Spartan Judo Legend Turns 100

On April 1, 1920, a pioneering judoka, coach, educator and leader was born to Japanese immigrants who worked in California’s Imperial Valley. Yoshihiro Uchida, ’47 Biological Sciences, ’04 Honorary Doctorate, started competing in the sport as a 10-year-old in Garden Grove, Calif., and years later brought judo to San Jose State as an engineering student, where he coached police students on the martial art. His education was interrupted by the U.S. Executive Order 90266, which forced thousands of Japanese Americans to live in internment and incarceration camps around the nation.

The former men’s gymnasium in the then-Spartan Complex West building was used as a registration center for Santa Clara County Japanese Americans before they were sent to internment camps during World War II. Uchida served in World War II while his family was interned in Poston and Tule Lake and returned to San Jose State in 1946 to complete his studies and resume coaching. He persuaded the Amateur Athletic Union to sanction judo in 1953, and San Jose State went on to win 51 out of 56 national championships under his leadership.

Uchida is credited with establishing a judo weight system to keep the sport safe and fair. He helped establish the Palo Alto and San Jose Buddhist Judo clubs. In 1997, the Spartan Complex West building was renamed Yoshihiro Uchida Hall in his honor and rededicated in 2014 following a renovation. A plaque was placed outside the gymnasium to denote its historic significance. In 2018, he was recognized for 70 years of service at San Jose State. Uchida has been awarded SJSU’s Tower Award and was inducted into the SJSU Legacy Hall of Fame and the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame, as well as the Order of the Sacred Treasure from the emperor of Japan.

Due in part to his advocacy, judo was introduced at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, where Uchida coached the first U.S. Olympic team. His proteges have gone on to claim world titles and Olympic medals. There have been 20 Olympians and four Olympic medals: 1984 silver medalist Bobby Berland, ’84 Marketing; 1988 silver medalist Kevin Asano, ’89 Accounting; 1988 bronze medalist Mike Swain, ’85 Marketing, and 2012 bronze medalist Marti Malloy, ’10 BS, ’15 MS, Mass Communications.

“Yosh Uchida is a legendary figure and an inspiration in so many ways,” said SJSU President Mary Papazian. “His commitment to excellence over the years is matched only by the commitment he has demonstrated to generations of students. He brought San Jose State to prominence when he brought judo to the Olympics in 1964, and he continues to this day to bring honor to our university.”

This April 1, San Jose State wishes a very happy centennial to Uchida, who is still coaching and educating into his second century. While in-person birthday festivities were originally planned in spring 2020, unfortunately they have been postponed due to COVID-19 health concerns. San Jose State encourages alumni, friends and fans of Uchida to share their favorite stories, anecdotes and memories of Uchida using the hashtag #SJSUYosh100.


 

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