History of Judo in Hawaii


During the era of Japanese immigration to Hawaii in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, many Japanese immigrants trained in the art of Kodokan Judo came to Hawaii. These young immigrants were responsible for the organization of Judo in Hawaii. Two of Hawaii’s and the nation’s oldest Judo clubs, Shobukan and Shunyokan, were established by young immigrants in this early ear of Japanese immigration. 

The Shunyokan Judo Club was founded by Shigemi Teshima and Naomatsu Kaneshige. In 1913, while on a goodwill tour of the United States, Professor Jigoro Kano visited the school and because of a close relationship with Mr. Teshima, he was asked to give the club an appropriate name. In the office of the counsel General in Honolulu, Professor Kano personally inscribed the name “Shunyo Kan” in Japanese for the Club. This sign still is hung in the Shunyokan Dojo. Professor Isami Shishido, Seventh Degree Black Belt and Past Chairman of the Club’s Board of Directors, joined the Club in 1919.

The Shobu Kan Judo Club was founded by Yajiro Kitayama, Nakajiro Mino, and others. The Club’s first dojo site was the basement of the Ono Bakery on Beretania Street, followed by several locations in Honolulu until it moved to it’s present location on Kunawai Lane in the Liliha area. Professor Hishash Kochi, Sixth Degree Black Belt, one of the clubs senior members joined Shobu Kan in 1926. Professor Sunao Migita, Seventh Degree Black Belt, joined the club in 1920 and was the Sensei until passing the post to his son Lloyd Migita in 197 . Dr. Lloyd Migita, a national contender in the 1960’s, has trained numerous national and international champions during his tenure. Clifton Sunada, a 1996 Olympian, trained at Shobu Kan before moving to the Olympic Training Center. 

Other clubs were subsequently established, and in 1929, three of the major Judo clubs, Shunyo Kan, Shobu Kan, and the Hawaii Chuugakko (Junior High School) initiated an effort to organize Judo in the Territory of Hawaii. The purpose of this move was to unite all the different judo clubs into one organization to help promote Judo in Hawaii as well as to help each individual club develop through interaction with other clubs with a common interest. The organization hoped to be able to demonstrate a united effort to the community and to be recognized as an instrument through which the social and cultural significance of this martial art would be transmitted and perpetuated.

Original charter members of the organization from the Shunyo kan Judo Club were: Sukeichi Morifuji, Masao Nakakuni, Juichi Ozaki, Kiyoichi Kimura, and Isamu Shishido. From Shobu Kan Judo Club were: Yajiro Kitayama, Ichiju Kurisaki, Kakuji Fukai, Shizuo Yoshimura, Risaku Arisue, and Sunao Migita. Takashi Uzawa represented the Hawaii Chuugakko Judo Club. 

On September 11, 1932, Professor Jigoro Kano, founder of Kodokan Judo, was sent by the Japanese government as an ambassador of goodwill, formally accepted and recognized the Judo Black Belt Association of Hawaii (JBBAH) as the 23rd Associate of the Kodokan Judo Institute. The Association, consisting of a total of 13 judo clubs, was the first Judo Yudanshakai organized outside of Japan and let the way for Kodokan Judo to be practiced in nations throughout the world.

One of the developments in Judo that was supported by the JBBAH was the introduction of Judo classes for women by Takashi Uzawa, then Vice-President of the Hawaii Chuugakko Judo Club. These classes were conducted the the Head Instructor, Shizouko Murasaki. Assisting her were instructors Matsue Honda, Yasue Kuniwake, and Lorraine Young. This class was later headed and conducted by Hiroshi Kitayama of Shobu Kan and assisted by Shizuko Murasaki. This pioneering approach has paved the way for the co-educational classes that are the norm today.

Throughout the years, the JBBAH has been fortunate in obtaining the advice and expertise of Japan’s foremost Kodokan Judo authorities, as well as frequent visits and demonstrations by a number of Judo Clubs from throughout Japan as well as well known champions and competitors from throughout the world. 

In 1961, on their return to Japan from the 3rd World Championship Tournament in San Francisco, the coaches and contestants of the Japan Team conducted a clinic in Honolulu. This was the first of many national teams and international champions to bring to be hosted by the JBBAH and to bring their unique skills and teachings to Hawaii.

In 1963, the Hawaii Judo Yudanshakai converted their proceedings from Japanese to English. This was a significant event as the Association’s Charter, By-Laws, and other documents had to be translated into English and the organization had to once again be legally recognized by the state of Hawaii, for the first time, as the Judo Black Belt Association of Hawaii. 

The most significant accomplishment of the JBBAH in the 1970’s was the organization of a sound high school Judo program. Beginning in 1972, then President Toshiaki Inouye and Susumu Tanaka negotiated with the athletic directors of most of the public schools on Oahu. Mr. George Wilson, then Chairman of the USJF Interscholastic Committee, was very instrumental in negotiating for the program and providing guidance to the JBBAH. The result was an experimental high school Judo League in the 1972-73 school year. Under the guidance of Michael P. Matsumoto, the league continued for 3 years until it was officially adopted as part of the athletic program of the public high schools in Oahu. This has continued to this day and has provided a forum for excellent competition as well as recruitment into the standing local judo clubs. 

The JBBAH today is a recognized authority for the development of Kodokan Judo in Hawaii in supporting individual clubs, sponsoring tournaments and clinics statewide. 

The JBBAH has done much in it’s history to promote Kodokan Judo in Hawaii. Judo has served our community not only as a martial art, but also as an important social and cultural contribution to the colorful heritage of the Aloha State.

History of Judo on the Big Island

In the 1970's, Dr. John Masuhara conducted interviews of selected elderly/retired/senior ju-jitsu and/or judo practitioners. At that time, his purpose was to gather information to write articles on Big Island ju-jitsu and judo history for the 1980 Pac Rim Judo Championships program booklet and also for the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. Most of the individuals interviewed back in the 1970's have since deceased.

Mr. Sadao Sakamoto (retired from the Gas Company) was 78 years old in the late 1970's when he was interviewed. Mr. Sakamoto started as a student of Yoshin-Ryu Ju-Jitsu at the Hilo Shinyu-Kai in 1918, as a teenager. Mr. Sakamoto remembered that the instructor Kichimatsu Tanaka organized the Yoshin-Ryu dojo in 1912. The dojo was affiliated with the Hilo Shinyu-Kai, which also promoted other sports activities.

According to Mr. Sakamoto, Tanaka Kichimatsu, as an employee of the old Yoshimura Store on Ferneaux Lane in Hilo Town, apprehended a thief using ju-jitsu self-defense techniques he learned in Japan. A grateful storeowner and others in the community convinced Tanaka to start a ju-jitsu dojo in back of the store. Original members of the dojo included Okazaki Seiishiro (who later moved to Maui, then Oahu and organized a famed ju-jitsu dojo at the Okazaki gym in Liliha on Oahu;Okazaki was instrumental in the early formation of the American Ju-Jitsu Institute; he also gained fame as a massage expert who helped an ailing Mrs. John Burns, wife of a future governor), Nakashima Kazuo, Yamasaki --?, and Inouye Teruchi. Other students who joined prior to 1919, were Dr. Chu Fook Tang (dentist),Yamato Kaichi, Inouye Kitaru (Papaikou branch), Sakamoto Sadao, and JerryYoshiyama (Waiakea branch). Mr. Sadao Sakamoto also recalled that a Nanpa-Shoshin Ryu Ju-Jitsu group was active in Pepeekeo with a Mr. Hamai as instructor (circa 1918). 

Kichimatsu Tanaka passed away in 1954 at the age of 76. In the 1970's, Dr. Masuhara also interviewed Professor Tamio Kawasaki, 6th dan (deceased in1995 at age 88), who started the Higashi Hongwanji Judo Club in 1935.

Professor Kawasaki was 16 years old when he joined the Yoshin-Ryu dojo in 1923. He recalled that in 1923, much of the actual instruction at the Yoshin-Ryu dojo was being done by Okazaki Seiishiro, under the head advisorship of Tanaka Kichimatsu. At the time, Okazaki Seiishiro worked for Hoffschlaeger and later as a candy wholesaler. During his travel on business around the Big Island, Okazaki Seiishiro would stop and assist at towns where there were ju-jitsu activities. Both Sakamoto and Kawasaki stated that it was Kodokan Judo techniques that were being practiced at the Yoshin-Ryu dojo of the Hilo Shinyu-Kai during the period they were there. At the time they started (circa 1918-23), many of the older ju-jitsu techniques had already been displaced by the more popular Kodokan Judo movement in Japan as well as in Hawaii. 

In 1932, Professor Kanno Jigoro visited Hilo on his way back to Japan from the Los Angeles Olympics. During his 1932 Hilo visit, Professor Kanno contacted/reviewed and certificated selected Hilo area ju-jitsu / judo instructors under his Kodokan Judo organization. At that time, I believe, that many jujitsu/judo practitioners such as Kichimatsu Tanaka et al. were formally inducted into Kodokan Judo. In the 1980's, a daughter of Kichimatsu Tanaka introduced herself to Dr. Masuhara and expressed appreciation for the articles he wrote which described the contributions of her father. At that time, she lived in Hilo. 

Contributed by Dr. Masuhara, the Principal of Hilo High School and also a Judo Instructor