Preserving Culture: Judo Inside the Manzanar War Relocation Center Part II

Originally written for a History of Genocide course, expanded and presented at a conference in the Spring of 2019 during my graduate career, the following is the second part of an article exploring the role judo played in the Japanese American Internment Camps during the Second World War, specifically the Manzanar Camp in southeastern California. Read part one here.

The Manzanar Riot and Jack Sergel

Within the lull of judo training, the Manzanar Riot broke out in early December 1942, almost a year to the date of Pearl Harbor, which was a major factor leading to the riot. The mostly nisei Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) wanted to demonstrate their American patriotism and assisted the FBI arrest mostly (innocent) issei on the West Coast, quickly creating a rift between the two generations. Once inside Manzanar Camp, tensions increased as camp administration and soldiers favored contact with the more English-fluent and college-educated JACL over the broken-English speaking and more native/cultural issei. Tensions further increased when pro-Japan inmates (issei and kibei) organized groups to physically beat pro-American inmates, either those in the JACL or those who spied on their own Nikkei members for the camp administration. The tensions finally reached a head when the camp police arrested Harry Ueno for battery of Fred Tayama, a JACL member. In protest, 2,000 inmates gathered at the camp jail, marched with Japan’s Rising Sun flag, hailed the Japanese Emperor, and “damn[ed] the ‘white man’s democracy.’” With Merritt ordering martial law, military police attempted to negotiate peace with the angry mob. When peace talks failed, military police fired tear gas and shots into the crowd, killing two and injuring eight inmates. In response to this, judo yudansha, headed by Sego Murakami , formed the Manzanar Peace Committee in January of 1943. The purpose of the Committee was to work with the routine duties of the military police officers of the camp and prevent further inmate-on-inmate beatings. Though historian Brian Masaru Hayashi questions the overall effectiveness of the Manzanar Peace Committee, no other riots occurred at the camp after the Manzanar Riot.[1]

painting of manzanar dojo
Painting of the Shindokan Dojo by . Source:

Despite the riot and with tensions still high between the inmates and the camp administration, the new judo dojo opened in early April of 1943. To the amazement of the camp’s Army engineers, issei carpenters built the dojo without support beams in the middle of the structure and with removable sliding doors on the perimeter. The dojo, named Shindokan Dojo, was christened on April 11, where over 600 judoka, both issei and nisei, came out to the ceremony. The Manzanar Free Press gave “just tribute and credit [to] the judo enthusiasts and the residents of this center who […] overcame the limitations of wartime shortages and made possible this building.”[2] Judo was officially back in Manzanar.

What occurred the next month was unprecedented – Caucasian American judoka entered the Manzanar Camp and participated in a tournament. This was not a common occurrence for any Japanese internment camp. Advertised in the camp newspaper in late April, the Shindokan Dojo scheduled the second judo tournament for May 2 with Los Angeles police officer Jack Sergel joining the festivities. Sergel was one of the first civilians to enter a Japanese internment camp. Sergel was a student of Sego, training under him in Los Angeles and North Hollywood, California, and even took over Sego’s own Seinan Dojo in his absence. On the day of the tournament, Sergel brought four students from Los Angeles, one being Clyde Tichenor. Tichenor, a Caucasian judoka, remembered not receiving permission for himself or the other three judoka; it was a matter of “scroung[ing] up the gas to take you [to the camp].” He does recall, however, that both Sego and Sergel arranged for the interracial tournament at Manzanar. Upon entering the camp, Tichenor remembered being “accepted with open arms” on the mats of the Shindokan Dojo. The camp newspaper stated, “approximately 200 [inmate] students participated,” including the outside judoka. Both Tichenor and Murakami remembered a large crowd of inmates “encircling” the tournament, possibly with as much anticipation as those early Japanese Americans watching early judoka Tokugoro Ito in the 1920s. The May 2 judo tournament was a change of pace for the inmates at Manzanar Camp, allowing for both the inmate judoka and non-judoka to discuss with the Caucasians about judo and the places the inmates used to call home.[3]

jack sergel
Jack Segel, back left, standing with Manzanar judoka, c. 1943. Source:

Sergel returned twice more after the May 2 tournament, creating some discomfort with Caucasian Americans on the outside almost a year after his visits. According to an article in the camp newspaper, “Officer Sergel and Group Make 3rd Visit for Judo Tournament,” Sergel visited Manzanar Camp on November 20 for his third visit. With him, he brought eight judoka, some of which were women. The female judoka did not participate in the tournament but “practiced the art of self-defense with the local instructors.”[4] Unfortunately, there is no mention of Sergel’s second visit in previous editions of the camp newspaper, creating confusion whether he had visited the camp more than two times. Regardless, the Los Angeles public did not enjoy the thought of Caucasian women practicing judo in the Japanese American Internment Camps when the local newspapers published the story less than a year later.

By late summer of 1944, the Manzanar Free Press reported that the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) began an investigation into Sergel’s activities. In the article, the LAPD was investigating Sergel for bringing Caucasian women into the Manzanar Camp to “wrestle with interned male judoists in the traditional judo manner.” The article also reported that Los Angeles newspapers categorized Sergel as “Japanese by adoption.” According to Tichenor, the Los Angeles newspapers – the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, the Los Angeles Daily News, and others – manipulated the story, criticizing both Sergel and his judo training. By mid-September, Sergel resigned from both the police force and teaching judo at the police station, later becoming an actor. In an effort to gain another perspective on the event, the camp newspaper reported a United States serviceman’s opinion on the LAPD’s ban on judo within the department, to which it stated, “perhaps the commission also feels that we should take Italian spaghetti off the policeman’s diet and forbid him to listen to music of [German composer] Wagner.” Obviously, this serviceman felt that American citizens could partake in any activity in one’s spare time, regardless of the culture of origin. In the midst of war with the Japanese Empire, however, the xenophobic feelings among American citizens were high, and they considered anything Japanese as non-American and unpatriotic.[5]

Winding Down

By 1944, activities and camp populations began to decrease in all internment camps. Beginning in early 1943, the WRA began a slow process of allowing inmates out of the camps for employment, educational, and housing opportunities, mainly in areas of low levels of “racial prejudice,” i.e. any location not on the West Coast, mainly in the Midwest and on the East Coast. Many college-aged students relocated to colleges and universities that accepted the young nisei inmates, while other nisei spent the day at the closest university and returned to the camps in the evening. Furthermore, many working-aged inmates that had farming experience worked on numerous harvesting jobs. By the end of 1944, the WRA helped relocate about 4,000 college students, between 8,000 and 10,000 farmers, and countless other inmates for employment and housing.[6]

In addition to relocating inmates for housing, schooling, and employment, many inmates, mostly nisei, joined the United States Military in an effort to demonstrate their patriotism to their country and to escape the dreary routine of camp life. The controversial Loyalty Questionnaire, which judged loyalty on the “basis of subjective interpretation of the questionnaire,” became a major influential factor to many nisei to join the military. The WRA issued the questionnaire to help better recruit nisei into the armed forces, yet it initially did not have the desired effects. Many inmates protested their frustration of the last two questions of the questionnaires: serving in the United States Military and the swearing loyalty to America over Japan. If any inmate answered “no” to either question, s/he would face relocation to a different camp that housed such inmates, i.e. Tule Lake Camp, California. To make matters worse, the question concerning loyalty was worded confusingly, resulting in many issei mistakenly answering “no.” In an effort to produce more “yes” answers in Manzanar, Merritt negotiated with inmates who already answered “no” to change their answers for more visiting rights to other camps.[7]

Even in the face of dwindling numbers, the judo dojo continued to offer classes. A judo class at Rowher Camp, Arkansas, c. 1942. Source:

With many inmates began leaving camps for military service, educational, employment, and housing opportunities, and others looking towards life after internment, many inmates expressed less interest in judo and other camp activities. This became evident in the camp press’ sports section becoming smaller and smaller. In August, even in the face of decreased interest in camp sports, a defense of judo appeared in the camp newspaper. Entitled “Remember?,” the writer stated that the dojo is not a sacred place like that of a temple, but a gymnasium; the bowing between judoka is in the “same spirits as does a boxer when he shakes hands with his opponents in the ring.” At the heart of judo, there are no religious rituals and “hasn’t anything to do with emperor worship.” It is safe to assume that the American outsiders viewed judo, along with most aspects of Japanese culture, as an activity with non-Christian undertones and connections to the occult. In his article, Andreas Niehaus states that officials within the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in the post-Second World War years feared judo’s religious teachings when such religious teachings did not exist, further demonstrating the xenophobic feelings and Western ignorance of Japanese culture was not confined to the Second World War.[8]

Taking a closer look at the founder’s judo manual, Kodokan Judo, Jigoro Kano does not mention any religious aspects, Japanese or otherwise. In discussing the positive effects on judoka, Kano mentions two principles: “Maximum Efficiency with Minimum Effort” and “Mutual Welfare and Benefit.” Here, the judo founder explained these two principles in both judo and layman’s terms, not using a single reference to any religion. “Maximum Efficiency with Minimum Effort,” as told by Kano, refers to the best use of a judoka’s power, both mental and physical, in any situation. The best analogy is when a judoka is pushed, the judoka pulls and vice versa. “Mutual Welfare and Benefit” refers to the harmony between the training judoka through “mutual aid and concession.” These two principles are then the moral foundations for the judoka when both on and off the training mat. Off the mat, the judoka may get into an argument and instead of using physical force to end it, the judoka uses the first principle to end the argument calmly with words rather than fists. The result of this event leads into the second principle, where no one is harmed, and harmony is reached. Judo, as it was practiced then and is practiced now, has no official connections to religion. Judo, in Kano’s eyes, is for physical, cultural, and moral training.[9]


In early October of 1943, the first intercamp judo tournament took place between Manzanar Camp and Tule Lake Camp. Tule Lake was a maximum segregation center for Japanese Americans who answered “no-no” on two questions on the Loyalty Questionnaire. Though not everyone sent to Tule Lake was pro-Japan, many of the inmates at the camp were and constantly resisted and harassed the camp administration. Within these tensions between Tule Lake inmates and the camp administration, the camp judoka found it within themselves to participate in an intercamp tournament. Manzanar emerged as the victor. Later, in early February of 1944, Manzanar judoka held a farewell tournament for inmates heading to Tule Lake. The newspaper article “Hold Farewell Judo Tournament Sunday,” requested every judoka’s participation in this “last event for instructors, students, and fukei [fathers/older brothers] who are Tule-bound.”[10]

Judo tournament heart mountain wyoming 1943
A judo tournament on a raised platfomr at Heart Mountain Camp, Wyoming, c. 1943. Source: Densho. org

Judo in the Manzanar Camp continued until 1945 with Manzanar’s closure, while Tule Lake Camp, being the last of the camps to close, emptied its inmates in March 1946. While only a handful of the 110,000 inmates made themselves at home in the Midwest or the East Coast, a majority of the newly freed Japanese Americans returned to their West Coast homes, unsure what to expect. Those that received the worse of events, returned to their homes looted, vandalized, and/or destroyed. Others returned to find that locals “stripped” the returning Japanese Americans of their “farmland, businesses, jobs, material possessions, and wages.” In addition, neighbors treated the returning Japanese Americans with distrust, suspicion, and threats. Worse still, local governments enacted older and antiquated alien laws, restricting the opportunities of Japanese Americans upon returning home, and the Nikkei did not receive enough compensation from the federal government for the internment experience. Amid the suspicion of Caucasian Americans, the Nikkei began slowly turning away from their cultural ties to Japan, resulting in cultural associations and groups fading into obscurity. It was not until 1949, four years after the end of the war, did the Nikkei in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, California begin the festivities of Nisei Week again. While the week-long festival signaled the return of Japanese American businesses (mainly under the ownership of nisei) and tourism to a cultural community in Los Angeles after Internment, the event began the integration of the different tiers of the Nikkei (issei, nisei, and sansei) and the inclusion of aspects of “white America” into both Nisei Week and community culture.[11]

With the new beginning of Nisei Week, America’s rebuilding of defeated Japan, and the American public’s suspicions of the ever-growing Communist threat during the Cold War, Sego Murakami and his son, Roy, began rebuilding their lives and judo with the Southern California Nikkei. Much like his efforts in the 1920s and 1930s, Sego helped reestablish various judo schools around Pacoima and the San Fernando Valley. In addition to his judo endeavors, Sego resumed his tree nursery business from before Internment. Sego continued to teach judo until his retirement in 1969, when Roy undertook teaching responsibilities. Much like his father who was a leading member in both Southern California’s Nikkei and the Manzanar Camp, so was Roy, a “pillar of the Fernando Valley’s Japanese American community.” Roy continued teaching judo until his death in 2009.[12]

Even in both Internment and their daily lives, the Nikkei always found a way to uphold their cultural traditions. As mentioned previously, many young nisei received judo training because the martial art offered a pathway into their own Japanese culture and mannerisms. In the beginning of Internment, when boredom filled many of the inmates, training in judo and partaking in the many of Japanese and American cultural pastimes available at Manzanar occurred because “there [was] nothing else we could do,” remembered Roy, and further stated that “it was a way of living at the time.” In a way, judo allowed the inmates to “forget about [their] troubles for a few hours.” With the spartan living conditions, the extreme temperatures, and a limited amount of jobs available for the inmates, it was no wonder that judo was an activity literally hundreds of issei and nisei latched onto while in the Manzanar Camp. There was something more than just temporarily forgetting about the camp hardships. It was not about the temporary trophies tournament winners received or tossing people left and right, but it was about coming together and bridging the generational gap in an activity most, if not all, Japanese Americans knew.[13]

The Jack Sergel visits, the Tule Lake related tournament, and the number of registered inmates in the judo program demonstrates that the martial art was the glue that kept the Japanese Americans together, no matter in what camp. It was a common ground for both issei and nisei to participate, rebuilding the bridge between the two generations after both the Pearl Harbor aftermath finger pointing and the Manzanar Riot. Through a dark chapter in their history, issei and nisei came together in judo to help each other overcome challenges both on and off the mat. Judo served as the “Japanese soul,” or the guiding light, that helped focus the Japanese Americans at the Manzanar Camp throughout their struggle. This “Japanese soul” was present during Japan’s postwar years as the country attempted to regain itself on the global stage. Judo, much like in the Japanese Americans in the internment camps, was the activity Japan latched onto and pushed relentlessly for judo’s addition into the Olympic program. The art made its first international appearance in 1964, when Japan hosted the Olympics in Tokyo. This event set the “cultural foundations” for rebuilding Japan and reinventing its traditions. [14] Through the “Gentle Way” of judo, a cornerstone in modern Japanese culture, the Japanese Americans not only survived internment, but the issei and nisei came together to bridge a generational gap and to conquer the hardships of Internment life.

Read part one here.


[1] Kibei refers to nisei who received their education from Japan and returned to America to make a living; Kurashige, “War and the American Front,” 75–79, 85–86; Robinson, “The Camp Experience,” 163, 165–66; Hayashi, Democratizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment, 125–29; “Form Peace Group, Officials Named; Murakami Leads Peace Committe; Peace and Order to Be Maintained,” Manzanar Free Press, January 23, 1943, Library of Congress; Hayashi, Democratizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment, 136, 165.

[2] Shindokan translates to “school of shaking and quaking.” According to Clyde Tichenor, the name made fun of the dojo’s physical structure, as it shook with every judo throw done; “Daily Judo Class Schedule Given,” Manzanar Free Press, March 31, 1943, Library of Congress; Murakami, Roy Murakami Interview; Isamu Morimoto, The Judo Building at Manzanar, 1943, Watercolors, 1943, Manzanar National Historical Site, accessed December 15, 2017,; “Judo Class in Registration; Registration Is Extended,” Manzanar Free Press, February 20, 1943, Library of Congress; “Judoists to Mark Completion of Judo Hall in Public Program,” Manzanar Free Press, April 10, 1943, Library of Congress, accessed December 19, 2017,

[3] “Second Judo Tournament Set; Caucasian Students to Participate,” Manzanar Free Press, April 28, 1943, Library of Congress; Clyde Tichenor, Clyde Tichenor Interview, interview by Kristen Luetkemeier, In Person, March 23, 2012, Densho Digital Repository, accessed December 8, 2017,; Murakami, Roy Murakami Interview; “Judo Tournament,” Manzanar Free Press, May 8, 1943, Library of Congress; “Tournament Commemorates Boys’ Festival,” Manzanar Free Press, May 12, 1943; Yoshihiro Uchida, Yoshihiro Uchida Interview, interview by Tom Ikeda, In Person, May 17, 2012, Densho Digital Repository, accessed December 11, 2017,; Tokugoro Ito was an early Japanese immigrant who traveled up and down the West Coast, proving his mettle in wrestling matches against Western wrestlers. Tokugoro became a figure that the early Japanese American communities rallied behind, proving the Americans that judo can rival Western wrestling.

[4] “Officer Sergel and Group Make 3rd Visit for Judo Tournament,” Manzanar Free Press, November 27, 1943, sec. Manzanar Sports, Library of Congress; “Judo Tournament Slated Saturday,” Manzanar Free Press, November 17, 1943, sec. Manzanar Sports, Library of Congress.

[5] “To Probe Judo Group,” Manzanar Free Press, August 30, 1944, sec. Sports, Library of Congress; “Sergel Complies with Judo Ban,” Manzanar Free Press, September 16, 1944, Library of Congress; Tichenor, Clyde Tichenor Interview.

[6] Peggy Daniels Becker, Japanese-American Internment during World War II, 59–65; Hayashi, Democratizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment, 141.

[7] Hayashi, Democratizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment, 143–47, 154; Peggy Daniels Becker, Japanese-American Internment during World War II, 68–70; Robinson, “The Camp Experience,” 185.

[8] “Remember?,” Manzanar Free Press, October 14, 1944, Library of Congress; Andreas Niehaus, “‘If You Want to Cry, Cry on the Green Mats of Kôdôkan’: Expressions of Japanese Cultural and National Identity in the Movement to Include Judo into the Olympic Programme,” International Journal of the History of Sport 23, no. 7 (November 2006): 1186–87.

[9] Jigorō Kanō, Kodokan Judo (New York: Kodansha USA, 2013), 20–25; Svinth, Getting a Grip, 5–14; This does not mean that judo does not impart the budo lifestyle onto its practitioners. Budo translates to “martial way,” reflecting the Way or Path budoka, or martial artists, take to become a better person for themselves and for the society around them. Budo is then a holistic approach to life: physical, mental, and spiritual. Judo and other modern Japanese martial arts do their best to instill this holistic approach in their respective practitioners.

[10] “Honor Segregees at Judo Tourney,” Manzanar Free Press, October 6, 1943, Library of Congress; Cathlin Goulding, “Tule Lake: Learning from Places of Exception in a Climate of Fear,” Forum Journal 31, no. 3 (Spring 2017): 41; Will Kaku, “The Secret of Tule Lake,” Japanese American Museum of San Jose Newsletter, Fall 2006, accessed December 31, 2017,; Elliott Gabriel, “Resistance at Tule Lake: A Hidden History of Japanese American Incarceration and Defiance,” July 19, 2017, accessed December 31, 2017,; “Hold Farewell Judo Tournament Sunday,” Manzanar Free Press, February 2, 1944, Library of Congress; There is no mention in Tule Lake’s newspaper about the intercamp tournament between it and Manzanar. The Tule Lake Camp went through a handful of newspapers and the “new” ones did not begin immediately after the previous newspapers ended.

[11] Peggy Daniels Becker, Japanese-American Internment during World War II, 81–83; Hayashi, Democratizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment, 214–15; Lon Kurashige, “Defining Integration: The Return of Nisei Week and Remaking of Japanese American Identity,” in Japanese American Celebration and Conflict, A History of Ethnic Identity and Festival, 1934-1990 (University of California Press, 2002), 119–21.

[12] Kurashige, “Defining Integration,” 120, 124; “Judo Master Quietly Continues the Legacy,” Los Angeles Times, July 17, 1986, accessed May 20, 2019,; “USJF – Seigo Murakami,” accessed May 20, 2019,; Murakami, Roy Murakami Interview; Sego Murakami passed away in March of 1981.

[13] Green and Svinth, “Asian Martial Arts in the United States and Canada,” 448; Svinth, Getting a Grip, v, 22, 183, 226–27; Murakami, Roy Murakami Interview; Wheeler W. Dixonn, “The 1930s: Escapism and Reality,” in Black and White Cinema: A Short History (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2015), 51; “Yudan-Sha-Kai Holds Tourney,” Manzanar Free Press, July 21, 1943, Library of Congress.

[14] Niehaus, “‘If You Want to Cry, Cry on the Green Mats of Kôdôkan,’” 1174–79, 1187; Judo became an activity for the Japanese nation to demonstrate its self-image and face its feelings of inferiority as the first “modern” Asian country in the sea of Western Powers during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). It was almost natural for Japan and its people to fall back onto judo once again after such a defeat at the hands of Western Powers.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s