Following the launch of our new Arena Boxing shirts last week, many were left curious about the origin of the shirt’s epigraph “Since 1949”. While we are always excited about where our gym is headed in the future, we want to take an opportunity to pay homage to our past. This is the story of how The Arena Gym came to be.
Our story begins in Iowa in 1937 with Aloysius “Al” Holtmann. Holtmann enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 21 and later that year, graduated from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California. Al was stationed in Hawaii from 1938-1940, where he met Legendary Okazaki Seishiro. Under Okazaki Seishiro, Al began to learn Danzan-Ryu Jujutsu, a Japanese martial art containing elements of Jujutsu, Karate, Boxing, Wrestling, and Judo. Two years later, Holtmann received his Mokuroku from Seishiro, which enabled him to begin teaching Danzan-Ryu.
The outbreak of the Second World War in the early 1940s led to Holtmann’s deployment to the Pacific theater. There, he saw combat in some of the bloodiest battles of World War II, including Guam and Okinawa. Upon the war’s end, Holtmann retired from the Marine Corps and attended San Diego State University, all while continuing to teach Judo at the San Diego YMCA. After graduating college in 1949, Al founded his own club under the name “San Diego Judo Club”. Growing intrigue in Japanese culture and martial arts during the 1950s resulted in a surge in membership at Holtmann’s club. San Diego Judo Club was frequently featured in local newspapers and magazines, including the first edition of Black Belt magazine (America’s oldest martial arts magazine) in 1961.
Over the course of the next 5 decades, Holtmann taught over 100,000 students at his academy. Following his death in 2001, he was posthumously awarded his 6th degree black belt from Kodokan Judo headquarters in Tokyo. Holtmann’s student, Sensei Gene Mauro, took over the school after Al’s death. A 7th degree blackbelt and former Judo National Heavyweight Champion, Mauro led the school from 2002 until 2005. In 2006, San Diego Judo Club moved from its original location on 30th Street, to its current location at 3350 Sports Arena Blvd, and changed its name to The Arena. Today, The Arena is the second oldest martial arts school in the country and the largest school in North America.