April 12th...Keiko Fukuda
On This Day in Herstory, April 12th 1913, Keiko Fukuda, a Japanese American martial artist, the highest-ranked female judoka in history, the last surviving student of the founder of judo, and a pioneer of women’s judo, was born in Tokyo, Japan.
As a child Keiko Fukuda (福田 敬子 Fukuda Keiko) was trained in the arts of calligraphy, flower arrangement, and the tea ceremony, and other pursuits typical for women in Japan at the time. Around this time, while she was quite young, her father died, leaving her mother with two children, Keiko and her brother. Despite her traditional upbringing, she felt drawn to judo, because her grandfather had been a samurai and master of jujutsu, he also taught jujutsu to Kanō Jigorō, founder of judo. One day, Keiko’s mother took her to watch a judo training session, and a few months later she began to train herself in the art. Her mother and brother were very supportive of her decision to train, thinking that she was meet and marry a judo master. In 1935, she was personally invited by the founder of judo to study with him; this was highly unusual for the time, but he did it as a sign of respect for her grandfather. She was one of only 24 women who trained in his studio. Around this time she reportedly refused to enter into an arranged marriage because it would have ended her training.
Keiko was only 4’11”, and weighed less than 100lbs, despite this, she excelled at judo and became an instructor in 1937. She also earned a degree in Japanese literature from Showa Women’s University around this time. In 1953 she was promoted to the rank of 5th dan in judo. Later that year she traveled to the US at the invitation of a judo club in Oakland, California, she stayed for over two years, before returning to Japan. She traveled to the US again in 1966 and gave seminars in California; one of these seminars was at Mills College, who immediately offered her a teaching position, which she accepted, teaching from 1967 to 1978. At that time, she was one of only four women in the world ranked at 5th dan in judo. In November 1972, Keiko became the first woman promoted to 6th dan. The next year 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 chance to train together.
Keiko continued to rise through the ranks of judo, and held the rank of 9th dan, the second-highest in judo, from two organizations; in July 2011, she was given the rank of 10th dan. She continued to teach, host the annual Fukuda Invitational Kata Championships, and teach at the annual Joshi Judo Camp until her death. She established the Keiko Fukuda Judo Scholarship to help encourage women to continue their formal training in judo. Her personal motto was: “Tsuyoku, Yasashiku, Utsukushiku” (“Be strong, be gentle, be beautiful, in mind, body, and spirit”). Keiko Fukuda died on February 9th 2013, in San Francisco, California; she was 99 years old.