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5 Presidents Who Studied Martial Arts

The term “Martial Arts” is a relatively broad expression that encompasses a variety of different disciplines. Typically, when we hear the words martial arts, the first ideas that come to mind are one or more of the techniques that have developed in Asian countries. However, the martial arts are comprised of most types of fighting techniques that focus on hand-to-hand combat and can come from any country.  For example, Savate comes from France, Back Hold Wrestling comes from Scotland, Capoeira comes from Africa by way of Brazil, and Skillz was developed right here in the United States.

While modern views on martial arts include smiling kids learning cool moves, many programs also offer adult training.  Not only have your friends and neighbors been taking advantage of the benefits of adult martial arts, but many world leaders are also involved in the practice.

Historically, there have been a number of Commanders-in-Chief who have studied at least one of the martial arts. Most often, wrestling has been the discipline of choice, but there have been a few who have gone with disciplines that originated in Asia.

George Washington’s Defense Against Bullies – Wrestling

Back when George Washington was 15 and entering Rev. Maury’s Academy (in Fredericksburg, Virginia), a finishing school, he probably didn’t know he’d be confronted by bullies. Being the kind of guy he was, he didn’t take the assault sitting down. He trained in an old Irish folk wrestling art known as “collar and elbow” wrestling; it is a discipline with throws, trips, kicks, pins, and even submissions; yes, it includes locks and chokes. It is a bit different than the wrestling you’d see in high school and college today.

Not only was Washington able to beat back the bullies, but he also became a wrestling champion. Well, he went on to do a lot more such as helping to win a revolution against the British Empire and becoming the first US President. This might have had something to do with his fighting spirit.

Abraham Lincoln Wrestles With the Bullies

Long before he fought slavery, Lincoln was into defeating bullies wherever they happened to be. Working in a shop in a little town called New Salem, in Illinois, he was known for being a rather big and strong man; his boss bragged about him, and word got around town. Local bully Jack Armstrong had already been known as a formidable menace in town, and the locals wanted Lincoln to fight him. Abe agreed to a wrestling match and quickly trounced the bully.

Lincoln was known for being kind and pleasant, but also for being an intimidating fighter. As a soldier in the Black Hawk War, he defended a Native whom his troop wanted to kill. None of his colleagues were willing to go against him.

Even on the campaign trail, he’d stop talking to toss a ruffian around. In his legislative bid, a hooligan got rough with one of his supporters in the middle of his speech and Abe stopped what he was doing, tossed the agitator about a dozen feet, went back to the platform, and continued his speech.

Why was Lincoln so formidable? It was true he was big, strong, and brave. He was also trained in the art of collar and elbow wrestling. He was one of the best wrestlers in Illinois.

Ulysses S. Grant – Recreational Wrestler

Also a wrestler, Grant would sometimes let his form of martial arts have an effect on his work. In fact, during the famous surrender of the Confederates at Appomattox, it’s said he apologized to General Robert E. Lee for the disarray of his camp. Apparently several of the “boys” had joined Grant for an evening of wrestling the previous night. 

Theodore Roosevelt Takes on Judo

Teddy Roosevelt was always energetic and liked fighting. When he was younger, he boxed until he took a heavy blow that damaged his retina. After that, he focused on wrestling.

Teddy wasn’t shy, and he was known to storm around and assert himself. As police commissioner in New York City, he wasn’t afraid to walk the city and make sure the cops were awake and doing their jobs. He was willing to go to Cuba and take his Rough Riders into battle. He even took on big corporations and broke up monopolies and fought to limit workers’ hours and raise their wages.

Teddy was adventuresome, and when he saw a demonstration of Judo by famed Japanese Judo master Yamashita Yoshiaki, he had to try it out. While training, Roosevelt remarked that though he was getting old, his instructors could throw him around without hurting him. They were so controlled and skilled at their art. Teddy achieved the rank of 3rd Brown in Judo, no small feat.

An interesting aside: Theodore’s cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, received healing massage therapy from famous Dan Zan Ryu Jiu-Jitsu master Henry Okazaki. As part of the discipline’s curriculum, students are required to learn healing massage. I have long known that Dan Zan Ryu practitioners also practice healing massage through my exposure to them through my martial arts training in Kenpo, an art closely connected to Dan Zan Ryu. Then, when I was training in the Filipino martial art of Decuerdas Eskrima, my instructor, who is also an expert in Kenpo and Dan Zan Ryu, told me about FDR’s connection to Okazaki.

So, it seems the Roosevelts are an adventuresome lot.

 

Barack Obama Practiced Taekwondo

Barack Obama trained in Taekwondo while still in Chicago, IL when he was working as a professor and part-time state senator. His instructor was David Posner, who remembers him as a very diligent and disciplined student. President Obama eventually earned a green belt for this discipline of the martial arts. Then, in 2009, during his presidency, South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak awarded him an honorary black belt during a visit to South Korea.

Takeaway

America has always been a rough country. The frontier, a place where you had to know how to fight to survive and where fights were commonplace, produced men such as Abe Lincoln. He was smart but formidable. He won elections as much by his intellect as he did by his reputation for being physically tough.

And no doubt the personality that put a man up against mammoth corporations in the name of fairness also made Teddy Roosevelt want to learn an Asian martial art that was quite obscure at the time.

Being tough and having a sense of fairness seems to characterize these men and often characterizes martial artists. These are also common traits in leaders.

Ready to join these powerful leaders? https://www.karatepueblo.com/program/adult-martial-arts/