Theodore Roosevelt and Martial Arts

Theodore Roosevelt and Martial Arts
I’m often surprised by all the people who learn and participate in Martial Arts. Most people know of and can recognize the well-known Martial Arts movie stars like Bruce Lee or Jet Li. Many can even identify other celebrities as Martial Artists such as Elvis Presley.

But did you know that Martial Arts had a much wider and longer influence on society?

In fact, one of the earliest adaptors of Martial Arts in the Western world came from the highest office in the US, the President. That’s right. President Theodore Roosevelt.

The 26th President was an adventurer, living a daring life style of embarking on safaris and expeditions. But he wasn’t always such a powerful being. As a child, he suffered from asthma and consequently led a sheltered youth. His father encouraged him to learn boxing in order to help strengthen him.

When he went to Harvard, he continued his boxing training in addition to his studies. He was active in many different activities in college and went on to be a runner-up in a Harvard boxing championship. However, a physical exam at his graduation found a serious heart problem and he was advised to avoid strenuous activities.

Roosevelt ignored these warnings by both embraced new adventures in life and pursuing public offices all the way up to becoming President of the United States. In fact, so ambitious is he that at his second run at office to date he is the only Presidential candidate to place second from a third party.

During his stay at the White House, Roosevelt had the opportunity to see a judo demonstration by Yoshiaka Yamashita against a wrestler. So impressed was he with the power of judo that the President went on to become a student to Yamashita.

Roosevelt even holds the distinction of being the first American to achieve the rank of brown belt.

Yamashita had come to the Americas to help a wealthy Seattle business man, Sam Hill, with his sickly son. He went on to do many demonstrations across the country, changing the misconception that Martial Arts was just a set of parlour tricks. He taught many people from many different walks of life to share the art he loved so much, including our President. He went on to be the judo training for the Navy Academy. Unfortunately, his demonstrations could not combat the preconceptions that existed in the American society.

It would not be until nearly half a decade later for Martial Arts to return to the Americas outside of the Asian communities.

"Professor Yamashita Goes to Washington". Journal of Combative Sports, Oct 2000.

Theodore Roosevelt. Wikipedia page.

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