OGDEN -- For 50 years, Dennis Yonetani has been a judo practitioner in the Ogden area, learning from his father starting at age 5. But he can trace practice of the martial art back to Japanese immigrants who came to Utah to farm in the early 1900s.
"Judo was a way to relax, have a family activity, watch the kids have fun," Yonetani said, "but it was also a place for parents to chat."
More than 100 years later, a different immigrant class keeps alive the spirit of the western martial art of boxing.
Like judo, boxing has evolved into more of a sport, but whether used for competition or combat, immigrants have had a deep influence on both.
For the early Japanese in Utah, finding the right equipment for judo was a struggle. Importing traditional tatami mats to the United States was too expensive. Yonetani remembers asking how those original Japanese in Utah trained.
Farmers in the 1930s in the Syracuse area would go to the shores and cut down cattail reeds, bundle them up, and cover them with a canvas, he said. He believes it, because when he was younger, his dojo would group car tires, fill them with saw dust and cover them with a canvas.
"Everybody had a way to get mats," Yonetani said, "Nothing was really nice and frou-frou. Whatever you had, it was what you dealt with."
The peak of judo came in the 1960s, Yonetani said. Along with the Japanese-American community, people who had served in the military, especially during the American occupation of post-war Japan, learned judo and brought it back to the United States.
At one point, there were judo clubs on military bases, within police departments and even in Caucasian farming communities.
Yonetani said the relatively low cost of such sports as judo, boxing and swimming made them attractive to large families.
"You just paid a really small sum for a gym fee, and you took the kids," Yonetani said.
However, for Yonetani and his family, judo represented more than just a way to break a sweat -- it served to hold on to their roots.
"If there was a connection, it was the culture experience," Yonetani said. "It was a Japanese activity."
Like judo, boxing also has a long tradition in Utah, thanks in part to the transcontinental railroad.
Before television became a fixture in every room of the American home, Riverdale resident and longtime boxing coach Bob Lopez, 74, said the choices for cheap entertainment were often limited to boxing or professional wrestling matches. As the city grew, the quality of the matches grew as well. Fighters traveling from the Midwest or the West Coast came through Ogden on the train.
"Ogden was a really good boxing town," Lopez said. "They had quite a few championship fights here."
Lopez began boxing in 1952 at age 15, shortly after he moved to Utah.
Although he always wanted to be a baseball star, Lopez fought professionally and trained other professional boxers. He still helps train young fighters and local professionals at the Marshall White Center.
When Lopez started, people from all ethnicities practiced boxing, but with the introduction of mixed martial arts, its mostly people with ties to Mexico who are stepping into the squared circle in Utah.
The same goes for the spectators.
"You go to the fights and 80 percent is Chicano," Lopez said.
Ogden Resident Danny Ochoa is keeping that tradition alive in his home.
He converted his garage into a boxing gym, inviting local teenagers to train with him.
"I love the sport," Ochoa said. "My dad was Golden Gloves in the Army in East L.A."
Although he never fought professionally, Ochoa said he learned a lot about boxing from his family, and he is passing those skills to others, hoping to keep them out of trouble.
"You get more gyms, more dedicated people," Ochoa said, "a lot of these kids would be off of the streets."
Most of the kids who come to train at his home are of Mexican descent.
"Latinos are pushing the sport really," Ochoa said. "Not just in Utah, but all over the nation and all over the globe."
While boxing has become more ethnically homogeneous, judo has become more ethnically diverse as fewer Japanese remain in the area.
But regardless of the ethnic makeup, the two sports still serve as cultural connections for the immigrants who practice them.