Fukuda Promoted to 10th Dan — First Woman to Achieve Judo’s Top Rank

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At her annual summer camp for women, Keiko Fukuda is pictured with judo instructor Eiko Saito Shepherd (left), 7th dan, and Yoko Tanabe (right), 6th dan, who received the bronze medal in the 1988 Olympics and silver in 1992 and 1996. (Photo by Yuriko Gamo Romer)

SAN FRANCISCO — Keiko Fukuda, a pioneer in women’s judo, achieved another milestone last week when USA Judo promoted her to 10th dan, the highest black belt level in judo.

She is the first woman and one of only four people who currently hold that rank.

The 98-year-old San Francisco resident is the last surviving student of Jigoro Kano (1860-1938), the founder of judo. She devoted her life to the sport and never married because, at the time, that would have meant giving up judo.

For decades, Fukuda battled sexism in the judo world, which prevented her and other women from rising above a certain rank. After immigrating to the U.S., Fukuda established a dojo for women, Soko Joshi Judo Club, in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood. Although she has slowed down in recent years, she continues to teach.

At 9th dan, she was already the highest-ranking woman in judo, but when she learned of her latest promotion, she told the San Francisco Chronicle, “All my life this has been my dream.”

Fukuda is the subject of a documentary by San Francisco filmmaker Yuriko Gamo Romer, “Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful,” which is expected to be released next year. Donations are still being sought to help with completion of the project. Visit www.flyingcarp.net for details.

In the documentary, women judoka who have competed in the Olympics cite Fukuda as a role model. Men’s judo was introduced to the games in 1964, but women were not full-fledged competitors until 1992. Women’s judo was a demonstration sport in 1988.

Romer has been helping to arrange interviews for such broadcasters as CBC in Canada and the BBC in the U.K. For the BBC podcast, go to http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/worldservice/globalnews/globalnews_20110812-0500a.mp3. Fukuda’s story appears about three-quarters of the way through.

Noting that Fukuda is now addressed by a new title instead of “Sensei,” Romer told the Rafu Shimpo on Friday, “When I talked to Fukuda Shihan yesterday, she talked about how this was wonderful for women’s judo, but now she feels a greater obligation to live, experience, and pass on Kano’s teachings through judo.”

This year Fukuda has been honored by the Hokka Nichi Bei Kai (Japanese American Association of Northern California), National Japanese American Historical Society, and Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, which named her grand marshal.

There will be a celebration of her promotion during the 13th annual Fukuda International Kata Championship, which will be held in October at City College of San Francisco.

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1 Comment

  1. Where are you getting the info that she’s only the 4th person to have reached 10th dan? She is the 19th, I believe. Still an extraordinary accomplishment, but you should factcheck your article.

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