The history of judo in Lethbridge is in many respects the story of one man and his vision. Dr. Yoshio (Yosh) Senda (Builder 1985), born in Mission, British Columbia in 1922 was, with his wife Florence (Builder 2010), the driving force behind the sport. Yosh Senda became a practitioner of judo in his youth in BC, and in 1937 won the Junior Canadian Championship in Vancouver at a time when judo remained largely limited to the west coast and was largely segregated within the Japanese-Canadian population.
In 1942 Yosh Senda began to assist Yoshio Katsuta teaching judo. Both men had recently been removed from BC to the Raymond area. This undertaking represented Alberta’s first judo club, and Katsuta and Senda led practices for the thirty students in the reception room of the Raymond Buddhist Church. All the original students were Japanese, however some early sessions also included RCMP observers. The RCMP quickly recognized judo to be ‘no more than’ a sport, and according to Senda one of the RCMP officers even joined the club. Senda began his career as a painter while the Raymond club continued to increase its enrollment through the Second World War.
Following the war, many of the displaced Japanese Canadians, 314 by 1951, decided to remain in southern Alberta. Yosh and Florence Senda and their family relocated to Lethbridge in 1952. Noting that they themselves did not experience racism, they were aware of instances where others did. In 1952 Yosh approached Dave Roberts the Physical Director of the YMCA to allow a judo club to be housed in the facility. Roberts granted this request, and the new Kyodokan Judo Club began to serve not only Japanese Canadians but student representing the whole of the community. Senda served as the YMCA’s Judo Instructor for the next eighteen years.
During the early years running the Lethbridge Judo Club Senda continued to compete and earn higher ranks at the black belt level. He became a member of Canada’s Judo Team in 1957, was Alberta Champion in 1961 and 1962, and in 1965 earned his fifth degree black belt. That same year, at the Kinsmen Sportsmen’s Dinner, Senda was named the Lethbridge sportsman of the year where he was assessed to be a “quite, effective, and dedicated coach of the Lethbridge YMCA Judo Club.” (LH, Feb. 6th 1965) By 1966 the judo club began holding classes for female students led by black belts Florence Senda and Wilma Bradfield. The following year the club moved with the YMCA into the new Stafford Drive facility.
By the late 1960s Senda began to teach and coach judo at the University of Lethbridge. Additionally, Lethbridge began to host more judo events including the Eighth Canadian Judo Championships held in May 1969. Senda became increasingly involved with judo at the national level and served as National Coach from 1976 to 1984. During the 1970s and 80s a number of local judo athletes enjoyed significant international success in large part due to the Senda’s coaching, This included Phil Illingsworth (Athlete 1993), Joe Meli (Athlete 1988), Tom Greenway (Athlete 1989), Guy Pomahac (Athlete 1998), and Lorraine Méthot (UofL Hall of Fame 2001). Many young athletes from Lethbridge participated in Judo and this led to both Yosh Senda and his club becoming city institutions. At the age of 80, in 2006, Senda continued to teach judo six days a week at the Lethbridge Judo Club, the University Judo Club, as well as teaching a university judo physical activity class.
Among the honours attained by Senda for his career in judo are a Honourary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Lethbridge in 1989, and his induction into the Canadian Judo Hall of Fame in 1997. Five students who were coached by Senda attended the Olympic Games, and many more competed at the international level. Almost 100 of Senda’s students have attained the rank of shodan, a black belt. Senda achieved the rank of kudan (9th degree) black belt in 2007, the first Canadian to reach this high distinction. Dr. Senda was quoted about his involvement in the sport stating, “an instructor has to be there everyday not just some days.”
As the sport of judo continued to grow in Lethbridge the Kyodokan Judo Club outgrew its university location. In 2006, the club constructed a new purpose built facility in South Lethbridge adjacent to the Enmax and Community Savings Place Soccer Centres. Building on its long-term success and new world-class facility, the club earned the opportunity to become a Judo Canada Regional Training Centre in 2015. Although Dr. Senda has not been part of this most recent success following his passing in 2009, it is no surprise that his legacy as the founding father of judo in Lethbridge continues through his family and club.