Steven Ken Ota

Date of Birth

October 7, 1948

Date of Death

November 1, 2020

City of Death

Santa Barbara, CA

Steven Ken Ota (“Sensei Steve”) of the renowned Ota family of the Judo/Aikido Cultural and Ballroom Dancing School in Goleta, CA passed away peacefully on Sunday, Nov 1, 2020 from lung cancer at the assisted living facility Casa Los Padres in Santa Barbara.

Steve was born on Oct 7, 1948 at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara to Kenji Ota of Lompoc and Miyeko (Miye) Tachihara Ota of Santa Maria, both survivors of the Japanese American internment camp in Gila, AZ during World War II. Steve’s parents settled in Goleta after a brief period in Philadelphia. Steve attended Goleta Union Elementary School, Goleta Valley Junior High School and San Marcos High School.

Steve grew up with a life enriched by his parents’ firm teachings – many principles borrowed from the martial arts based on mutual respect, character, discipline, responsibility, manners, and hard work. In high school, Steve began judo training with his father, first on a sawdust floor covered with canvas, and later on tatami mats at the newly constructed dojo.

In 1969, Steve attended college at San Jose State University where he majored in Physical Education. While at San Jose State, he became a member of the University’s esteemed judo team and was awarded a judo black belt for his winning record in major tournaments.

In the 1970’s Steve traveled to Japan to train and learn Aikido (“Ki”) under the tutelage of the great master sensei Koichi Tohei. He received and earned his aikido black belt.

Steve’s martial arts career was long and successful which earned him nidan (second) degree black belt in judo and was one of the highest-ranking sensei instructors in the US in Shinshin Toitsu Aikido (aikido with Ki) and ending up as a rokudan (seventh degree black belt), and shinhan (master instructor). He continued teaching aikido until his cancer diagnosis.

Steve became an instructor and co-teacher with his father for decades, teaching martial arts and ballroom dancing to young children and college students at UCSB, Cal Poly, and SBCC. Ballroom dancing was Steve’s second passion. He was happiest while ballroom dancing and country line dancing.

Steve met the cancer ordeal of chemotherapy and radiation with courage, will, and his trademark sense of humor. His Dojo brothers Bill Buckner and Carlos Prat, and Dojo sisters Susan Baar and Olivia Gore surrounded him with loving kindness, support, and encouragement. Steve was reminded of often repeated words of affirmation, instilled in him originally by his father Ken. “Never give up.” “Gentleness is stronger than strength.” “Don’t try, just do it.”

When Steve was once asked what it was like to be a black belt martial arts master. He replied, “the essence for me is that it is the art of peace”.

Steve is survived by his mother, Miye Ota. He is interred at Santa Barbara Cemetery. A celebration of his life will be held later.
We would like to thank Judy Harger for creating a Go Fund Me account for Steve, and Katarina of Casa Los Padres and her caregivers for the wonderful care they gave Steve, and the two Hospice on-call nurses who were at Steve’s side until he passed.


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