Fight Club

The founding senseis of the Santa Clara karate club are retiring after 50 years.

Fight Club
Joe Garcia ’72, middle, with SCU karate members. Photo courtesy SCU.

For about 50 years, three nights a week, Dennis Clima and Joe Garcia ’72 sparred with each other and the students they taught as founding senseis of the Santa Clara karate club.

Their partnership started when Garcia returned to the Bay Area after serving in the Marines in Japan, where he first began studying Shotokan—a style of the martial art of karate. He met Clima through sparring together at the same local gyms. Eventually, the two men decided to make a gym of their own, and SCU karate was born.

Student interest ebbed and flowed over the years, Clima says, depending on what karate movies were popular, but the pair was always there. “We would tell students we are not just teaching the physical things—it’s about training your mind and respecting yourself and others,” Clima says.

They were role models too, says Ken Wells M.S. ’91. He remembers watching Clima deciding to spar after time away. Seeing a regular guy transform himself physically for a goal showed Wells that many things are possible with focus, he remembers. The pair’s focus also helped mold the SCU program into one with a formidable reputation at competitions.

In 2022, Clima and Garcia officially retired from their volunteer roles of half a century and handed the reins to Wells, who takes over as head sensei with the goal of bringing the program back to its pre-pandemic strength. As for the founders’ post-SCU plans: Garcia has already taken on a new student—his preschool-aged granddaughter.

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