Sam S. Imoto, Sensei

It is with great regret to inform you of the passing of our head instructor Sam S. Imoto Sensei, who established the Visalia Judo Club in 1965.

It is with great sadness to announce the passing of Sam S. Imoto Sensei on April 29, 2020 after a lengthy illness. Imoto Sensei was born in June of 1927 in Lindsay, California to Yaohachi and Sami Imoto. He would have been 93 this coming June. He dedicated his life in giving back what he had learned in Judo and passed his knowledge to those who studied under him. Many of his former students were fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a part of his lifelong journey as a judoist.

Sam Imoto

His journey started when WWII was declared after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. The family was relocated to an internment camp at Poston, Arizona in 1942. It was there, under the tutelage of Sensei Kenzo Uyeno, a student of Professor Toshitaka Yamauchi, who studied under Kano Sensei, that Imoto Sensei was introduced to the art of judo. After being in confinement for nearly four years, he was drafted to serve in the U.S. Army at the age of 18. He was stationed in Germany for almost three years after his basic training in Virginia. Every unit he was assigned to Imoto Sensei was the only Japanese-American among them. Judo served him well during the post-war having to deal with all the racism. He was honorably discharged in November of 1948.

After returning home and tending to the family farm Imoto Sensei was able to begin teaching judo to the local Boy Scouts and others who took an interest in learning judo. In 1958 he was approached by a member of the local Kiwanis Club, it was then that Imoto Sensei started a club in Lindsay. From there, he helped start several clubs throughout the area. Recognizing for his commitment and dedication to the organization, he earned his Shodan from Professor Yamauchi. In 1962, he started a judo club at the Boys and Girls Club in Visalia, California. Eventually, the club moved and became the Visalia YMCA Judo Club in 1965. Imoto Sensei regrettably stepped down as the head instructor in 2010. His legacy and accomplishments will be forever remembered by all who knew him. Over the years he has trained several outstanding students who were national competitors and referees. After receiving several other promotions over more than 50 years of lifetime in teaching, it was in 2018 that he was promoted and accepted by the United State Judo Federation to the rank of Hachidan.

He retired after a 26-years career with the Tulare County Probation Department. In 1990, a ceremony was held in San Diego, California, where Imoto Sensei was honored as the “Adult Institution Probation Officer of the Year” for the State of California.

Imoto Sensei is survived by his wife, Janis of 67 years, 3 children Tobi A. Sumida (Glenn), Gordon Imoto (Gail) and Sandee Kuykendall Dennewitz (Eric). Fourteen grandchildren and nineteen great-grandchildren.

If anyone would like to offer condolences to the family, please address it to the Imoto Sensei Family at 4830 W. Mission Ave, Visalia, CA 93277.