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The superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.
Bits and pieces of Yosh Uchida's life are strewn across the oak table in the conference room at his company offices in San Jose. The modest owner of Uchida Enterprises claims that he hadn't realized these photographs and newspaper clips even existed.
In truth, Uchida has been so busy during his 72 years, he has had little time to dwell on his many accomplishments. When asked if he had photos that recorded his personal milestones—perhaps something from his first year as San Jose State's judo coach; or pictures of the 10 Olympians he developed at San Jose State; or a snap of Emperor Hirohito, who bestowed Japan's highest honor for a noncitizen, the Order of the Sacred Treasure, on Uchida in 1986; or perhaps some photos of the many business enterprises that have made Uchida, the son of poor farmers, a multimillionaire—Uchida said he was not sure that he did.
He turned to his daughter, Aileen Uchida, and asked if she had any old photographs. Minutes later Aileen, who works as an executive vice-president for her father's company, appeared with a stack of yellow and blue albums. Uchida smiled sheepishly as his daughter explained that last year, when her father was given San Jose State's Tower Award, in recognition of his service to the university, she had hired a member of the judo team to compile The Life and Times of Yosh Uchida, six volumes that cover six decades.
Few people outside of judo are aware of the impact Uchida has had on the sport in the U.S. And though most San Jose State students could probably identify Bill Walsh and Peter Ueberroth as prominent alumni, only a handful would name Uchida. But this unobtrusiveness is a reflection of the man, not of his achievements. Uchida politely concedes that talking about himself is his least favorite activity, so the scrapbooks spread across the table in this conference room have to speak for him.
The albums are filled with team photos, letters and Christmas cards from his athletes. There are also clippings from local papers about their many achievements as well as those of Uchida. Articles found in the second album reveal that in 1953 Uchida persuaded the Amateur Athletic Union to accept judo as a sport and that San Jose State sponsored the first national AAU championships, in that year.
The next album chronicles a dynasty in the making. In 1962 Uchida organized—and San Jose won—the first national collegiate judo championships. Since then the Spartans have held sway over the tournament, winning 28 of 31 college titles. They're aiming for a 29th at this year's championships, which will be held on March 20 in San Francisco.
Lacking serious college competition, San Jose State's top judo players have often focused on national and international meets. In the third album there's a 1964 photo of the first U.S. Olympic judo team, with Uchida, a 5'2" sixth-degree black belt (he's now a seventh-degree), as its coach. Of the team's four athletes, two were from San Jose State—Ben Night-horse Campbell, now a U.S. senator from Colorado, and Paul Maruyama, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and the 1980 and '84 Olympic coach.
The best judo prospects in the country have come to San Jose simply because Uchida made it the place to go. In 1980 Mike Swain, of Bridgewater, N.J., turned down a number of wrestling scholarships to attend San Jose (judo is not an NCAA sport, so college scholarships are not available to judo players). Swain made the move because of what he calls "the tradition, values and teachings of Yosh," and he went on to become the first athlete to win four intercollegiate judo titles. A four-time Olympian and the only American male to win a world judo championship, Swain is the San Jose program's most noteworthy alumnus. More recently Tony Okada, a '92 Olympian in judo and a two-time California high school wrestling champion, had to decide whether to attend Oklahoma or Arizona State on a full wrestling scholarship or pay his own way at San Jose. He joined the Spartan judo team this semester.
"Judo is not just a sport," says Uchida. "It is a way of life." Judo means "gentle way" in Japanese, and it is taught in that manner at San Jose. Uchida's students learn the Japanese style of judo, which relies on technique and timing, rather than the European style, which relics more on brute strength. Men and women routinely compete against each other in practice, regardless of his or her weight class. "One philosophy of Mr. Uchida's is that you learn by taking falls," says team captain Sandy Bacher, herself a member of the '92 Olympic team.