Judo in the San Gabriel Valley began in the mid 1920s with Oda Sensei as instructor. The dojo was located near the Gay’s Lion Farm on Valley Boulevard in El Monte. The Dojo then moved to Tyler Avenue in El Monte. Subsequently, Tadasu Iida, then 2nd dan, took over as instructor at the San Gabriel Dojo. He also taught at the Coyote Pass Dojo and Hollywood Dojo. Coyote Pass as a community and dojo is no longer in existence. Lida Sensei also taught Japanese language at Japanese schools in Coyote Pass and South El Monte. He had a good rapport with the students who all took a liking to him.
The San Gabriel Dojo (technically the San Gabriel Valley Young Men’s Association Dojo) produced many notable judoka tournaments in Little Tokyo. Most team members then were 3rd dan, which was the highest rank held by the students in that era. Notable among them were Mitsuho “Mits” Kimura (3rd dan), Carl Shuji (3rd dan), Yoshimaro Sogioka (3rd dan), and Kikuo Nishihara (3rd dan).
Kimura was active in judo in the detention camp as an organizer and instructor in judo. After World War II, Kimura relocated to San Francisco, where he organized the San Francisco Judo Dojo and was instructor of that dojo for a number of decades.
The strong San Gabriel Seinan team had many judokas who were brothers. The notable ones were the Okamura brothers (Tsuyoshi, Takeshi and Kowashi), the Babamoto brothers, (Toshio and Takeshi), and the Munekiyo brothers (Masato and Hideo).
Takeo Hazama was the first Nisei to become a black belt and later to enroll at the Kodokan in Tokyo to study under Professor Jigoro Kano. Other notable judoka during the pre World War II era were Katsuko Yamaguchi Asahi, the first Nisei woman to become a black belt, and Takeshi Fujimoto, the youngest Nisei to become a black belt at the age of 15.
In 1957 the San Gabriel Judo Dojo (now referred to as the West Covina Judo Dojo) was started again through the efforts of Yoshimaro Sogioka (who retired with the rank of 5th dan), along with other pre World War II judo leaders. The dojo was located in the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese American Community Center. The instructors were Yoshi Sogioka and Masaru Harada.