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Campbell poured renewed energies into his first love, judo. He became the captain of the San Jose State team and won the Amateur Athletic Association Pacific Coast championship four times, one of the youngest Americans to hold a fourth-degree black belt. After graduating with a teacher's certificate in 1958, he worked toward his master's while concentrating on judo.
In 1963 Campbell won the gold medal at the Pan American games. But it was only after being accepted to Meiji University in Tokyo, which has one of the top judo programs in the world, that his training began in earnest.
The 1964 Olympics in Tokyo marked the first time judo would be a medal sport. Focusing on the Olympics and paying his way through school by teaching English, Campbell put up with Meiji's grueling regimen. He did not take losing lightly and would hammer his locker after a loss and swear to beat his opponent the next time. His fellow athletes remembered Campbell as perhaps not the best athlete, but certainly the most driven to succeed.
His dedication to the sport cost him his second marriage, to a fellow San Jose student who left Campbell shortly after they moved to Tokyo. But his single-minded devotion to the sport earned Campbell a spot as one of four members of the U.S. judo team.
After winning his initial contest, Campbell lost to the eventual bronze medalist when his knee, injured in a previous bout, collapsed and he was forced to forfeit the match. Nevertheless, Campbell was given the honor of carrying the U.S. flag from the Olympic stadium following the closing ceremonies.
"I think what I learned most from judo was to not give up," Campbell says. "In the West, most sports teach you to win at all costs, that winning is everything. That's not so in Japan, where winning is thought to be a natural by-product of training and perseverance."
Campbell, who will receive an honorary doctorate from Meiji University later this month, says one incident at the school was particularly good training for a future politician. One day, he recalls, he watched as a fellow judo classmate had his arm twisted by a teacher. The student grimaced in obvious pain but said nothing. Then the teacher grabbed the student's other arm and twisted. When this, too, elicited no cry of surrender, the teacher began choking the student until he was nearly unconscious.
"When it was over, I went up to my friend and asked him, 'What in the hell was that all about?'" Campbell recalls. "He said, 'I was practicing not giving up.'
"I think of that a lot in this business. You take all sorts of insults and verbal abuse, attacks by a misguided press. But you just have to grit your teeth and not give up when you know you're right.
"Before I changed parties, there was a study by one of those Washington think tanks that said I was in the top five for positive stories in the press about me. After the change, I was in the bottom two. Only [Bob] Packwood was worse. There were times when all these ugly, distorted, untruthful things were being written, and I was at the point of, 'Who in the hell needs this?' But then I'd remember my friend and practice not giving up."
Campbell knows he has a short fuse but says it might have been worse without the judo training. "It helped me learn to control my temper," he explains. "Otherwise, I might have ended up like some of my friends--in jail or dead."
But when he does boil over, he doesn't apologize. "People still tell me I blow up too easy," Campbell says. "In my own defense, did the voters want to elect a fish? Some vanilla, spineless yes-man who'll agree to anything just to get a vote? I never could stand to take a beating. Just because I'm in public office doesn't mean I'm a public doormat.
"People sometimes think their elected officials can be used to get their frustrations out. They'll call them all sorts of names, and we're supposed to say, 'Oh, yes? I'm a son of a bitch? Well, that's interesting, and I'll take it under consideration.' Well, you're gonna get a different reaction from me, 'cause I don't care about getting elected if I can't keep my dignity and my pride.
"I work hard. My whole staff works hard. I'll fight like hell for you if we agree on something, or you can convince me of your position in a gentlemanly way. But don't get in my face or you're going to have a fight on your hands."
Campbell brought more than a fighting spirit back from Japan: He also had gotten the idea of looking into his past. He'd always felt an affinity for the Japanese-Americans he'd met in California, "who were discriminated against just like half-breed kids like me," Campbell says. The Japanese were proud of their culture and their ancestors. "I once considered myself Japanese," Campbell told a Japanese reporter thirty years after the Tokyo Olympics.