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."


Commentarium (21 Comments)

Aug 07 11 - 7:15pm

I love this, you go girl!

Aug 07 11 - 9:44pm

Wow. That marriage conversation was a poignant reminder of how much women of her generation have had to sacrifice to reach certain goals. I appreciated what she had to say about cultivating strength and inner beauty/compassion.

Aug 08 11 - 6:54am

Such a beautiful woman, how all of us women could learn and aspire to achieve our goals like she did. Arigato Sensei Keiko Fukuda Sama, for showing us determination and to never give up on dreams and passions.

Aug 08 11 - 12:18pm

Wow what an incredible, amazing woman she is.

Aug 08 11 - 12:31pm

Congratz to her, she must have really strong bones to be able to throw someone at that age!
Goes to show you can always achieve your dreams no matter what age you are.

Aug 08 11 - 2:02pm

The Kodokan has brought shame upon themselves for treating her this way for so long. I hope they continue to improve.

Aug 09 11 - 8:15am

Did she died?

Aug 10 11 - 2:20am

She's very well alive!

Aug 09 11 - 10:05am

Omedetou gozaimasu, Sensei Fukuda… I readed of your story with both joy and tears. As a student of Kyokushin karate who is now facing hip replacement, I find true inspiration in your life ofJudo. I am nervous on how well I will be able to teach my students, you are my inspiration O-senei Fukuda!! Osu!!

Aug 09 11 - 10:57am

Congratulations O-Sensei. There are very few words in either English or Japanese to convey to true depth of your dedication to Judo. Perhaps the closest would be Juyo Mukei Bunkazai (living national treasure) the courage and dedication to overcome all obsticals to bring Judo to the world has resulted in your touching thousands of lives in a positive way. I wish for you, Judo and your students all good things. Well done and well deserved.

Aug 09 11 - 11:28am

In the only martial art I have experience with (obviously not judo), the tenth dan is a symbol of strength and perfection that no one has ever or will ever achieve. However, if ever a person deserved it, Keiko Fukuda definitely does. Sacrificing a marriage and family for something you love and fighting to surmount sexism so that girls coming after you wouldn't need to fight as hardcoupled with the strength that she still has at age ninety eight to get onto the floor and demonstrate a wrist twist? That is incredibly admirable. You go, girl.

Aug 09 11 - 7:19pm

Yes, this woman is HARD CORE, I wish all youngsters, male and female could have the same heart about life. "NEVER QUIT"

Aug 09 11 - 8:04pm

I have never practiced any kind of martial arts but I do love seeing them all in action. I do believe however dedication of and to the art is a matter of mind, body and soul. Sensei Fukuda, this is your story and a very much appreciated and good one. I only hope that we all of humanity learn to recognize that we are created equal and must give to those what they deserve. Your story touched my heart and for sure my family and friends will learn of what a great person you are. CONGRATULATIONS on your 10th Dan. BELIZE Central America

Aug 10 11 - 1:11am
Combat Sports Review

Congrats! You are one of the few.
Combat Sports Review Tag Line " The human body is the most beautiful and amazing thing, but only a few attempt to realize it's potential."

Aug 10 11 - 1:43pm

When she was asked about marrige and family, tears rolled onto her cheek. It cannot be of joy. regret? We will never know. She paid a huge price to pave the way for martial art practitioners like us to follow. Being strong and gentle is what all martial artists would learn very early, but being beautiful!! What a wondrous insight. I most certainly was shown a focus in my practice to pursue, being beautiful, feeling beautiful, thank you, Keiko sensei.

Aug 11 11 - 3:16pm

Wow. At age 98 I merely aspire to be still breathing and sentient. Her level of achievement takes my breath away.

Aug 11 11 - 3:47pm
phil doherty

Fantastic story but factually incorrect. There are not just three living men who are tenth Dans all living in Japan. I just did story on tenth dan in the UK was presented with his belt and certificate from the Japanese ambassador...and there are others across the world.

Aug 14 11 - 6:49pm

wow!!!!! what an amazing lady. I will never again complain about my 50 year old knees!!!!!!!!!! Congratulations Sensei- I bow in respect for all you have achieved.

Aug 18 11 - 10:19am
Chris Mance Rep RSA

Big Oss, for Sensei Keiko Fukuda.
You will be a big inspiration to me for the rest of my life.
Your philosophy and actions will be a inspiration for all in BUDO.
Sometimes whilst teaching Shotokan karate-do after 40years its difficult for me to see the future now I have a Dan "level" to work towards.
Many Thanks

Aug 26 11 - 10:21am

Congratulations! All the very best for you, your students & for all the woman (like myself) who practice Judo or any other martial arts.
Sensei Keiko Fukuda, you are my idol!

Dec 13 11 - 11:10pm
wedding party dresse

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