The history of our dojo goes back 6 decades. While its history is long and unique, it has remained true to its principles to this day. Its birthplace was on the south side of Chicago by a few Nisei (2nd generation Japanese-Americans) black belts and Judo devotees whose vision it was to practice the true teachings of Kodokan Judo. These principles are proudly practiced to this day.
1954 – 1958: IIT Judo Club (Illinois Institute of Technology)
1958 – 1969: Uptown Dojo, Chicago
1971 – 1991: BTC Judo Dojo, Chicago
1991 – Present: Chicago Tenri Judo Dojo, Des Plaines
IIT Judo Club – 1954 – 1958
One of the first clubs in Chicago was located in a field house on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology on the south side of Chicago. Fresh from the internment camps of WWII, a small group of Nisei’s from California began practicing Judo. They were black and brown belts, many in their 20’s and 30’s who were taught in California but had to suspend their training because of the war. Their instructors were often their parents/instructors who were taught by Judo masters from Japan.
Uptown Dojo – 1958 – 1969
Within a few years, it was apparent that a new home would be needed for the growing membership at IIT. The first home was located at the Chicago Buddhist Church located in the Uptown area of Chicago, thus the name, Uptown Dojo. The dojo started off with 13 kids, 8 – 10 black belts, and maybe about 20 adult senior novice students.
Key leaders in those first years were Hik Nagao, Hideo Hama, Tak Otsu, Dick Fukuyama, Bill Kaufman, Yoshitaro Sakai, Tom Watanabe, Paul and Phyllis Harper, Hiro Iwamoto, Jim Iwai and many more.
With a few years, Uptown Dojo became one of the top clubs in the country, competing in local, regional and national events with some going on to the international scene and a couple of them even going to compete in Pan-American and World Championships and Olympic Games.
Some of the notable students and instructors that came out of Uptown Dojo:
Irwin Cohen, Olympic Team 1972
Steve Cohen, Olympic Team 1988
Jim Colgan, Pan-AM Team, Olympic Coach, 9th dan, International Coach and Referee
Dr Paul and Phyliss Harper
Micheal Ogata – National Champion
Ernest Watanabe, medalist, Senior Nationals
Robert Mita, medalist, Senior Nationals
Louis Goldstein, Maccabiah Gold Medalist
Ralph Pesce, Senior National Champion
Kei Narimatsu, International Referee, World Championships – Egypt
In 1965, we again moved to a new location on Devon Avenue in Chicago. The Dojo was now located in an abandoned bowling alley and continued success seemed to follow them. Unfortunately, in 1969, this chapter of the dojo closed down.
Uptown Dojo was resurrected by Irwin and Steve Cohen. They moved the dojo to the suburbs and became a for-profit-club.
BTC Judo Dojo – 1971 – 1991
Head instructor: Sensei Dick Fukuyama, 7thdan.
In 1971, the original site, now known as the Buddhist Temple of Chicago, in the Uptown area was looking for continued use of their space. The Head Minister of the Temple, Rev Gyomay Kubose encouraged Dick Fukuyama to resurrect a dojo there. The new name would be known as BTC Judo Dojo. This dojo was both a competitive and social club whose main emphasis was to teach traditional Judo principles AND to have a fun in a safe and encouraging environment.
The youth program flourished with its dedicated instructors and youth and adult students. Besides Sensei Dick Fukuyama, Ernie Watanabe, Robert Mita, Dennis Fukuyama, Ken Fukuyama, Alan Kato, Joe Kajita, Kei Narimatsu were instrumental in teaching and promoting traditional Judo.
Some of the notable members of this dojo included:
Hillary Wolf: Senior National Champion, Junior World Champion, 1996 Olympic Team, starred in the original Home Alone series
Brett Wolf: current Junior International and Paralympic Coach
Daniel Agemura: Junior National, 2nd place
Kevin Narimatsu: Junior, High School and Collegiate National medalist
Scott Narimatsu: Junior National Champion
Chicago Tenri Judo Dojo – 1991 – Present
Head Instructor: Sensei Kei Narimatsu, 6thdan, International Referee and Coach
In 1991, with a changing neighborhood, BTC Judo Dojo relocated to Des Plaines, into the lower level of the Tenrikyo Midwest Church. It is now named Chicago Tenri Judo Dojo. The dojo underwent some changes during those early years. Most of the students from BTC did transfer over but over time, distance and interest waned. Sensei Narimatsu, though living in Geneva IL continued to be the constant standard bearer of the dojo and became the Head Sensei soon after moving. During those hectic early days, Ernie Watanabe and Robert Mita were key instructors in getting the new dojo started.
Around the mid 90’s, several people and events changed the course of the dojo forever. Acknowledgment has to be given to Eric Haerr and Jason Gunder who came to us from Harper College Judo Club. They were instrumental in helping to bring in many Senior members for the dojo, including foreign born Judokas. From that, our adult novice and advanced programs grew. We began to attract local residents from the area. They were mainly eastern Europeans who where black belts and wanted a place to practice for themselves and their children. Also at that time, some of the old-timers from BTC and Uptown also came back. Ernie Watanabe, Mike Ogata, Alan Kato, Frank Oliveri, Jim Colgan helped to bring great credibility to the program.
About 4 years ago, a new minister was assigned to the Tenrikyo Midwest Church. His name is Rev. Kunihito Fumioka. He is currently a sandan (3rd dan) and heads up the Junior/Youth group. Sensei Fumioka’s vast knowledge of Judo and how to teach has provided great leverage to the junior program.
In our 27th year of operation, our youth program now has upwards of 20 kids practicing and 12 – 15 adults training each practice. Of those adults, 3 – 9 black belts are in attendance for each session. Over the years, we have had instructors and students from all over the United States plus Algeria, Armenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, China, Columbia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, Mongolia, Pakistan, Puerto Rico, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, United Kingdom, Yugoslavia
HONOR BOARD include:
Dick Fukuyama, 7th dan, Senior Head Instructor (1917 – 2001)
Goro Oki, 7th dan Technical Advisor (JPN) (1923- 2017)