Keiko Fukuda, first woman to achieve judo's highest rank, dies

Keiko Fukuda dedicated her life to judo, teaching around the world, but struggled against sexism the entire way.

At 98 years old and less than 5 feet tall, Keiko Fukuda achieved judo's highest rank.

Fukuda, the only woman ever awarded that distinction, died Feb. 10 at age 99, The Telegraph reported.

The Telegraph said Fukuda, 4-foot-10 and less than 100 pounds, took up judo in her home country of Japan. Rather than ever marrying, she moved to California in the 1960s and dedicated herself to the art.

In 1953, Fukuda was promoted to the 5th dan, a Japanese mark of level, The Telegraph said.

The Telegraph quoted Fukuda as saying, "They decided women didn't need any better ranks than 5th degree. I was 5th degree for 30 years."

At the time of her death, she had been awarded the 10th dan. She was only the fourth person in the world to ever reach that mark.

At the time, The San Francisco Chronicle quoted Fukuda as saying, "All my life, this has been my dream."


The Telegraph reported that Fukuda began studying judo in 1935 when a school in Tokyo allowed classes for women.

From then on, Fukuda took up the cause of women judo practitioners. The Telegraph said she established the Soko Joshi Judo Club for women, which still teaches students in San Francisco.

Fukuda also taught in Australia, Canada, France, Norway and the Philippines, helping create opportunities for women around the world.

A film was made about Fukuda: "Mrs. Judo: Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful." It documents "the life-long journey of Keiko Fukuda's decision to defy thousands of years of tradition, choose her own path, and become the highest-ranking woman in judo history."

A clip from the documentary is available online.


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