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Yoshihiro Uchida, Coach of United States' First Olympic Team, Passes Away at 104

by Bill Kellick

The judo world comes together to mourn the passing of Sensei Yoshihiro Uchida, the grandfather of American judo and coach of the first U.S. Judo Olympic Team in 1964. Uchida, who turned 104 in April, passed away June 27.

Uchida founded the judo program at San Jose State University nearly 80 years ago and remained the program’s head coach for its entire history. He also helped organize the first National Collegiate Judo Association Championship in 1962 where SJSU started their perennial powerhouse run by winning the first of more than 40 national titles.

As coach of the inaugural U.S. Judo Team at the sport’s Olympic debut in Tokyo, Uchida guided Jim Bregman to a bronze medal in the -80kg division. Other members of that 1964 Olympic Team were George Harris and two of Uchida’s students at SJSU…former Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Paul Maruyama, who went on to become head coach of the 1980 and 1984 U.S. Olympic Judo Teams.

The 1964 USA Judo Olympic Team is pictured
The 1964 USA Judo Olympic Team (l to r): George Morris, Jim Bregman, Yoshihiro Uchida, Paul Maruyama and Ben Nighthorse Campbell

Uchida began teaching judo classes at SJSU while still an undergraduate. Following World War II, he returned to the school to teach his first judo class where his first students were WWII veterans. After graduating in 1947 with a degree in biology, he remained the SJSU coach and is credited with creating weight divisions used in competition.

Yoshihiro Uchida is pictured during a training session at San Jose State University in the early 1990s.
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Yoshihiro Uchida is pictured during a training session at San Jose State University in the early 1990s.

Under Uchida’s tutelage, the SJSU Judo program has produced numerous Olympians, including two-time Olympian and 2012 bronze medalist Marti Malloy. After winning her bronze in London, Malloy honored Uchida with the Order of Ikkos medal, an award presented by Team USA medal-winning athletes to a coach, mentor or other individual who has been instrumental in their success.

Marti Malloy presents the Order of Ikkos Medal to Yoshihiro Uchida at the London 2012 Olympic Games
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Marti Malloy presents the Order of Ikkos Medal to Yoshihiro Uchida at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

For his contributions to judo, Japanese Emperor Hirohito awarded him the Order of the Sacred Treasure with Golden Rays in 1986. In 1996, Uchida was formally inducted into the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame. He has also received numerous awards from SJSU, including the Tower Award, the school’s highest award in 1992, and an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2004. The campus building that houses the judo dojo was renamed “Yoshihiro Uchida Hall” in 1997, and also houses the SJSU Hall of fame featuring those judokas who thrived under Uchida's mentoring.

Yoshihiro Uchida Tributes

"Today my coach and mentor and one of the most incredible people I have ever known passed away at the age of 104. On days like this, it feels impossible to find the right words to convey what someone meant to you… there is sadness alongside a strong sense of gratitude that permeates through the pain and makes me realize that despite all the amazing titles Coach Uchida had, I’m just so glad that I could call him my friend above all else. The world is so much better because of him. May he rest in peace and may all of us fortunate to have shared moments with him carry on his teachings, tenacity and desire to do good for the benefit of all."
-Marti Malloy, two-time Olympian and 2012 bronze medalist
“ I think it’s very important for all judoka to remember the amazing contributions coach Uchida made to American judo over so many years. He literally impacted the lives of thousands of judoka and leaves an enduring legacy of paying it forward through his many students and athletes. May his memory be a blessing.”
-Jim Bregman, first-ever U.S. Olympic medalist in judo
"Before coaching me and my teammates on the 1964 Olympic Judo Team, Yosh Uchida was my college coach. He became an icon at San Jose State. I know of nobody, in any sport, who coached for 70 years, let alone 70 years at one institution. Since Yosh was only 13 years older than me, we transcended the coach-athlete relationship, he became a good friend. I admired his focus and dedication as a coach as well as his extraordinary business acumen. A first-generation American, he epitomized the American dream."
-Ben Nighthorse Campbell, U.S. Senator - Retired, Captain - 1964 U.S. Olympic Judo Team
"Yosh led a spectacularly long, substantive and inspirational life. His love for, and impact on, his family, we individual athletes whom he coached, his beloved SJSU, United States Judo, the Japanese American community and our nation are without parallel. Yosh, along with my father, is one of my two personal heroes. Saddened as I am by his passing, I can only rely for comfort on a quote from the American Cemetery in Normandy, 'Think Not Only Upon Their Passing; Remember the Glory of Their Spirit.'"
-Paul Maruyama, member of 1964 Olympic Team and coach of 1980 & 1984 Olympic Teams
"Yosh Uchida was my coach at San Jose State. He helped shape me as an athlete, a student, and a person. I learned countless valuable life lessons from him during a pivotal time in my life, and those lessons continue to guide me to this day. He has been a constant source of inspiration not only to me but to many others. His impact is profound and far-reaching, and his legacy will continue to inspire others for generations to come. I am forever grateful for the 44 years I spent with Yosh Uchida. It has been my privilege to recognize him not just as my coach, mentor, and friend, but as family. Coach, may you rest in peace. After 104 years, you've earned it!"
-Bob Berland, two-time Olympian & 1984 silver medalist
"Coach Uchida was a great teacher of life. He inspired so many SJSU students through his championship judo program to not only graduate but also give back and contribute to society, he was one of a kind and impossible to replace, but we will do our best to keep the judo program at SJSU fighting on with his indomitable judo spirit. My sincere condolences go out to the Uchida family in this great loss."
-Mike Swain, Assistant SJSU Judo Coach and four-time Olympian
"Forty years ago I had the honor to train and compete under Coach Uchida. Even after graduating, he continued to be a mentor in my life. Seven years ago, during a dinner conversation, he remarked that he had some ideas about how to improve judo in the U.S. His statement reminded me that as long as we breathe, we need to work on improving and giving for the welfare of others."
-Kevin Asano, Olympic silver medalist
"Mr. Uchida was an incredible man. I've never met anyone who positively impacted as many lives as him in a lifetime. When I first came to SJSU, Mr. Uchida told me he didn't care how good I was at judo. That surprised me because every other coach that recruited me only cared about how good I was at judo. Mr. Uchida told me that getting a good education and learning how to communicate with people was far more important than anything I could ever achieve on the judo mat. Although I listened and followed his advice, I didn't realize how important those words were until my judo career was over. I was able to use the education I got at SJSU and the lessons Mr. Uchida taught me on the mats to positively impact more lives through judo than I ever thought possible. I am so happy that I could not only call Mr. Uchida a coach, but also a great mentor, and a friend. Congratulations on all you've accomplished in this life. RIP."
-Colton Brown, two-time Olympian & SJSU alumnus
"It’s hard to believe Mr. Uchida is gone. It felt like he would be here forever. He was such an integral part of our lives and community. It’s difficult to put into words what Mr. Uchida meant to and did for me. He was a coach and a mentor. He was tough on me, always with high expectations. He was old school. Getting a compliment from Mr. Uchida was rare, but something to be treasured when received. He stressed the importance of education and giving to the community. He was never afraid to speak and let people know what he thought. Being Mr. Uchida’s student wasn’t easy, but I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I see so much of him in what I do today, working in education and with young athletes, holding people accountable and calling things out saying what I think needs to be said. I absolutely love and respect Mr. Uchida and only hope that I can live up to his expectations and do what would make him proud."
-Sandy Bacher Fakaosi, three-time Olympian
“I think everyone that came into Yosh's life felt like they were special to him. His care and embracement of all of us and his true concern of where we were going in life was a magical gift he shared with all who came his way. The positive impact he had on the lives of young people was immeasurable. I know his impact on me was life-changing. We traveled the world together to watch our athletes compete and there was no better ambassador of USA Judo in our history.”
-Dr. Ron Tripp, former USA Judo President (2000-2008)