By Hayward Nishioka

Nanka is the word used to mean Southern California. It’s made up of two characters. Nan which means South or Southern and Ka, which is a shortened abbreviated word for California, Ca or in Japanese Ka since the closest symbol for the word “Ca” (lifornia) when pronounced with the Japanese simple alphabet, katakana would come out as” ka,” as in “Ka ri fu oh ru ni ah.”

You may think this is hard to say but, think of it from the perspective of a Japanese who has just arrived in a foreign land trying to say the name of our State of California. For one thing, people from Japan have a hard time pronouncing words with “L” and “R” in them, or the sound made by using ”th” which is not customarily familiar to Japanese. So, our Issei pioneers had a quick fix for their dilemma. They used an abbreviated hybridized conjunctive; they took the “Nan” meaning South in Japanese and merely added it to “Ca” or “Ka” as in  California and came up with Nanka or Southern California.

The first judo to hit Mainland United States didn’t happen on the West Coast nor even in Hawaii which didn’t attain Statehood until 1959. Judo in the United States had its auspicious beginning on the East Coast.  It was at the invitation of Samuel Hill in 1902 that Yoshitsugu Yamashita came to the United States and taught Samuel Hill’s young son. Yamashita, in 1904 was invited to the White House to give instructions three times a week to the then President. Imagine that. One of the first dojos in the United States was a judo dojo in a room inside The White House. Oh, and the teacher was Yoshitsugu Yamashita eventually the first ever 10th dan. More amazingly one of the first serious pupils who attained the then high rank of Brown Belt was none other than ”The Rough Rider” himself, Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States. This is the earliest recording of judo in the United States. There have been records of judo tournaments results as early as 1907, in the Pacific Northwest, however it is difficult to determine an earlier date of judo being practiced in the United States than 1902. A date which is just a scant 20 years after judo was founded in 1882, half way around the world in Japan.

The name Tokugoro Ito has long been forgotten, almost unknown. In and around 1915 he moved to the Los Angeles Area from Seattle and began one of the first dojos to teach judo in L.A. It was called Rafu dojo. Okay, here we go again. Ra is the Japanese abbreviation for L.A. As noted before the letters R and L are difficult for Japanese to pronounce since the simple monosyllabic Japanese alphabet doesn’t have an equivalent letter that moves the tongue in the same manner to get the sound of “R” or “L.” About the closest a Japanese will get is to say “Ra”for LA which is an abbreviation form of “Ra su an je le su”. “Fu” simply means prefecture or state. The hybrid conjunction of which is “Rafu,” which means Los Angeles. Rafu dojo was located in Lit’l Tokyo’s Yamato Hall on Jackson Street and San Pedro, now gone into the history of our past. In its hay day it was the place to be. It was the Japanese cultural center for Rafu.

There are few who remember some of these names of the great senseis of our past. They are mentioned here for those who remember them. Most all have been gone to the big tatami in the sky, some over 50 years ago now, but because of them judo has continued on in Nanka Judo Yudanshakai: Seigoro Murakami, Yaju Yamada, Kiro Nagano, Kaname Kuniyuki, Tasuke Hagio, Ryusei Inouye, Ryushi Tatsuno, Nobuo Nishimori, Shigeo Tashima, Matoba, Takashi Kikuchi, Ryushi Tatsuno, Kiyohiro,  Tadasu Iida, Masaaki Nakaoka, Shigeru Okada, Toshitaka Yamauchi. Of course, there are many others, however, these were the ones remembered more for their efforts as dojo instructors and building of judo in the earlier years of Nanka judo as a family.

Today we have a new generation of judo leaders coming up in Nanka Yudanshakai.  The faces are different from the early days where every face was Japanese.  We have more diversity in our organization then ever before. Added to the diversity is the inclusion of new ways to do our judo. Where once we were in awe of the techniques of throwing, we have science and technology stepping in now. Our culture is different from those “good old days.” COVID 19 has magnified this fact as we Zoom to meet our friends over state lines, study opponents on YouTube, and dissect matches with algorithms to prepare for World and Olympic Championships. Where possible, even teaching judo online, or at least disseminate information concerning judo and keep the judo family together.

Our new generation of Nanka judo leaders include professionals like designer Alex Fukuma, CPA Ken Teshima, P, Educator Jojo Aguilar, and Art director Richie Endo. Our Executive VP for Nanka Jerry Hazemoto, Chiropractic doctor Dennis Hannon, and Law enforcement officer Robert Draper, are our up and coming officers to take over.

Members of even the sweetest of families do fight to establish themselves and question ideas. Wars do occasionally occur, but we know that in a pinch we are all brothers under the skin, after all we all do judo! It’s magical, what other sport has enough intensity to toss an opponent through the air and often utilizing his own strength? What other sport is there that an opponent is thrown forcefully to the ground yet gets up safely without injury? What other sport emphasizes the psychological and moral development of its practitioners? And even with all this aggression and violence demonstrated, at the end of practice or a match, we bow again with respect, head for the locker room, then go “break bread” together.

How did such a violent sport in fact, come to be a positive force in the lives of so many practitioners. Just consider for a moment our activity could maim and/or kill, yet is known to improve on one’s character? Go figure? Why is it so intriguing and satisfying to the human psyche?  Why is it so different from MMA of today? There’s a lot to look into,- – – – but that’s another story for another day.