Monday, October 10, 2016

Ernie Smith: another judo legend

I have known Mr. Smith  over 40 years. At local tournaments, I would sometimes compete against his daughter, Sheryl.   When I was older, and coaching, I would often bring students to his tournaments. In between there, when I was competitor, one of his students, Belinda Binkley, was on the US team with me as a teammate. Years later, when my daughter, Ronda was competing, another of his students, Chuck Jefferson, was leading a camp she attended.

So, in short, I had known Mr. Smith as an outstanding coach. The fact that he's a fairly high level referee was to me not particularly relevant or interesting. I never really known him as a competitor.

 I knew he had trained in Japan and competed as a member of various military teams when he was in the Marines. There was never any question in my mind – or anyone else's – that he was an all-around outstanding judo player. He had been successful as a competitor, beyond successful as a coach and respected as a referee. I should also mention Delores Brody who was probably his first international gold medalist  – She was a little before my time and by the time I met her she was quite a successful professional working on her career.

Perhaps the most interesting insight into Mr. Smith's judo career, though, came in response to the question and answer segment of the event. Frank Sanchez Junior asked,

For those of you who trained in the US and were part of the military after the war, where did you find the racism to be worse, in the US or in Japan?

Now, if you aren't familiar with history of judo in this country, just let me summarize it by saying that there was a lot of discrimination against non-Asian players in America after the war. However, Mr. Smith answered,

I grew up in East Texas. For all of my life growing up, I was not allowed to eat your restaurant unless a black person owned. There were separate bathrooms, separate schools. If you rode on a bus and you were black, you had to ride in the back. Of my 21 years in the Marine Corps I spent 12 in Japan or Okinawa by choice. When I got to Japan, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I could eat anywhere, sit anywhere  – so, by comparison to what I had experienced growing up Japan was heaven.

I sat there and thought about that because a lot of the civil rights battles had happened before I was born or when I was a small child. During some of that time, my family was living overseas because my father was part of the military, so I never really experienced it firsthand. It was a revelation to me that someone I had always put on a pedestal had spent his early years being put down simply because of his race and managed to achieve so far more than anyone expected him.
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1 comment:

EB said...

Thank you. Glad to learn about Mr. Smith.