98 Year-Old Keiko Fukuda Is First Female 10th Degree Black Belt

98-year old Keiko Fukuda of San Francisco, California has been promoted to the highest-ranking in the Japanese martial art of judo, the Judan: the 10th-degree black belt. Considered the pinnacle achievement in judo, living legend Fukuda is the first female to possess this extremely rare title in history. In fact, there are only three other living masters that have achieved this belt and they are men. The U.S. Judo Federation promoted her to this belt of distinction on July 28, 2011.

Fukuda is the last living student of the founder of judo, Kano Jigoro, and still teaches the traditional methods she learned from him at the all women dojo, Soko Joshi Women’s Judo & Self Defense Club in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood. Her motto is: “Be gentle, kind, and beautiful, yet firm and strong, both mentally and physically”.

SFGate reports that Sensei Fukuda “gave up marriage and left her homeland to dedicate her life to judo, fighting gender discrimination that kept her at lower belt levels decades longer than men less skilled than she”.

An hour-long documentary titled Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful about Keiko Fukuda is in production from Flying Carp Productions and is set to be released in 2012.

A celebration of Fukuda’s achievement is slated for October at her judo competition event, the annual Kata Championship at San Francisco City College.

photos by Lance Iversen