John T. Anderson, a Catonsville judo instructor who was an eighth-degree black belt and 12-time U.S. National Masters champion, died of pneumonia March 16 at Seasons Hospice at Northwest Hospital. The longtime Randallstown resident was 88.
"John was fabulous, kind and patient. If you had trouble with a certain technique, he'd find another way," said Margery "Mac" Fink, 75. She was 22 when she started studying judo with Mr. Anderson. "He was so devoted to the sport."
The son of Frank Anderson, a master barber, and Julia Stevens Anderson, a homemaker, John Thomas Anderson was born and raised in Savannah, Ga. Growing up in Savannah, Mr. Anderson was undersized and got picked on by schoolyard bullies.
"I was always a kid that the other kids chased down and tried to beat up," Mr. Anderson told The Baltimore Sun in a 2001 article. "Although I used to do a lot of fisticuffs with them, I was always on the losing end."
He was 17 when enlisted in the Navy in 1945. Regulations required recruits to weigh at least 118 pounds — Mr. Anderson was 114 pounds. He ate five pounds of bananas before the weigh-in and was approved.
He joined the submarine service and trained as a welder and metalsmith, stationed in New London, Conn. After World War II, he was shipped to the Pacific, where he and his crewmates witnessed an A-bomb test from the deck of their ship.
In 1946, while in Honolulu, he and his Navy buddies saw Asian men in a building tossing each other around on mats. He was told the place was a dojo, a martial arts training area, and asked if they could practice.
"After a little hesitation they said, 'Yeah, come on in.' They immediately threw us all over the place," he recalled in the 2001 interview. "The other two guys didn't go back, but I did."
By the time he was discharged from the Navy in 1949, he had gained 30 pounds and could bench press 270 pounds.
He moved to Baltimore in 1950 and worked for the Koppers Co., then Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. He welded gas lines until being promoted to supervisor. He retired in 1992.
In the early 1950s, Mr. Anderson earned a brown belt in judo. An instructor at the YMCA on Franklin Street saw him helping others with their moves, and he was offered a job teaching. Soon he had 40 students.
His first female student was Laureen Pearson, an ice and roller skater who wanted to learn self-defense. The two were later married — and Mrs. Anderson eventually became a black belt.
With Don Draeger, Lanny Miyamoto and Kenzo Uyeno, Mr. Anderson founded the Baltimore Judo and Jiujutsu Institute of Maryland, which later became the Baltimore Judo Club. He rose to Kodokan Hachidan, or eighth-degree black belt.
Mr. Anderson had a studio on Charles Street in Baltimore, and later moved to one on Winters Lane in Catonsville, where he taught until 2008.
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"The philosophy of judo is to give way to force," Mr. Anderson told The Sun. "Ninety percent of all tussles on the street happen because people talk. They say the wrong thing. Many times I've encountered people and just ignored them. If I brought them here on this mat I think I could absolutely destroy them. But it serves no purpose to do this."
Mr. Anderson had been a first vice president of the U.S. Judo Foundation, and a founder of Maryland Judo Inc. He was also a founder of Shufu Judo Yudanshakai, USJF Black Belt Association for the East Coast, where he served as president for 17 years. He was certified as a national referee and officiated at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, and was certified a national kata judge.
A motto hung on the wall of his studio that read "Docendo discimus," which means "By teaching, we learn."
Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Sunday at Eline Funeral Home, 11824 Reisterstown Road.
He is survived by two sons, Mark Anderson of Pasadena and Michael Anderson of Eldersburg; a daughter, Jean Ellen Anderson of Randallstown; a brother, Sam Anderson of Woodlawn; two half-brothers, William Reese and Richard Reese, both of Jacksonville, Fla.; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. His wife died in 2008.