Ken and Miye Ota

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Ken and Miye Ota, 1959 Ken and Miye Ota Dance.png
Ken and Miye Ota, 1959

Ken Ota and Miye Ota are a married couple known for teaching martial arts, ballroom dancing, and social graces at their "cultural school" located in Goleta, California.


Ken Ota

Kenji Ota (May 14, 1923 – November 10, 2015) was a second-generation Japanese-American, also known as Nisei , raised in Lompoc, California. [1] He and his family were placed in the Japanese internment camps of World War II. There, he met and married his wife, Miye Ota.

In 1948, after his release from the internment camp, Ota settled in Goleta, California, and with his family's help, built a home from bricks on the converted swamplands. [2]

Ota died November 10, 2015, in Goleta, California. [3]

Miye Ota

Miye Tachihara Ota (born August 26, 1918), was raised in Guadalupe, California. Like Ken, she is also Nisei and she and her family were placed in the Japanese internment camps of World War II, where she met her future husband at the Gila River Relocation Center. [4]

Following her release from internment camp and a brief stay in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Miye leveraged her pre-war beauty school training to open her own salon, which the Otas built themselves from bricks attached to their home in Goleta. [5] Miye would go on to be one of the founding members of the Goleta Chamber of Commerce [6] and was recognized decades later as "Goleta's Finest Woman of the Year" during the Chamber's 69th year. [7]

Ballroom dance

Ken dancing on television with Sheila Webber-Sloan at the California Star Ball Ken Ota Shiela Sloan Dance.png
Ken dancing on television with Sheila Webber-Sloan at the California Star Ball

The Otas were avid partner-dancers involved with various social dance circles within the Santa Barbara County. Following their mastery of square dancing, they began ballroom dance training at the local Arthur Murray Dance Studio. As they progressed in their dance training they sought out higher levels of instruction, which involved commuting to Los Angeles for lessons from a new group of English instructors teaching International Style. [8]

Alex Moore certified both Ken and Miye in the International Style of ballroom dance. Ken went on to be the first man in the U.S. to get the highest Arthur Murray student credentials, Triple Gold Star and Gold Bar. The Otas were also certified through the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD).

Ken's most notable instructor was Sheila Webber-Sloan, a national ballroom dance champion; the Webber-Sloan and Ota partnership garnered multiple awards and had several appearances on television, including a broadcast of the California Star Ball.

It was not until chaperoning a school dance for their son, Steve Ota, did they feel compelled to start teaching dance lessons to children; they believed children could learn more tasteful ways of dancing with each other. Having achieved their competitive goals, they founded a junior cotillion, where they could teach their son and his friends lessons in dance, manners, and other social graces. The Otas were also contracted to teach these classes by several schools and organizations over the years, including the Junior League of Santa Barbara.

The popularity of their classes grew such that they built their own "cultural school" adjacent to their Goleta home. The school's brick structure houses a spacious hardwood floor surrounded by white benches and mirrors, and a ceiling that adorns two crystal chandeliers.

For decades, Ken Ota taught ballroom dancing for UC Santa Barbara as a class for physical education credit, along with separate sessions open to the community through the university's leisure arts program. His classes also spawned several student-run social clubs that revolve around swing dancing, ballroom, and competitive ballroom dancing. [9]

Martial arts

Ken Ota teaching Aikido, 1988 Ken Ota Aikido.png
Ken Ota teaching Aikido, 1988

Ken Ota originally practiced the grappling arts Sumo and Judo, which he regularly participated in from the time he had been placed in the Japanese internment camps of World War II. It was not until 1963 during his regular commutes to Los Angeles for dance lessons that he came across the art of Aikido. The whole Ota family enrolled in classes under Isao Takahashi. The Otas then moved onto training in Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido under Koichi Tohei. [10]

The Otas built their own "cultural school" next to their Goleta home, which could easily transform into a dojo when fitted with removable tatami mats; the main wall adorns a traditional Japanese shomen, which includes photos of Morihei Ueshiba, Koichi Tohei, and a large Ki symbol painted by Tohei himself.

The Otas offered classes to children and adults in Judo and Aikido, and also consulted local law enforcement. Ken was hired to teach martial arts at UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he became advisor for several clubs, including a women's Judo team. Ken was also contracted by Panther Productions to produce a series of Aikido instructional videos.

Ken and Miye's son, Steve, returned to Santa Barbara after completing his studies at San Jose State University, where he was a member of the championship Judo team. In the years since Steve's return, many of the adult and high-level classes had transitioned to Steve's direction, as he continued to train and receive recognized ranks in KI Aikido, along with teaching Aikido at UCSB. [11] Steve Ota passed away on November 1, 2020. [12]

See also

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The Cultural School of Goleta is a multi-purpose venue built by Ken and Miye Ota. The facility consists of a large ballroom with a sprung hardwood floor, two crystal chandeliers, a raised stage and is surrounded by built-in benches for seating. There is also an attached industrial kitchen, audio system, changing room, and storage for the additional chairs and tables. Also present, are removable tatami mats, which when applied to the entire ballroom floor, convert the space into a martial arts dojo, with a shomen at the main wall.


  1. "Encyclopedia of Aikido [OTA, KENJI]". 1923-05-14. Archived from the original on 2011-06-05. Retrieved 2011-08-06.
  2. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-06-28. Retrieved 2009-01-24.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. "Obituary for Kenji Ota". 2015-11-10. Retrieved 2015-11-16.
  4. "Mrs. Miye Tachihara Ota and her sister, Mrs. Hama Itow add finishing touches to a customer's wave. She and her husband were married in Philadelphia after relocating from Gila River Relocation Center. She now runs a beauty shop, having come from Chicago to work in it after her husband went into the Army. Photographer: Van Tassel, Gretchen Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 7/?/45". 2006-03-16. Retrieved 2011-08-06.
  5. "Miss Miye Tachihara, a beautician, has relocated from the Gila River Relocation Center to Philadelphia. Miss Tachihara formerly lived in Santa Maria, California, where she attended high school. Later she went to Santa Barbara Beauty College and worked there until evacuation. Her family, Mrs. Hatsuki Tachihara and six brothers and sisters, still live at the Gila River Center. Photographer: Parker, Tom Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 1/28/44". 2006-03-16. Retrieved 2011-08-06.
  6. "Miye Ota Is 100 Years Old and Still Kickin' Butt". Santa Barbara Independent. 2018-09-04. Retrieved 2019-09-30.
  7. "Eric Onnen, Miye Ota Honored as Goleta's Finest Man and Woman of the Year". Malamute Ventures LLC. 2018-11-17. Retrieved 2019-09-30.
  9. "UCSB Campus Organizations". Archived from the original on 2011-07-22. Retrieved 2011-08-06.
  10. "Who is Ken Ota? [Archive] - AikiWeb Aikido Forums". Retrieved 2011-08-06.
  11. "UCSB Ki-aikido club: Steve Ota sensei". Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2011-08-06.
  12. "Obituary of Steven Ken Ota". Santa Barbara Independent. Retrieved 2021-04-07.