My Most Important Judo Lesson

by John Caamano

Probably the most important lesson I learned from my Sensei did not involve Judo. I had just graduated from engineering school and was working as an entry level engineer for a large German chemical company. We discussed my new job and over time the conversation evolved into a discussion about some of his previous students. It was impressive to learn of the caliber of professionals that came from our small dojo in South Orange, NJ. Included in our ranks were prominent doctors, scientists, lawyers, business men and educators; many of whom had started with Sensei as children or young adults. At the end of our conversation, he explained that although it is important to make good judo players, it is more important to make good men. It was this strong sense of moral character and benevolence that attracted me to judo.

Mamoru Shimamoto was born in Kumamoto, Japan in 1938. The son of a prominent fish market owner; he started playing judo at a young age with his older brother. Judo in the 50’s was very demanding. Tournaments were open weight. Emphasis was placed on randori. In addition to long randori sessions, judoka endured strength training drills that consisted of carrying team mates up stairs, uchikomi using bicycle tires for resistance and other body weight exercises. Because he was small for a judo player, many times he faced opponents much larger and stronger than himself. With the encouragement of his brother, he continued his training and in 1955, he qualified to represent Kyushu in the Japan High School Championships.

After high school, he attended Nihon University in Tokyo, Japan majoring in Economics. Sensei Shimamoto was considered a strong player who compensated for his lack of size with a lightning fast O-Uchi Gari. His good-humored personality made him a natural at building team spirit. Among his teammates were Kiyoshi Shiina (1955 Mid- Japan High School Champion) and Yoshisada Yonezuka (1955 Northern Japan High School Champion). Under the tutelage of Sensei Torasaduro Sato, the team practiced three times per day (morning, noon, and night) with each training session consisting of 2 hours of randori. As a result of their hard work, the Nihon University team won the Tokyo student championship in 1959.

In 1963, Sensei Shimamoto was invited by Sensei Yonezuka to help with the new dojo that he was starting in Western NJ. Both Sensei Yonezuka and Sensei Shiina had come to the US in 1960 to proliferate judo. Among the teams they coached were the US Military Academy at West Point, St. John’s University and New Jersey Institute of Technology. At the age of 26, Sensei Shimamoto started the Menlo Judo Club and School in Millburn, NJ. He was a 5th Dan at the time. Eventually with time the school grew to become the Shimamoto Judo & Karate Center in South Orange NJ.

I first met Sensei Shimamoto in the fall of 1988; I was a junior in college and had decided to join my university’s judo team. I had been a Karate practitioner since the age of 18 but knew little about judo. What impressed me the most about Sensei Shimamoto’s dojo were the number of students that had remained with him since their childhood and that many of them grew up to become professionals with strong moral character. I had grown up in Newark, NJ and my goal in life was to be an executive. I trained with doctors, lawyers, engineers, and accountants; most of who tossed me like a rag doll until class was over. My work outs in those years helped reinforce my goals and gave me the focus and determination to achieve them.

In 2006, Northern Kentucky Judo was formed to help proliferate judo in the Cincinnati area. Although our dojo is small, it is predicated on the belief of developing strong moral character through the practice of judo. We do this to honor the Sensei that taught me the importance of developing good character in addition to good judo.