Welcome to the weekend POU!
Our final martial artist of the week is judo pioneer George Lee Harris, a member of the first USA Judo team to compete in the Olympics.
George Lee Harris was born in Kittrell, North Carolina on 15 January 1933. By 1952 Harris had moved north to Philadelphia and the Korean War was at its height. Harris showed an early taste for combat activities and was an amateur boxer from the age of 12, continuing through high school. Yet, despite the knowledge that many of his high school friends had been killed or were missing in action he joined the US Air Force.
Harris was sent to Travis Air Force Base in California for medical combat training. It was here that he was offered an introduction to judo by sergeant Phil Porter. In 1954 a 10-man AAU-Air Force team visited six Japanese cities to compete in 16 contests. Harris was a successful member of this team and reportedly won all of his 16 contests. In 1956 Harris, by then a 2nd Dan, took third place in the heavyweight division at the national AAU Judo Tournament at Seattle. After winning the US National Championships in 1957 and ’58 Harris was transferred from his original Air Force responsibilities to the physical fitness unit where he was able to concentrate on learning judo, karate, aikido and ju jitsu. His new role was to maintain the fitness levels of Air Force flying personnel and, in the Strategic Air Command, teach hand-to-hand combat to bomb crews.
Over a period of ten years Harris would spend many months in Japan training at the Kodakan and, when not training in Japan, the Air Force sent Harris to compete throughout Europe and South America. In 1958 Harris won the 3rd Dan category at the Pan-American Judo Championships held in Rio de Janeiro. Later that year, Harris represented the U.S. at the 2nd World Championships in Tokyo where he placed 5th losing to eventual gold medalist Sone of Japan. After his efforts in Tokyo, Harris was promoted to 4th Dan. He competed at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo when judo made its Olympic debut. Harris, an African-American, competed alongside teammates Jim Bregman, who was Jewish, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Native American, and Paul Maruyama, a Japanese American.
In 1968 Harris, along with George Bass, Robey Reed, Jim Bregman, Phil Porter, Rick Mertins, and Karl Geis, attended a meeting in Chicago that saw the founding of the United States Judo Association.
George passed away on January 7, 2011 after a long bout with cancer.
A short clip from the 1964 games: