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MMA HALL OF FAME Nominee » Tokugoro Ito

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Tokugoro Ito • Pioneer • Early mixed rules fighter who helped invent the sport; lost to Ad Santel, Mitsuyo Maeda.
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by Andrew 'Kick Boxe' B

Before Jiu Jitsu ever made its way from Japan to Brazil, Tokugoro Ito was using collar chokes to finish opponents, in Seattle, Washington. Ito joined Kodokan judo at the age of 19, on January 15, 1899. By 10904 he had earned a 4th degree back belt, and in 1907, at age 27 Tokugoro  left his home country of Japan to see what the world had to offer. His adventurous spirit stayed with him throughout his career, as he would fight any man, at any time.

There are indications that fighting is what he was brought to Seattle to do. By this telling, the Seattle Japanese Association needed protection from Chinese Tongs, and brought in Ito as muscle.

In Seattle Ito played a prominent role in bringing success and fame to the now legendary Seattle Dojo.  Tokugoro and the Seattle Dojo were covered by U.S. newspapers, bringing to the US public awareness the role of Judo/Jiu-Jitsu in fighting. Being a great judo player, Tokugoro was very skilled in early "jacketed wrestling" matches which are not so different from Brazilian jiu jitsu matches we see today. Open handed striking was allowed, which made for entertaining and hard fought matches.  He enjoyed facing fighters of different styles, including the great catch wrestler Ad Santel.  Santel won the first jacketed wrestling match but was beaten handily by Ito in the rematch. A third match between the two never came to fruition.

While Ito made great strides in communicating to the effectiveness of Judo as a fighting style, he also faced racism, as did many early professional athletes. The majority of his fans were Japanese, and he was their hero. As the Seattle Times remarked at the time, "the audience was mainly composed of Japanese and they enjoyed the performance hugely. The white men were not so well pleased."

Tokugoro spent 14 years in the United States and South America, but was remembered long after he left. He became a professional wrestler, but not the jumping off turnbuckles and tag teaming partners variety - this was a time when professional wrestling was a legitimate sport of submission style fighting. Ito was one of the most skilled real pro wrestlers in the world.

Based then in Los Angeles, Ito was a celebrity among the Japanese community. To give by one of countless examples, Ito took on German strongman Willhelm Berne. To promote the fight Berne put on exhibitions of his strength, lifting eight men off the ground at once, and bending iron and breaking horseshoes with his hands Two thousand Japanese were in attendance as they watched Ito make short work of the German twice his size. The crowd roared in approval and hoisted their hero onto their shoulders.

In 1914 or 1915 a match with Ad Santel was billed as a showdown between catch wrestling and Judo. The first bout ended with Ito unable to continue after a takedown, but It won the rematch by submission over a figure widely considered among the best catch wrestlers in history. His only other loss of record was to Mitsuyo Maeda, father of Jiu-Jitsu on Brazil, and this, generations later, of modern Mixed Martial Arts.

After learning his father was sick in 1921, Ito returned to Japan and taught judo at a local middle school. Tokugoru Ito died on January 22, 1939, of a cerebral hemorrhage, never having returned to America, but his impact on fighting in the United States is still felt to this day.

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