PALO ALTO JUDO CLUB
A community-benefit non-profit organization operating since 1952
The year was 1952, President Truman was in the White House, there was a “Police Action” in Korea, gasoline was twenty cents a gallon, and one could buy a judogi for less than ten dollars. It was in this setting that Sensei’s Sam Hamai and Tamo Kitaura with the assistance of Kenji Yamane and George Geddes started the Palo Alto Judo Club, a non-profit organization. What type of individuals would undertake such a commitment to Judo in 1952? Sam Hamai was 31 years old and Tamo Kitaura was 23 years old. Both of them were members of the San Jose Buddhist Judo Club and their sensei was Yosh Uchida.
Hamai Sensei had started Judo in Oxnard, California in 1937 at the age of 16, under the guidance of the late Dick Doi. In 1939, Hamai Sensei was promoted to Shodan (1st Dan) after only 2 years. World War II interrupted his judo career as his family was interned at Gila River, Arizona. In 1943, he was inducted into the U.S. army and served three years in the Pacific Theater (Philippines and Japan). After the war, the Hamais settled in Palo Alto and Hamai Sensei continued his judo at San Jose Buddhist Judo Club. He stayed in active competition when he founded Palo Alto Judo Club in 1952. Hamai Sensei (6th Dan) was President of Central Coast Judo Association, Vice-President of Central Coast Judo Association, and the Chairman of the Board of Examiners for Central Coast. He was known nationally for his scorekeeping expertise and had been the Head Scorekeeper at numerous national tournaments. He was also a national (class C) level judo referee.
Tamo Kitaura started his Judo career while being interned at Tule Lake, California in 1943. After the war he also continue his judo at San Jose Buddhist Judo Club. Kitaura Sensei was an aggressive and tenacious judoka. Many of us watched him perform in fascination as he fought in the heavyweight division as a 150 pounder and won! There were moments when his matches were temporarily halted because his chronic knee would become dislocated and Hamai Sensei would rush on to the mat and pop it into place so the match could continue. Kitaura Sensei’s bouts were always exciting to watch. Kitaura Sensei (8th dan-promoted 2001) was President of Central Coast Judo Association, as well as Rank Registration Chairman of CenCo. He has been on the All-American Judo Team selection committee (three years), Coach/manager of the United States Judo team for the PanAmerican Games, twice manager of the United States Olympic Judo Team for the World Games, and alternate coach for the United States Olympic Judo Team. In Addition, he found time to be Head Judo Coach for Stanford University for thirteen years. Kitaura Sensei was a PanAmerican (class B) level judo referee.
As we move into the future, Palo Alto Judo Club will adhere to Hamai and Kitaura Senseis’ teachings, which include discipline, hard practice, and dedication to learning judo, and becoming better people. During the first thirty years, the dojo trained over 2,000 students. During 1952 through 1962, our junior and intermediate judokas had the reputation as the team to beat. At the kohaku shiais and team shiais, Mich and Jun Kono, Nozy Iwasaki, Eugene Miyahara, Paul Kodani, Buddy Nakano, Philip Slattery, Mel and Grayson Iwatsubo, Floyd Kameda, Reese Cutler, Clayton Fujii and many others dominated the tournament scene. In fact, between 1958 to 1961, Palo Alto’s Jun Kono, Eugene Miyahara, Paul Kodani, and Clayton Fujii respectively won the northern California Outstanding Judo Award. Hamai Sensei was voted coach of the year in 1958.
Many Sensei have contributed so greatly at the dojo. The retired instructors Kenji Yamane, one of the founders; Tom Iwatsubo, who was a favorite among the students; and Kenneth Yoshikawa, whose wisdom we all appreciated, contributed greatly to the technical skill as well as the integrity of the club. Kay Kodani, a man of high ideals and great determination, taught the fundamentals so well that his students were always mentally and physically prepared. The younger instructors Floyd Kameda, Randy Olson, Henry Paige, and Howard Watanabe had a tough act to follow.
At Palo Alto Judo, we have developed many students who have won scores of championships, too many to list. Palo Alto Judo Club has had representation on a local, national, and international judo level. On the Junior National level, our champions are Ken Fujimoto, Kevin Heyeck, Eric Duus, Justin Befu, and Jessica Lockfield. The dojo’s national Collegiate (NCAA) champions were David Yoshida, Susumu Kodani, Paul Kodani, Reese Cutler, Jay Lewis, and John Kimura. Our Sensei National champion was none other than our Tamo Kitaura, who placed in the 1957 and 1958 tournaments. If any of our National Champion were not mentioned, we apologize for the omission.