Keiko Fukuda, the first female judoka to be awarded the rank of 10th-degree black belt, died February 9, 2013, in San Francisco. She was 99.
USA Judo, the national governing body for the Olympic sport in the United States, awarded Fukuda her 10th dan in 2011. Afterward, she said, “This is a dream come true.” Two years earlier, she was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame as Judoka of the Year in honor of her lifelong commitment to the art.
The last surviving student of judo founder Jigoro Kano, Fukuda long ago chose the mat over marriage. Following Kano’s wishes, she moved to the United States in 1966 to help spread the grappling art. She became a leader in women’s rights, both by example and by voice, as she broke through the glass ceiling that had prevented her from ascending in rank.
Fukuda’s storied life is the subject of a documentary titled Mrs. Judo: Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful. To watch the trailer, visit the Mrs. Judo page.