San Diego’s The Arena Gym is one of the best places in the country to get expert training and instruction in combat sports and martial arts. Here’s how it ended up that way.
The Arena Gym, located in San Diego’s Midway District, is the oldest continuously operated martial arts school on the North American continent. It’s also one of the largest, boasting around 1,200 members.
That’s rarefied air for most combat sports gyms, but The Arena is serious about its training and instruction. The gym specializes in taking amateur fighters and turning them into professionals. They also take professionals and make them world-class.
However, the gym has relatively humble roots by comparison. It was founded by Aloysius C. Holtmann in 1949 as the Southern California School of Judo and Jiu-Jitsu.
Holtmann, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps who fought in some of the toughest battles of the Pacific Theater in World War II, had studied under Seishiro (Henry) Okazaki, the founder of Danzan-Ryu Jujutsu.
Under Okazaki’s tutelage, Holtmann received his Black Belt and Mokoroku teaching certificate in 1940. Between 1941 and 1945, he served in the Pacific and received multiple field promotions after fighting in battles like those at Okinawa and Guam.
After the war, Holtmann retired from the military and attended San Diego State University from 1946 to 1949. In the meantime, he taught Judo at the local San Diego YMCA until 1949—when he founded what eventually became The Arena.
During his tenure as the founder of the gym, Holtmann appeared numerous times in Black Belt Magazine and taught Judo and Jiu Jitsu in San Diego to more than 100,000 students over his seven-decade career.
Holtmann died in 2001. In 2002, he was posthumously awarded a 6th degree Black Belt from the Kodokan Judo headquarters. Despite his death, Holtmann’s legacy still lives on at the gym.
From 2002 to 2005, the gym was run by Sensei Gene Mauro, a retired U.S. Air Force veteran and San Diego police officer. Mauro was also a 7th degree Black Belt and former National Heavyweight Judo Champion.
After Mauro’s passing in 2005, the Southern California School of Judo and Ju-Jitsu changed its name to The Arena and relocated to its current location on Sports Arena Blvd.
Since The Arena’s rebranding in 2006, the gym has become the largest martial arts and combat sports school in North America. The gym, however, has its sights higher—it’s looking to become the world’s leading center for martial arts training.
With so many members and an expert slate of instructors, it just might reach that goal.
The Arena offers so much more than boxing or Jiu Jitsu. You’ll find Judo, Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Mixed Martial Arts, Submission Grappling, Wrestling, and a host of other styles and training programs.
All of those classes are taught by experienced, dedicated, and expert instructors, including Baret Yoshida—the head Jiu-Jitsu Coach and a legend in grappling. Yoshida is a three-time IBJJF Black Belt World Champion and a three-time ADCC medalist. He’s also the only man in history to have competed in the ADCC 10 times.
Other experts at The Gym include U.S. Army Veteran and experienced Olympic Head Coach Basheer Abdullah, who offers instruction and training in boxing, and Master Muay Thai instructor Kru Mark, who has been training in his family’s Muay Thai style since the age of five.
Those instructors and The Arena’s laser focus on fighting make it an exceptionally unique place among MMA gyms. You won’t find generic “MMA-inspired” cardio classes here—The Arena is focused on forging fighters.
Members at this gym will spar with each other and learn the ins and outs of whatever fighting style they prefer. Although they’re likely to enhance their health, strength, and conditioning, learning to fight is the ultimate goal.
There’s a great pool of talent in San Diego, too. The city has one of the largest Jiu-Jitsu communities in the world. The military presence in America’s Finest City also means that many of The Arena’s members are already trained warriors.
If you’re interested in training alongside them and getting expert-level instruction in boxing, Jiu-Jitsu, MMA, and more, then you owe yourself a favor to check out The Arena.