San Diego’s close ties to Japan and the birth of karate in the United States


“Our opponent is not on the outside, they are on the inside. We challenge ourselves through hard training,” said fourth-degree black belt instructor Darren Pike.

SAN DIEGO – The Friendship Bell on Shelter Island is a symbol of San Diego’s strong ties to Japan. Our sister city of Yokohama, Japan gave us the bell in the 1950s. During that same decade, karate was brought directly from Japan to Southern California.

“In Japan, kids practice karate all day, it’s part of their school system. For us, it’s something really special that they can share with their friends and family,” Ellie Tow, black belt instructor at the Setting Sun Dojo.

She said she watches her students grow with each kick and flip.

“Not only seeing aspects of them learning self-defense, but seeing that character development is also very important to us,” she said.

Student Ailani O’Rourke’s mother says her daughters have been transformed through sports.

“My eldest daughter, she was very shy. I saw her gain a lot of confidence,” Satomi O’Rourke said. “They are having a good time and have good energy.”

Satomi O’Rourke was born in Japan and said karate helped her daughters learn about their heritage. They have learned a lot over the past few years…

“My highest Kada is Heian Sandan,” eight-year-old Ailani said.

American karate wouldn’t be what it is today without a man named Tsutomu Ohshima. He learned from Master Gichin Funakoshi known as the founder of modern karate. Sensei Oshima took what he learned in Tokyo and brought it to the United States.

“Shotokan karate was pioneered in Southern California in 1955 by Tsutomu Oshima,” said fourth degree black belt instructor Darren Pike.

Pike teaches at San Diego Shotokan. He was fortunate to learn directly from Mr. Oshima.

“Many of his students branched out and opened their own dojos in Southern California and probably thousands of black belts practicing and teaching all over the world thanks to Oshima Sensei,” he said.

Pike has been teaching karate for over 25 years. He holds Mr. Oshima’s lessons near and dear to his heart. “Emphasizing the humanity of martial arts and trying to become better people,” he said.

He said he hopes to pass this message on to his students.

“Our opponent is not on the outside but on the inside. We challenge ourselves and refine ourselves through hard practice. I think that’s one of the things that could benefit society and where martial arts could help humanity move forward,” Pike mentioned.

Pike last saw Mr. Oshima at the black belt convention just before the pandemic. Mr. Oshima leaves behind quite a legacy as the founder of Shotokan Karate of America. The organization now has dojos around the world and carries on the tradition of karate

“You can have these people from different backgrounds, cultures, religions coming together, friends, camaraderie coming together in harmony,” Pike said.

Mr. Oshima finally retired at 88. He lives in California and will be 92 this year.

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