Keiko Fukuda proves it’s never too late to attain greatness. At 98 years old, she has just been awarded a 10th-degree black belt, judo's highest level. Not only is this an honor never before granted to a woman, but it is also a tremendous achievement considering that for 30 years Fukuda was restricted to a 5th degree black belt simply because she was "onna desu," meaning a woman. Fukuda now joins only three living men in the entire world (and about a dozen since judo’s inception) with this prestigious rank.
Fukuda’s story is one of strength and persistence. Born in Japan in 1913, she turned away from a traditional lifestyle. Although she had been trained in calligraphy and the art of flower arranging, at the age of only 21, Fukuda on account of her samurai lineage, was summoned by Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo. H life was forever changed. Fukuda began to study under Kano despite the reservations of her uncle, who felt such a lifestyle was not proper for a woman.
Judo, a derivative of the historic martial art of jujitsu, is based on the principal of "maximum efficient use of physical and mental energy." Far beyond physical strength, and adeptness at hand-to-hand combat, Kano believed judo had the potential to "contribute much to human and social development, including mutual prosperity for self and others." He identified this as the proper goal of training.
In 1953, Fukuda traveled to California, the state that would eventually become her new home, at the request of an Oakland judo club to share her teachings. Since then, she has dedicated her life to teaching the art of judo to students around the world.
Flying Carp Productions has been working on a documentary showcasing the life of this extraordinary woman. Fittingly, the film’s title, Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful, is Fukada’s personal motto, as she believes the real goal of judo is to be "gentle on the outside" and "strong on the inside." Although the film is still a work-in-progress and as its producers work tirelessly to fundraise enough money to complete the documentary, the tentative release date is late 2011. If the trailer is any indication, the film will certainly be worth checking-out. (For those interested in making a donation, just visit the film’s home page: Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful.)