Keiko Fukuda

last updated 30 May 2017

Keiko Fukuda

Keiko Fukuda

Inducted 1993

At 98, she is still teaching the Japanese martial art three times a week at a women’s dojo in Noe Valley, giving pointers from a fold-out chair, wearing her ki – and the red belt that signals her superior rank.

“The kind of judo I teach is an old one, it comes from the samurais, and there aren’t many of the older generation left who can teach these katas,” Fukuda said.

Documentary filmmaker Yuriko Gamo Romer of San Francisco is capturing Fukuda’s story of enduring war, discrimination, giving up marriage and leaving her family behind in Japan to devote herself to judo. Although several books have been written about Fukuda, including two autobiographies, this will be the first film, slated for an early 2012 release.

An article appeared about Keiko Fukuda and is online (San Francisco Chronicle article). The film, “Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful“, about her life came out in 2012. (Watch a trailer of the film.)

LA proclamation commending Keiko Fukuda

In 2002 the fiftieth anniversary was celebrated with a book of USJF history. In it were a number of biographies. including this:

The real joy that comes from knowing Sensei Keiko Fukuda gathers like a pool of light in the hearts of those who recognize that she is a woman who lives her truths. very important truths about commitment, humble integrity, and love, all centered around her most important love. Judo. There is no other woman or man on earth who has made such a lifelong, single-minded commitment to Judo: over 65 years, focused years, through sickness and health, through tunes or war and times of peace, around the globe. That pool of light in our hearts shimmers and struggles to find a personal reflection, to make a connection to such a woman, who even at 88, though fragile, is still as: strong and cense tem ns the rising sun, and just as nurturing.

Keiko Fukuda

It is no wonder that the emperor of Japan recognized her as a National Living Treasure of Japan in l990, honoring her with a Medal of Honor, The Order of The Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Rosette. As members of USJF. we recognize how lucky we are LU have such a Sensei raised in the traditions of the Kodokan, sharing her knowledge and expertise with us, doing all she can lo promote Judo in Lhe United States as she patiently teaches us the powerful points where traditionalism and modernism, where all cultures, intersect: in our essential humanness, in our Judo family.

Ms. Fukuda's commitment to Judo is undeniable, in her blood, so to speak. Her grandfather, Hachinosuke Fukuda, was a revered Jiu-Jitsu instructor, one of the three most instrumental teachers of Jigoro Kano in his formative years. Her memory of being personally invited by Jigoro Kano in the 1930's to practice in the Women's Section of the Kodokan was the first step of many requests he would make of her to promote Judo, and particularly Women's Judo, throughout the world. Her first students were children of the emperor. Today, Fukuda Sensci still possesses that uncanny ability to make each and every student feel special, royal, and able. There is a simple truth about pure goodness: when we do good things. the reverberations are far-reaching. When Hachinosuke Fukuda taught Jigoro Kano, little did he know that his little grand-daughter who was not yet born. would carry his legacy to generations, throughout nations, and pass it on to us.

Ms. Fukuda has witnessed and reflected on the habits of these and many other great Judo teachers, including Mifune Sensel, and through practice, she has integrated their knowledge with her own experience, while telling us many stories that supplement our physical training with philosophy. She is like a bridge between them and us, carrying on the traditional, formal way, sharing it with us in warm, personal ways that we find both comforting and challenging as we strive to improve. As her students, we accept that she bas extended this charge from Jigoro Kano, to us, that Judo is a way of life, a vehicle through which we improve ourselves and our world, especially when she reminds us, with both words and deeds that Judo is far more than just physical training. Her motto. "Be strong, Be gentle. Be beautiful," has a multitude of meanings beyond the physical, into the mental and spiritual realms, and perhaps far too complex to convey in words. Ms. Fukuda is asking for, demanding, showing a "being ness" that is Lhe "way"{do) of "geruleaess"{ju). We trust her for she is the living embodiment or the truths of Judo: maximally efficient, acting at all times for the mutual welfare and benefit of others, flexible, perceptive. resilient. humble.

Her accomplishments and awards arc numerous, surpassed only by her generosity of spirit, Her first official visit to the U.S. (Hawaii and California) in 1953 was followed by teaching Judo in New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, and Canada, after which she settled in San Francisco to teach Judo al Mills College and at San Francisco Buddhist Church and eventually at her own dojo at 26th and Castro in San Francisco. It was then that she began her fervent service cxpansion of Judo. She demonstrated Ju no kata with Noritomi Sensel at Lhe Olympics in Tokyo in 1964 and published a hook in 1973. Born for the Mat: A Kodokan Kata Textbook for Women. She has created numerous films and teaching materials. and besides having travelled to teach in Europe (France and Norway), she has held numerous positions in the United State on the local and national levels. She has served as Technical Advisor, Promotion Committee Chairperson, Board of Examiners Chairperson. Chief Advisor, Head Instructor. Head Judge for events and committee that comprise and support lhe efforts of Central Coast Yudanshakai, USJF and USJI. She is the founder. supporter, and bead instructor of the annual Joshi Judo Camp that. for the past twenty-five years has brought together women from all over the United Slates to college campuses or the Olympic Training Centers. Thirty years ago. she began the Kagami Biraki ceremony in San Francisco. the annual New Year's Celebration that mirrors that of the Kodokan. Ms Fukuda is the founder of the Fukuda Invitational/International reuniting Judo family from all over the world every October. Over the years, she has taken her students to numerous teaching engagements and competitions nationally and internationally, including the USJI Senior National Kata Championships, The World MasterAthlete Championships that bring together competitors from 18 countries, and the first Pan American Judo Union Kata Championships in 2000, an historic event. All her effort are intended to challenge and to nurture the spirits of her students and friends who love Judo.

Perhaps you've seen her charming laugh, or felt the intensity of her teaching, or perhaps you've felt the power and gentleness of her touch. Undoubtedly, she has touched you in some way. It is no wonder that Fukuda Sensei continues to be honored as a Living Treasure, not only in Japan but appreciated as such in America where she has recently been awarded 9th degree from USJF, for besides being the highest ranking woman in the world in Judo or in any martial art, for that matter, she has honorably stepped up to the mat to fulfill the promises she made to Jigoro Kano to promote Judo with every fiber of her being. The resonance with which she fulfills her promises is a beam of light, guiding us, asking us to do the same, to follow the gentle path, to do as she says, “to practice, practice,” “one more time,” “must try. must try.” How coincidental it is that in numerous ceremonies celebrating her 88th birthday and her accomplishments, and recently, in watching Mayor Willie Brown create a "Keiko Fukuda Day" in San Francisco as part of a festival of martial arts, we recognize the mystery or the words describing her years in this life dedicated tu Judo: BEIJU, in Japanese, is the word for the very special 88th birthday. In French, BIJOU is the word for jewel, In a flight of fancy of the mind, one cannot cannot help but recognize the similarity or these two words and acknowledge that Sensel Fukuda is a jewel among us. She is jewel, pool of light, bridge, rising sun, rosette reaching to us with Golden Rays. She is our teacher, our friend. She is, at all times, a lady, at all limes a Judoka, at all Limes one who loves and believes in us and in Judo. She is our Lady Samurai. She is Our Sensel: Keiko Fukuda, 9th dan.

Submitted by: Teri Schweitzer

Photo by: Shane Nash

(Ms. Schweitzer is currently workjng on a book about Ms. Fukuda entitled Lady Samurai. Parts of this article are excerpted from that book.)

source: USJF