History of San Shi Judo Club
by Fred Nuthall
The first members meet their sensei.
In November of 1951, six students from the Oceanside, California police reserve began meeting for self defense classes in the basement of the Armed Forces YMCA. Their instructor was ikkyu Jim Shaw, a student of John Ogden of Long Beach. Soon after they formed the Oceanside Judo Club and began competing in San Diego area judo tournaments.
Sachio Matsubara was born May 5, 1919 in Montebello, CA. He moved with his parents to Japan and attended high school in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan where he was the captain of the judo team his senior year. Though Matsubara-sensei’s tokui-waza became ouchigari, this area of Japan is well known for its outstanding newaza and young Sachio excelled.
Sachio Matsubara returned to the US after high school where he trained at Rafu Judo Dojo on San Pedro Street in Los Angeles. Following the outbreak of WW II, young Mr. Matsubara was interned along with over 110,000 people of Japanese and Korean ancestry in a series of camps, finally ending up at Poston where he taught judo under former Rafu Dojo teacher Tasuke Hagio. Other notable American judoka in that club included USJF 9-dan James Takemori.
Following the dissolution of the internment, Mr. Matsubara served as part of the American Occupation of Japan. He married in Japan and the couple returned to California, finally settling in Carlsbad in 1953. According to Mr. Fred Nuthall, Matsubara-sensei walked into the Oceanside Judo Club one evening and by virtue of his rank and experience immediately became the head instructor. Mr. Matsubara introduced the team to the neighboring Nanka Yudanshakai (Southern California Black Belt Association) where they began to compete in tournaments frequently.
The most prominent teams competitively in those days were at Seinan Dojo, Gardena, Sawtelle, Hollywood, Venice, San Fernando, Compton and Orange County. Fred Nuthall recalls fondly the group’s first Nanka tournament at Gardena when Mr. Matsubara introduced his new team to his old LA-area friends. The team lost 1-2 in competition, but made an impressive entry.
San Shi Judo Club is formed.
Mr. Matsubara, Fred “Dink” Nuthall and John Waddell rented a building adjoining the railroad tracks on Elm Street in Carlsbad California in 1958. The mat at the first San Shi Judo School was constructed as a wide box of sawdust with a taut canvass cover; an improvement over the horsehair mats on concrete that the team had in the previous location.
The area of Oceanside, Carlsbad and Vista is known locally as the “Tri-City” area which translates as “San Shi.” Mr. Matsubara chose that name along with the club logo adapted from the kanji characters 三 and 市.
Judo Competition in 1950’s Southern California.
Generally, except for championships which were pooled, judo tournaments in those days were either 5-man team tournaments or kohaku shiai. The early San-Shi team was composed of George Burckhardt, Bill Yoshida, Jim Shaw, John Waddell and Fred Nuthall with Matsubara-sensei as coach. This team won 25 straight matches in competition until forbidden by mercy rule to play in San Diego area events. Mr. Waddell was famously effective at attacking with osotogari on the right, then switching directly to the left side if his competitor withdrew his right leg. Mr. Nuthall had an effective uchimata and haraigoshi, but his real power was in newaza due to his his incredible upper-body and grip strength; Fred could lift (fact check: is it two 45-pound plates?) held between the fingers of one hand.
The style of instruction at the school was informal. A typical workout started with warm up followed by uchikomi. In uchikomi the partners always moved. Following uchi-komi a randori session was held in which senior students made suggestions to junior partners and showed new techniques. Randori and instruction were done at the same time, on the spot. Generally tachi-waza followed directly into newaza.
More important as the structure of the workout was the attitude among team members. The difference between randori and shiai was important. Rather than just trying to beat the other members, each person tried to improve the entire team and protect each other from training injuries. “We watched out for each other” Mr. Nuthall emphasizes. Club members were close friends on and off the mat. “Chances are if you saw John you saw me.” Mrs. Matsubara’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of sukiyaki buffered the instructors’ consumption of Japanese sake and beer.
An interesting note, compared to present-day tournaments the style of play in pooled events was different because of the use of a “5 bad point” system of elimination. Under that system, three bad points were given to a competitor who lost by ippon, while an ippon-gachi was recorded with zero. Therefore two ippon losses resulted in six points and elimination, but since bad points were also given for wins for other than ippon, one could be eliminated by lower quality wins alone. For example wins by decision were penalized by one bad point while wins by draw resulted in two bad points for each competitor. So rather than simply winning, competitors were forced to win decisively in order to advance.
A new generation, San Shi gains new leadership and a new home.
By 1966 each of the founders had families and businesses; Mr. Matsubara in gardening, Mr. Nuthall in plumbing and Mr. Waddell in auto parts. Because of possible easement complications from the railroad, and with the lease coming due, they passed on the opportunity to buy the building and moved the club to the Oceanside Boys Club.
After the move to the Boys Club, Bobby Nakano Sr. joined the club as assistant instructor. In 1969 the club moved again to the present-day location at the Japanese American Cultural Center of Vista. Mr. Nakano and Mr. Ira Bonar were the assistant instructors. Bobby Nakano Jr. remains as an assistant instructor to the present day. In 1984 Ernie Matusbara returned to the club.
In 1989 Dr. Jake Flores joined the club as assistant instructor and until 2003 he served as head coach. Along with colorful Dr. Flores came his sons Jacob Jr. and Justin. Though San Shi had always been a competitive club, both Jacob and Justin excelled internationally and attracted many interesting visitors from around the globe to the dojo.
In 1994 declining health led to Matsubara Sachio-sensei’s retirement from Judo, and to his passing in 2003. He was honored by both induction into the Nanka Hall of Fame and by inclusion in a history of judo in the US at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. In 20__ Mr. Waddell also passed away.
Core values remain.
Though times have changed, the ethic of the club has not. Ask Ernie Matsubara what the secret to judo is and he will concisely echo the words of Jigoro Kano by responding “never miss a practice.”
We still look out for each other. “This is not a fitness club; it’s not about the individual” Jacob Flores Jr. was recently overheard saying during an after-practice dinner. “More than just showing up is expected.”
In 2017, Ernie Matsubara stepped down as head instructor and has passed the position to his son Temujin Matsubara.