A judo master died at the age of 99 in San Francisco. The woman, Keiko Fukuda, was the Japanese-born granddaughter of a samurai.
Fukuda learned judo from its founder, allowing her to become the highest-ranked woman in the martial art. She passed away from natural causes on Febuary 9, according to her friend and caregiver.
Fukuda got her start in the fire-bombed streets of Tokyo during World War II, according to NBC Sports. She stood just four feet 10 inches tall, but was known for her unwavering technique.
She continued to do her judo exercises well into her 90s, though she was forced to use a wheelchair in her final years. Despite the handicap, she taught classes at her dojo three times per week until she passed away. Her caregiver, Shelley Fernandez, stated:
“Up until the last, she was very lucid and she never forgot any judo techniques — ever.”
USA Judo conferred upon Fukuda the rank of “10th dan,” the highest level of mastery possible in the martial art. The honor took place in July 2011, making the judo master the only woman in the world and the only person in the United States to achieve the status.
Keiko’s grandfather, Fukuda Hachinosuke, was a samurai and jujitsu master, reports The New York Times. One of his final students, Kano Jigoro, went on to develop judo in the early 1880s.
Kano began learning the sport when she was 21. She recalled:
“At first, all I could think about was how aggressive the maneuvers were and how unusual it was to see women spreading their legs.”
But she soon gave herself over to the sport, learning the art of judo instead of the art of the tea ceremony and other things Japanese women were expected to learn. She refused to be married, saying she didn’t want to give up the sport for it.
After Kano died, the judo master traveled to the United States to honor his request for his students to travel the world and teach his sport. Fernandez stated, “He asked all of his students to travel the world and teach judo. She was the only one who did.”
Throughout her life, Keiko Fukuda taught judo in several countries and wrote two autobiographical books on the sport. Se was also the subject of a documentary film last year, titled Mrs. Judo.
The judo master has no living relatives, though her students and friends whose lives she touched will keep her legacy going on.