement an examination for referees in the organization. Since everyone had to take the exam, having Ishikawa, the highest-ranking judoka in America, go through the examination process, validated the idea and concept. To Ishikawa, this was an outrage; how could a testing committee test the highest-ranking judoka outside Japan? If anything, Ishikawa would administer the examination as opposed to taking it. One thing led to another and Ishikawa promptly left the USJF and joined the United States Judo Association, leaving many of his student competitors in the former organization. This incident served to end what remaining relationship Ishikawa and Koiwai had.[6]

In spite of the success of Ishikawa and his judo program, his personal life took a turn as he developed cancer in the early 1970s. Shortly after, his son, Hajime, committed suicide, leading him and his wife to divorce. Both the cancer and his son’s death drove Ishikawa into a depression, to which the Osagame Martial Arts’ “History” page parallels the decline of his judo school at the same time. Though there is some truth to that, as Bourgeau explained, the social world around the school began to change. By the early 1970s, karate and the recent Bruce Lee films started to eat away at judo’s popularity. Now, more potential judoka became interested in punching and kicking than grappling. And those who wanted to grapple coming into Ishikawa’s school, according to Bourgeau, were high school and college wrestlers, and with the older, more seasoned judoka of the school retiring, there were not ample senior students to maintain the appearance of judo.[7]

In 1975, with the school now declining, divorced from his wife, his son dead, and the cancer beaten, Ishikawa felt it was time to cease his actions in Philadelphia and move to Virginia Beach with Foos, who had decided to move herself, the coal business, and Ishikawa’s daughters (Foos had adopted them prior). There were plans in the works to build a large judo facility there for Ishikawa to continue teaching. According to Bourgeau, Foos had become a student of Edgar Cayce, the Sleeping Prophet, and the Cayce Institute was located in Virginia Beach, where she wanted to be closer to. Ishikawa met with a few individuals to tell them the news, including Bourgeau. At the farewell dinner, Ishikawa made a speech, saying that he had to take this course of action. His explanation, according to Bourgeau, was “so friggin’ bewildering” to those who did not really know him. In his speech, Ishikawa mentioned that his zodiac sign, the snake, appeared to him in his dreams. He further explained that the snake appeared him years before, when there was a major life decision ahead or to be made.[8]

The dinner ended and everyone made their way home. Many felt the loss of Ishikawa as a teacher and friend in the Philadelphia area. Before taking his leave, Ishikawa left the school to a young Rusty Scott. Scott, however, could not fill the shoes that Ishikawa left open in the wake of his departure. After a series of owners, one of Ishikawa’s students and close friend, Art Bourgeau, came to be the head instructor of the club for twenty-five years until turning the keys over to Ray Huxen.[9]

Ishikawa spent the remaining years in America with Foos until her death in the 1980s. From there, with nothing truly left for him in the Land of the Free, he returned to Japan, where he lived out the rest of his days. Though spending only thirteen years in Philadelphia, Ishikawa made an impact on the judo community there. Whether it was the aggressiveness of his randori, the practice or use of uke’s energy to perform a technique, or his concepts on posture, form, balance, and control, there are those who continue to pass on Ishikawa’s teachings to this day.


[1] Main Line Judo, “Takahiko Ishikawa Sensei,” Main Line Judo, accessed April 3, 2020, http://www.mainlinejudo.com/ishikawa.asp; Harold Sharp, “Memories of My Sensei, Takahiko Ishikawa, 9th Dan,” American Judo: A Journal of the United States Judo Association, Fall 2008, 20.

[2] Main Line Judo, “Takahiko Ishikawa Sensei”; Antonio Aloia, “Interview with Art Bourgeau, Part II: History of the Philadelphia Judo Club and J.B. Gross,” Martial Arts of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (blog), July 10, 2020, accessed July 15, 2020, https://maytt.home.blog/2020/07/10/interview-with-art-bourgeau-part-ii-history-of-the-philadelphia-judo-club-and-j-b-gross/.

[3] Art Bourgeau, “History of the PJC,” Osagame, 2012, accessed April 3, 2020, http://www.osagame.com/history; Aloia, “Interview with Art Bourgeau, Part II”; Main Line Judo, “Takahiko Ishikawa Sensei.”

[4] Art Bourgeau, Interview with Art Bourgeau: Takahiko Ishikawa, interview by Antonio Aloia, April 10, 2020; Antonio Aloia, “Interview with Thomas Blair: Takahiko Ishikawa and Growing Judo in the Modern World,” Martial Arts of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (blog), April 29, 2020, accessed May 1, 2020, https://maytt.home.blog/2020/04/29/interview-with-thomas-blair-takahiko-ishikawa-and-growing-judo-in-the-modern-world/; Main Line Judo, “Takahiko Ishikawa Sensei”; Bourgeau, “History of the PJC”; Sharp, “Memories of My Sensei, Takahiko Ishikawa, 9th Dan,” 19.

[5] Antonio Aloia, “Interview with Art Bourgeau, Part I: Training Under Takahiko Ishikawa,” Martial Arts of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (blog), July 6, 2020, accessed 15, 2020, https://maytt.home.blog/2020/07/06/interview-with-art-bourgeau-part-i-training-under-takahiko-ishikawa/; Bourgeau, Interview with Art Bourgeau: Takahiko Ishikawa; Bourgeau, “History of the PJC.”

[6] Aloia, “Interview with Art Bourgeau, Part II”; Bourgeau, Interview with Art Bourgeau: Takahiko Ishikawa; Bourgeau, “History of the PJC”; Takahiko Ishikawa, “Ishikawa Takahiko’s Memorandum to: All United States Judokas,” December 13, 1973, 3.

[7] Aloia, “Interview with Thomas Blair”; Bourgeau, Interview with Art Bourgeau: Takahiko Ishikawa; Bourgeau, “History of the PJC.”

[8] Bourgeau, Interview with Art Bourgeau: Takahiko Ishikawa; Aloia, “Interview with Art Bourgeau, Part II”; Main Line Judo, “Takahiko Ishikawa Sensei”; Aloia, “Interview with Thomas Blair.”

[9] Aloia, “Interview with Art Bourgeau, Part II”; Bourgeau, Interview with Art Bourgeau: Takahiko Ishikawa; Bourgeau, “History of the PJC.”


One thought on “Takahiko Ishikawa and the Philadelphia Judo Club

  1. Thank you for capturing the history of Judo in Philadelphia. I was blessed to be a student at the ckub between 1968 and 1973 while working at Hahnemann Hospital where I also knew Dr. Koiwai as well.
    Made many friendships during those interesting times in Philadelphia that still remain today 50+ years later!
    Prof. Ishikawa was a quiet but inspirational mentor which served to inspire others to continue to serve in the promotion of the Sport of Judo for years to come.


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