A thorough look into a biographies of US presidents revealed many of them had grappling backgrounds, and actual impressive ones not just the Trump arm drag variety.
If we focus in on jiu-jitsu it might surprise you to learn Teddy Roosevelt was big into it.
Theodore Roosevelt trained the same type of old style Judo & Jiu-Jitsu that the first Gracies learned in Brazil from Mitsuyo Maeda (who was passing by The USA on his way to Japan) back in the early days. He was taught by Yamashita Yoshiaki, the pioneer of Judo in The US, and a direct student of Jigaro Kano.
But while jiu-jitsu specific detail might be interesting he’s certainly not the first – the first is none other than the very first president of USA George Washington. According to trove42.com:
At 18, the future Commander of the Continental Armies held a collar and elbow wrestling championship that was, according to accounts, at least county-wide and possibly colony-wide. At the age of 47, ten years before he became the first President of the United States, he still had enough left to defeat seven consecutive challengers from the Massachusetts Volunteers.
Another incredibly influential part of US history was Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was the wrestling champion of his county at age 21.
According to thoughtco.com:
Lincoln was known for being a very good wrestler in his youth in New Salem, Illinois. And that reputation was brought up by political supporters and even one notable opponent.
And a particular wrestling match against a local bully in a small Illinois settlement became a beloved part of Lincoln lore.
William Howard Taft, the heaviest wrestling President at his ”best weight” of 225, was a lifelong follower of collar and elbow. According to potus-geeks.com
According to an article in the Yale Daily News, Taft was “a seventh generation wrestler”. (Another source describes him as a fourth generation wrestler). He employed what is known as the “collar and elbow” style of wrestling.
His father suggested that Taft cut down on athletics at Yale, but did approve his son joining an intramural wrestling team. Taft was quite a talented wrestler, and during his time at Yale, he became Yale’s first intramural heavyweight wrestling champion.
The least famous of the bunch was The 30th President, Calvin Coolidge. According to nwhof.org:
The 30th President, Calvin Coolidge, was rated ”tolerable good” as a wrestler by his father, old Colonel John, until at around 14, Cal took to ”duding around and daydreaming about being a big-city lawyer.”