Just two years before her 100th birthday, Sensei Keiko Fukuda has become the first woman to achieve a tenth-degree black belt—the highest rank in the martial art and combat sport Judo.
Fukuda is now one of only four living people who've earned the tenth-degree (or dan) black belt. To put the accomplishment into better perspective, throughout history, only sixteen people have ever achieved this honor.
Fukuda began practicing Judo in 1935 and is the sole surviving student of its founder, Kano Jiguro. At her teacher's urging, she learned English to help spread Judo internationally.
During a time when getting married, building a family, and becoming a housewife was the norm, Fukudo bucked tradition, opting out of marriage to pursue the martial art.
"All I did was Judo...this was my marriage," Fukudo reflected tearfully to the San Francisco Chronicle. "This is when my life destiny was set. I just never imagined how long this road would be."
She described the Jiguro’s school, known as the Kodokan, as "old-fashioned and sexist about belts and ranks." In fact, an edict that prevented women from achieving any higher than a fifth-degree black belt kept Fukuda at that level for thirty years. She was finally elevated to sixth dan in 1972 when a woman's division was created.
Fukodo said she approached Judo and her life with the intent to "be gentle, kind and beautiful, yet firm and strong, both mentally and physically." Fukuda says this kind of beauty is decidedly not external. "A compassionate soul is inner beauty," she explained to the paper. "I believe this is true beauty...All my life this has been my dream."
Dream realized, the 98-year-old Sensei Keiko Fukuda continues to teach Judo three times a week at a woman's dojo.