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December 23, 2010
A Pilgramage for Judo
By Ernest Pund
Sergeant Major Mayfield is headed on a pilgrimage.
This Circle of 100 member is looking for renewal, a paradigm shift. And with his revitalized direction, he plans to rebuild a relationship between two of the great passions in his life, the military and judo. The ultimate goal of that effort, to put a dojo on every US military base around the world, he believes, will expand the membership of USA Judo exponentially and send US soldiers to the Olympic podium. Already in the works is MOJJJO, the United States Military Outreach Judo & Jiu Jitsu Organization, founded by Mayfield in May to pursue this ambitious plan.
“I’m refocusing,” he said in a recent interview. First stop on his pilgrimage: Tokyo.
Like the destination of any great pilgrimage, Tokyo is a homeland for some of the most important things in Sergeant Major Mayfield’s life. This would hold true for lots of us – Japan is the birthplace of judo. For Sergeant Major, as his friends call him (it’s as though his rank is his first name), Japan was elemental in his military career, as well.
At the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton north of San Diego, Mayfield hooked up with M Company of the Third Battalion, 5th Marines. “Nothing but hard fighting folks and I knew I’d landed in the right place,” he recalled – in his voice was a certain excited tone that seemed to echo from that formative moment. With his newfound family he sailed first to Yokohama and then to the Japanese island of Okinawa where he spent 13 months.
That was in 1960. THAT’S where Mayfield started training in judo formally, “every moment that I wasn’t in the field or deployed somewhere.”
The integration of the military and judo for Mayfield was soulful, the parallels unmistakable. There he was, in a company of soldiers, “nothing but hard fighting folks,” as he said, and as judoka “I just refused to let people throw me around … I just wasn’t going to be pushed around by anybody,” and so a club typically put him on their fighting teams fortournaments.
His very first encounter with judo was through the military. At the age of 18 in the gym at Xavier University in Cincinnati he met an All Air Force champion in judo. “It was the right time to hear what he said to me” -- that learning judo would be hard work, and that “if you get in the Marine Corps, get yourself over to Japan as fast as you can and study judo.” The All Air Force champion showed Mayfield ippon seonage and there was no turning back.
In ’66 and ’67 Mayfield was deployed in Vietnam, infantry in the heat of combat. Purple hearts came quickly, “I was literally blown up … that body flying up in the air was me. Twice.” After the third Purple Heart, the military pulled him from combat and in 1970 he was discharged and put on the streets America. Those were very hard times, people spitting on soldiers, and drugs were everywhere. “One minute I was a Marine, the next minute I was back on the street … a warrior just roaming the street.”
What Mayfield did was what a number of soldiers who’d learned judo through the military had done before him -- he taught judo. He’d started Freedom Fighters Judo, Karate and Self Defense School in ’67. That became Mayfield’s Martial Arts Academy and “it went crazy in ’1970.” He soon had six schools. “I would go to a tournament with 100 people myself.”
He shut down his dojos in Southern California and returned to the Marines in ’79. Vietnam had ended in ’75. Mayfield was back in Okinawa and doing judo again in the homeland. Through much of the ‘80s he trained with Sensei Watanabe in Yokosuka. He finally discharged officially in ‘97, but he never really left the Marines. He still wears his dress blues for special occasions, a chest heavy with metals and his arms emblazoned with the gold stripes of a Sergeant Major.
Now a very young 70 years old, he is considering whether to become a licensed clinical social worker specializing in PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, of military personnel. He already has a master’s degree in social work.
Mayfield left Sunday on his pilgrimage to Tokyo. When he lands, he’ll head to Catholic Mass. Then he’ll visit the grave of Sensei Watanabe and then head to the Kodokan.
A big part of this pilgrimage is practical. Mayfield intends to rekindle contacts with judokas overseas who could spearhead or support dojos on US military bases there. MOJJJO’s immediate goal, Mayfield said, is to “stand up” three base dojos before the end of the year. He has several stateside in mind. MOJJJO took a contingency of fighters to a tournament in Pensacola, FL, not long ago. The organization even has an “official” hat, a really cool cowboy lid with MOJJJO insignia.
These base dojos could include a broader membership than soldiers alone. Mayfield envisions clubs that would serve not only soldiers but also their citizen family members, including their children, and other non-military people from the community. If the base club only allowed soldiers as official members, non-soldiers could participate under the banner of Mayfield Martial Arts Academy. “There is a whole population of kids who don’t know about judo … thousands of them.” And if a dojo can be established on many bases, the new judokas will always have a place to workout when they’re reassigned – Mayfield always travels with his gi.
“I want to fortify USA Judo with military people,” Mayfield said.
So Mayfield knows what he’s looking for, and he knows what he needs to do: to “stand up” as many dojos as he can at military bases around the world. Now, he’s going for it, living the creed that he quotes from Apollo 13 fame, “Failure is not an option."