Fukuda in March 2012
April 12, 1913|
|Died||February 9, 2013
San Francisco, California, United States of America
|Teacher(s)||Kanō Jigorō, Kyuzo Mifune|
|Rank||10th dan judo (USA Judo), 9th dan judo (Kodokan, US Judo Federation)|
|Notable school(s)||Soko Joshi Judo Club|
Keiko Fukuda (福田 敬子 Fukuda Keiko , April 12, 1913 – February 9, 2013) was a Japanese-born American martial artist. She was the highest-ranked female judoka in history, holding the rank of 9th dan from the Kodokan (2006), and 10th dan from USA Judo (July 2011) and from the United States Judo Federation (USJF) (September 2011), and was the last surviving student of Kanō Jigorō, founder of judo. She was a renowned pioneer of women's judo, together with her senpai Masako Noritomi (1913-1982) being the first woman promoted to 6th dan (c. 1972). In 2006 the Kodokan promoted Fukuda to 9th dan. She is also the first and, so far, only woman to have been promoted to 10th dan in the art of judo. After completing her formal education in Japan, Fukuda visited the United States of America to teach in the 1950s and 1960s, and eventually settled there. She continued to teach her art in the San Francisco Bay Area until her death in 2013.
Fukuda was born on April 12, 1913, in Tokyo. Her father died when she was very young. As a youth, she learned the arts of calligraphy, flower arrangement, and the tea ceremony; typical pursuits for a woman in Japan at that time. Despite her conventional upbringing, Fukuda felt close to judo through memories of her grandfather, and one day went with her mother to watch a judo training session. A few months later, she decided to begin training for herself. Her mother and brother supported this decision, but her uncle was opposed to the idea. Her mother and brother had thought that Fukuda would eventually marry one of the judo practitioners, but she never married, instead becoming a judo expert herself.
Fukuda's grandfather, Fukuda Hachinosuke, had been a samurai and master of Tenjin Shinyō-ryū jujutsu, and he had taught that art to Kanō Jigorō, founder of judo and head of the Kodokan. Kanō had studied under three jujutsu masters before founding judo, and Fukuda's grandfather had been the first of these men. Kanō had taught female students as early as 1893 (Sueko Ashiya), and had formally opened the joshi-bu (women's section) of the Kodokan in 1926. He personally invited the young Fukuda to study judo—an unusual gesture for that time—as a mark of respect for her grandfather. She began training in judo in 1935, as one of only 24 women training at the Kodokan. Apart from instruction by judo's founder, Fukuda also learned from Kyuzo Mifune.
Fukuda, standing at only 4' 11" (150 cm) and weighing less than 100 lb. (45 kg), became a judo instructor in 1937. She also earned a degree in Japanese literature from Showa Women's University. In 1953, she was promoted to the rank of 5th dan in judo. She traveled to the United States of America later that year, at the invitation of a judo club in Oakland, California, and stayed for almost two years before returning to Japan. Fukuda next traveled to the US in 1966, giving seminars in California. At that time, she was one of only four women in the world ranked at 5th dan in judo, and was one of only two female instructors at the Kodokan (the other being Masako Noritomi, also ranked 5th dan). In 1966, she demonstrated her art at Mills College, and the institution immediately offered her a teaching position; she accepted, and taught there from 1967 to 1978.
During this time, Fukuda lived at the Noe Valley home of one of her students, Shelley Fernandez, and taught judo there in addition to her teaching at the college. When the class sizes grew, she shifted the classes to the Sokoji Zen Buddhist temple in the Japantown, San Francisco. She named her school the Soko Joshi Judo Club. Having settled in the San Francisco Bay Area, Fukuda gave up her Japanese citizenship to become a US citizen.
In November 1972, following a letter campaign against the rule prohibiting women from being promoted higher than 5th dan, Fukuda (together with her senpai Masako Noritomi (1913-1982)) became the first woman promoted to 6th dan by the Kodokan. In 1973, she published Born for the Mat: A Kodokan kata textbook for women, an instructional book for women about the kata (patterns) of Kodokan judo. In 1974, she established the annual Joshi Judo Camp to give female judo practitioners the opportunity to train together. That year, she was one of only three women in the world ranked 6th dan in judo.
In 1990, Fukuda was awarded Japan's Order of the Sacred Treasure, 4th Class (Gold Rays with Rosette), and the United States Judo Incorporated (USJI) Henry Stone Lifetime Contribution to American Judo Award. In 2004, she published Ju-No-Kata: A Kodokan textbook, revised and expanded from Born for the Mat, a pictorial guide for performing Ju-no-kata, one of the seven Kodokan kata. Fukuda served as a technical adviser for US Women's Judo and the USJI Kata Judges' Certification Sub-committee. She also served as a National Kata Judge, and was a faculty member of the USJI National Teachers’ Institute, a member of the USJF Promotion Committee, and a member of the USJF and USJI Women’s Sub-committee.
Fukuda held the rank of 9th dan, the second-highest in judo, from two organizations, and in July 2011 received the rank of 10th dan from a third organization. In 1994, she was the first woman to be awarded a rare red belt (at the time for women still marking the 8th dan rank) in judo by the Kodokan. In 2001 the USJF promoted her to USJF 9th dan (red belt) for her lifelong contribution to the art of judo. On January 8, 2006, at its annual New Year's Kagami Biraki celebration, the Kodokan promoted Fukuda to the rank of 9th dan—the first time it had awarded this rank to a woman. On July 28, 2011, the promotion board of USA Judo awarded Fukuda the rank of 10th dan, an action which was followed by the USJF's promotion board on September 10, 2011.
Fukuda continued to teach judo three times each week, host the annual Fukuda Invitational Kata Championships, and teach at the annual Joshi Judo Camp until her death, at the age of 99, in San Francisco, California. She established the Keiko Fukuda Judo Scholarship to encourage and enable women to continue their formal training in the art. Apart from teaching in the USA, she also taught in Australia, Canada, France, Norway and the Philippines. Fukuda's personal motto was: "Be gentle, kind, and beautiful, yet firm and strong, both mentally and physically."
Fukuda passed away at her home in San Francisco on February 9, 2013.
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- Soko Joshi Judo Club
- USA Dojo: A lifetime of Judo contains photographs of Fukuda (c. 1970 and c. 2000).
- YouTube: Be strong, be gentle, be beautiful contains a documentary on Fukuda (2009).
- Yardley, William (February 16, 2013), "Keiko Fukuda, a Trailblazer in Judo, Dies at 99", The New York Times