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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

98-year-old woman earns judo's highest degree black belt


Congratulations to Sensei Keiko Fukuda of San Francisco, who at ninety-eight-years-young just became the first woman ever promoted to judo's highest level: tenth dan (or degree) black belt. She is only the sixteenth person ever to achieve that distinction, and one of only four living judoka (judo practitioners) to reach judo's pinnacle. (The other three are all men living in Japan.)

While other women her age might worry about throwing out their hip, Fukuda is still teaching the art of hip throwing and hand techniques three times a week at a woman's dojo in Noe Valley, San Francisco. She gave up marriage to devote her life to the martial art known for balance, flexibility, and the maximum use of energy, in 1935.

As a young girl in Japan, she studied the traditional arts of calligraphy, flower arrangement, and tea ceremony, before moving on to become a four-foot-eleven asskicking machine. She is the last surviving student of Kano Jiguro, the founder of judo, who opened his first dojo, the Kodokan, in 1882.

Fukuda has battled gender discrimination her entire judo career, being stuck at fifth dan for thirty years due to a rule that disallowed women from being promoted any higher. That rule was finally changed in 1972, when she became the first woman ever promoted to sixth dan by the Kodokan. Fukuda taught judo at Mills College, a liberal arts women's college in Oakland, California, from 1967 to 1978. Her personal motto is "Be gentle, kind and beautiful, yet firm and strong, both mentally and physically." Sensei Fukuda cried tears of joy upon learning of her tenth dan promotion by USA Judo, saying "All my life this has been my dream."