Keiko Fukuda never made the cover of Black Belt. She lived to be 99, but she wasn’t that fierce or imposing. Longtime Black Belt contributing editor Dave Lowry delves into her life story in this fascinating article.

Keiko Fukuda never made the cover of Black Belt. She lived to be 99, but she wasn’t that fierce or imposing. After all, there was a period of almost 30 years when she didn’t even get promoted in her martial art. The other day I heard a black belt complain that he’d been stuck at third dan for six years and that the reason he wasn’t getting promoted was the national board that tests for his karate organization wasn’t fair. It made me think of Keiko Fukuda. Starting Judo Keiko Fukuda was the last surviving judoka to have been personally trained by the art’s founder, Jigoro Kano. She began practicing in 1935 at a time when the Kodokan had just opened a women’s division for its two-dozen female members. Keiko Fukuda was allowed to take up the art primarily because her grandfather had been one of Jigoro Kano’s jujitsu teachers. Even then, her family approved only because they thought she might meet a suitable husband on the mat.


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Keiko Fukuda became captivated by judo. She continued training during World War II and took it up again when the martial arts ban was lifted after Japan surrendered. By 1953 she was among the senior-most female judoka in the world. She was awarded godan, or fifth-degree black belt. In 1966 she moved to the United States and opened the Soko Joshi Judo Club, where she taught for decades. Keiko Fukuda was given the Order of the Sacred Treasure by Japan for her work in judo. She wrote books, taught around the world and created a kata championship that’s one of the art’s most prestigious events. And as of 1973, she was still a fifth dan. Glass Ceiling When Keiko Fukuda began judo, the Kodokan set up a separate rank system for women, recognizing only five grades of black belt. No matter how skillful one was, the rule was ironclad. Meanwhile, since 1926, men had been able to attain rank up to ninth dan. Not long thereafter, 10th dan was established. The Kodokan has a long history of bumbling in the promotion and practice of judo. Often, the hierarchy has failed to recognize opportunities and remained reluctant to act in the best interest of the art. Its refusal to even consider changing the rank system for female judoka is a perfect example. Behind the scenes, beginning in the late 1960s, enormous pressure was exerted on the Kodokan to update this system, primarily on behalf of Keiko Fukuda. It was outrageous that male judoka who were decades junior to her now outranked her. The pressure was applied in a variety of ways. Some Japanese judo masters tried to use graciousness and oblique diplomacy. Some Westerners were blunt about it, almost threatening. The Kodokan refused to give in until finally in 1973, threatened with international embarrassment, it relented. Keiko Fukuda was promoted to sixth dan. It had been 29 years since her last promotion. In subsequent years, perhaps to make up for its policy, the Kodokan promoted Keiko Fukuda again. She became a Kodokan ninth dan. (She was awarded a 10th dan from the International Judo Federation, but the rank wasn’t recognized by the Kodokan.) Judo Lifestyle It’s difficult to imagine the road Keiko Fukuda traveled. Her father died when she was a child. Her uncle discouraged her participation in judo; it wasn’t something a girl of her caste should do, he said. Instead of marrying and having children, which was expected of women of her generation, she practiced judo. She endured the same injuries, disappointments and challenges as any serious martial artist, but she also faced unique obstacles related to the culture and atmosphere of the male-dominated dojo. She came to the United States while still relatively young and had to learn the language and customs of a foreign land. For a time, she had no home of her own and lived with one of her students. Like every other budo teacher of her time in this country, she faced enormous difficulties translating the spirit and values of the martial arts to something Americans could grasp easily. In all those years, Keiko Fukuda never complained about the treatment she got from the Kodokan. Her status as a personal student of Jigoro Kano should have elevated her to the realm of legend. If anyone had the right to say, “Do you know who I am?” it was her. She could have pointed to her accomplishments, to the awards and recognition she’d received. She could have highlighted the clinics she taught, the championships she founded, the scholarships she provided for young judoka, and asked, “Who has done more for judo than me?” Instead of pleading or complaining, Keiko Fukuda went about following the way of judo. She taught, trained, supervised and coordinated events, tournaments and clinics. She never focused on grades or rank; she focused on her art until February 9, 2013, the day she died. Are you irritated that you haven’t been treated “fairly” with respect to promotions in your dojo? Well, maybe you have a point. Maybe you’ve done more for your art than Keiko Fukuda has done for hers. Then again, maybe not. About the Author: Dave Lowry is one of Black Belt's contributing editors.
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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: StevensTKD@aol.com or go to www.StevensTaeKwonDo.com

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
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