Keiko Fukuda

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Keiko Fukuda
Fukuda in 2012
Born(1913-04-12)April 12, 1913
Tokyo City, Japan
DiedFebruary 9, 2013(2013-02-09) (aged 99)
San Francisco, California, U.S.
Native name福田 敬子
Teacher(s)Kanō Jigorō, Kyuzo Mifune
Rank10th dan judo (USA Judo, US Judo Federation), 9th dan judo (Kodokan)
Notable school(s)Soko Joshi Judo Club

Keiko Fukuda (Japanese: 福田 敬子, Hepburn: Fukuda Keiko, April 12, 1913 – February 9, 2013) was a Japanese-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.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] 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.[8] She is also the first and, so far, only woman to have been promoted to 10th dan in the art of judo.[9] After completing her formal education in Japan, Fukuda visited the United States 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.

Early life[edit]

Fukuda was born on April 12, 1913, in Tokyo.[2][10] Her father died when she was very young.[1] 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.[1] 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.[1] A few months later, she decided to begin training for herself.[1] Her mother and brother supported this decision, but her uncle was opposed to the idea.[1] 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.[1]

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.[2][5][11][12][13] Kanō had studied under three jujutsu masters before founding judo, and Fukuda's grandfather had been the first of these men.[14] 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.[11][15] He personally invited the young Fukuda to study judo—an unusual gesture for that time—as a mark of respect for her grandfather.[3][16] She began training in judo in 1935, as one of only 24 women training at the Kodokan.[2][3][11] Apart from instruction by judo's founder, Fukuda also learned from Kyuzo Mifune.[11]

Judo career[edit]

Fukuda, standing at only 4' 11" (150 cm) and weighing less than 100 lb. (45 kg), became a judo instructor in 1937.[12][14] She also earned a degree in Japanese literature from Showa Women's University.[11][12] In 1953, she was promoted to the rank of 5th dan in judo.[17] 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.[1] Fukuda next traveled to the US in 1966, giving seminars in California.[1] 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).[14] 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.[1][11][16][18]

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.[1] When the class sizes grew, she shifted the classes to the Sokoji Zen Buddhist temple in the Japantown, San Francisco.[1][11][16] She named her school the Soko Joshi Judo Club.[1] Having settled in the San Francisco Bay Area, Fukuda gave up her Japanese citizenship to become a US citizen.[1]

In November 1972, following a letter campaign against the rule prohibiting women from being promoted to higher than 5th dan, Fukuda (together with her senpai Masako Noritomi (1913–1982)) became the first woman promoted to 6th dan by the Kodokan.[6][7][8][11][15] According to Fukuda, "the Kodokan was old fashioned and sexist about belts and ranks".[19] 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.[11][16][20] In 1974, she established the annual Joshi Judo Camp to give female judo practitioners the opportunity to train together.[12] That year, she was one of only three women in the world ranked 6th dan in judo.[11]

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.[1][12] 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.[21] Fukuda served as a technical adviser for US Women's Judo and the USJI Kata Judges' Certification Sub-committee.[12] 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.[12]

Fukuda held the rank of 9th dan, the second-highest in judo, from two organizations,[1] and in July 2011, received the rank of 10th dan from a third organization.[6] 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.[8] In 2001, the USJF promoted her to USJF 9th dan (red belt) for her lifelong contribution to the art of judo.[1][3] 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.[22][23][24] On July 28, 2011, the promotion board of USA Judo awarded Fukuda the rank of 10th dan,[6][7] an action which was followed by the USJF's promotion board on September 10, 2011.

Later life[edit]

Fukuda continued to teach judo three times each week, host the annual Fukuda Invitational Kata Championships, and teach at the annual Joshi Judo Camp[1][12][25] 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.[26] Apart from teaching in the USA, she also taught in Australia, Canada, France, Norway and the Philippines.[12] Fukuda's personal motto was: "Tsuyoku, Yasashiku, Utsukushiku" (in English: "Be strong, be gentle, be beautiful, in mind, body, and spirit").[1][5][27]


Fukuda died peacefully at her home in San Francisco on February 9, 2013.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Sullivan, K. (2003): A lifetime of Judo: 90 year old Keiko Fukuda, the martial art's highest-ranked women (sic), still goes to the mat for her Bay Area students Reproduced from the San Francisco Chronicle (October 17, 2003). Retrieved on April 25, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d Davis, S. (2009): A living legend: Judo Master Keiko Fukuda (July 14, 2009). Retrieved on April 24, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d Tengu House: Keiko Fukuda Archived October 10, 2018, at the Wayback Machine (December 5, 2007). Retrieved on April 24, 2010.
  4. ^ Hoppe, S. T. (1998): Sharp Spear, Crystal Mirror: Martial arts in women's lives (p. 266). Rochester, VT: Park Street Press. (ISBN 978-0-8928-1662-0)
  5. ^ a b c Takahashi, M. (2005): Mastering Judo (p. 33). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. (ISBN 978-0-7360-5099-9)
  6. ^ a b c d Narimatsu, K. (2011): USA Judo promotes Professor Keiko Fukuda to 10th Dan!!! Archived July 20, 2012, at the Wayback Machine (August 1, 2011). Retrieved on August 6, 2011.
  7. ^ a b c Ashley, J. (2011): 98-year-old woman becomes first woman ever to earn Judo's highest-degree black belt Archived October 26, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Shine (August 9, 2011). Retrieved on August 9, 2011.
  8. ^ a b c De Crée, Carl, Jones, Llyr C (2011). "Kōdōkan jūdō's inauspicious ninth kata: The Joshi goshinhō — "Self-defense methods for females" (Part 1)". Archives of Budo. 7 (3): OF139-158. Retrieved July 18, 2012.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ May, Meredith (August 6, 2011). "Judo Master Makes 10th Degree Black Belt". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved October 9, 2018.
  10. ^ Sidney, J. (2003): The Warrior's Path: Wisdom from contemporary martial arts masters. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications. (ISBN 978-1-5903-0074-9)
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Johnson, G. (1974): "A single reed that bends gracefully in the wind." Black Belt, 12(6):28–33.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i Joshi Judo: 2010 Joshi Camp Archived February 22, 2006, at the Wayback Machine (2010). Retrieved on April 25, 2010.
  13. ^ Cavalcanti, K. (c. 1998): The history of Kodokan Judo Retrieved on April 25, 2010.
  14. ^ a b c De Leonardis, A. (1966): "The weaker (?) sex is organizing: A world leader in woman's (sic) judo takes a knowing look at some of the surprising things that lady judokas are up to these days." Black Belt, 4(11):40–45.
  15. ^ a b Walsh, D. (2009): Martial arts heroines (May 8, 2009). Retrieved on April 25, 2010.
  16. ^ a b c d Anonymous (1974): "PSJA women host Keiko Fukuda." Black Belt, 12(4):13.
  17. ^ McCabe-Cardoza, M. (1996): A woman's guide to martial arts: How to choose and get started in a discipline (p. 28). Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press. (ISBN 978-0-8795-1670-3)
  18. ^ Mills College: Four Mills women featured in Wise Talk, Wild Women Archived May 28, 2010, at the Wayback Machine (May 1, 2007). Retrieved on April 25, 2010.
  19. ^ "Judoka (98) earns 10th dan black belt". The Herald.
  20. ^ Best Judo Book Reviews: Born for the mat – A Kodokan kata textbook for women (July 18, 2009). Retrieved on April 25, 2010.
  21. ^ Fukuda, K. (2004): Ju-No-Kata: A Kodokan textbook, revised and expanded from Born for the Mat. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books. (ISBN 978-1-5564-3504-1)
  22. ^ United States Judo Federation: Kodokan announces high Dan promotions! Archived December 1, 2009, at the Wayback Machine (January 13, 2006). Retrieved on April 25, 2010.
  23. ^ Shakesville: Keiko Fukuda – Be strong, be gentle, be beautiful (November 13, 2009). Retrieved on April 25, 2010.
  24. ^ National Women's Martial Arts Federation: Keiko Fukuda Retrieved on April 25, 2010.
  25. ^ Joshi Judo: Fukuda Invitational Kata Championships Archived October 4, 2010, at the Wayback Machine (2009). Retrieved on April 25, 2010
  26. ^ United States Judo Federation: Keiko Fukuda Judo Scholarship Archived January 7, 2010, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on April 25, 2010.
  27. ^ "Welcome page". Keiko Fukuda Joshi Judo Camp. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
  28. ^ "Legendary judo teacher Fukuda dies at 99". The Japan Times. February 12, 2013. Retrieved February 12, 2013.

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