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Master Phyllis Harper

In the early 1970’s, I was a young judoka training near Chicago. One of the visiting instructors was Phyllis Harper, who at the time was nearly 60 years of age, a 5th-degree in judo, and the highest ranked woman in judo in the United States (she later was awarded 6th-degree). The first time I fought her, I wanted to be careful and not hurt her since I was young and strong and she was a slender, white-haired, grandmother. In spite of my efforts, there was some hurting going on, but it wasn't her that was hurting. She whipped my butt! I tried to at least to save face, but it was not to be, I was not only whipped, I was humiliated.

Tomo Nage is a throw where you plant a foot on the opponent’s abdomen, drop to your back, and throw the opponent over the top of you to the floor behind you. Ms. Harper would gain a grip on each side of your upper chest and then drop her body and shoot it between your legs, Since she had a grip on your upper body, your head would be suddenly pulled down and between your legs so fast that you not only flipped to the floor but almost passed out from the sudden flipping motion. I used to try the technique on others, but I usually just ended up dropping on my lower back and lying there in pain.

Once at a Judo tournament in Rockford, Illinois, I was on the mat grappling with an opponent, I was going for my usual choke hold when I heard my gi pants rip. As I applied the choke, I heard a bigger rip. My opponent tapped out, and, as I stood, I found that my pants had ripped from the bottom hem of one leg, up the inside seam, across the crotch, and down the inside seam of the other leg to the bottom hem. The crowd was yelling, clapping, and cheering at the free show. There was nothing I could do about the situation so I just bowed out and walked back the sidelines as if nothing had happened. Ms. Harper was a judge at the tournament so she loaned me use her gi pants from her gym bag. They were a little tight but they did not rip and I went on to a third-place win.

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