(adapted from notes courtesy of Mr. Eiji Inouye & Dr. Tamotsu Ikeda)
Isao Wada was introduced to judo at the relatively late age of 17. He began his judo career in 1951 as a charter member of the newly formed Gardena Judo Dojo under the tutelage of Tasuke Hagio, shichidan.
Wada Sensei was promoted to shodan in 1958, nidan in 1959, sandan in 1961and yodan in 1964. A remarkable four black belt promotions within the short span of six years. He received the Judoka of the Year Award in 1957 and collected trophies in the Southern Pacific AAU Judo Championships in the 160 lb division in 1960, 1961, 1962 and 1964. By the time he had achieved godan in 1974, he had made his competitive mark in the Nationals as well as Olympic eliminations, now having settled into the highly competitive 150 lb. bracket.
In 1989, Wada Sensei was promoted to rokudan. He went on to win consecutive Senior National Master Championships in the 143 lb division in 1990, 1991, and 1992. Back surgery in 1992 brought his competitive years to an end.
Wada Sensei was tournament director of the 1993 West Coast International Judo Championships held at UC Irvine which drew more than 200 competitors from all over the world; the following year he was co-director of the USJI Senior National Judo Championship with 600 participants. He was general chairman of the prestigious United States Judo Federation Junior Nationals and served as president of the Southern California Judo Black Belt Association 1994-95.
In 1994, Wada Sensei received the coveted US Judo Federation Coach of the Year award, the same year he officially became head instructor of Gardena Judo Club after having served as assistant head instructor from 1967.
Isao Wada had been a partner in the Wada Nursery of Gardena with his brothers Kaoru and Sam for over 40 years; retiring in 1999. In 2000, the City of Gardena honored him with a plaque on the city's Wall of Fame bestowing upon him the title "Mr. Gardena Judo Club".
On August 6, 2001, the Gardena Judo Club held a banquet to celebrate Wada Sensei's promotion to shichidan; assistant instructor Mickey Matsumoto presented Wada Sensei with the poster pictured below, saying that he was a big man for all he had done for kids and was right up there with Shaq - then he unwrapped the poster:
Wada Sensei was among those inducted into the Nanka Hall of Fame at a banquet held January 2007 in Santa Monica. As a certified referee, he spent many weekends at local tournaments. Sadly, he left us at the young age of 73. He was posthumously promoted to hachidan and at the JCI, the Native Garden was dedicated to him by former student Ms. Sara Isozaki. A Tribute to Isao Wada Sensei, 8th Dan