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Thursday
Aug112011

98-Year-Old Is First Woman to Earn Highest Level Black Belt

Comstock/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) -- Keiko Fukuda is 98 years old, four feet 10 and a mere 100 pounds, but this petite woman has been recognized as a giant in the martial arts world of judo.

Fukuda was just awarded a 10th-degree black belt, judo's highest level and an honor that has been granted to only a handful of men worldwide and never before to a woman.

Fukuda, who is addressed by the honorific sensei, which means master, is as soft-spoken as she is humble. "I appreciate it very much" was all she would say to ABC News.

Before Fukuda attained her new rank, she was a ninth-degree black belt, an already stratospheric ranking in the world of judo.

Although she sometimes uses a wheelchair, Fukuda continues to teach classes three times a week to women and girls as young as 14 at the Soko Joshi Judo Club in the Noe Valley area of San Francisco.

For Fukuda, the award bestowed by USA Judo represents more than a recognition of her skills and worldwide reputation as a sensei. It also honors the prestigious legacy as the last surviving student of the founder of judo.

Fukuda's grandfather was Hachinosuke Fukuda, one of Japan's last eminent samurai. Her grandfather taught jiu jutsu to Jigoro Kano, who in 1882 invented the art of Japanese judo, which is meant to be practiced as a holistic sport blending the mind, body and spirit.

Shelley Fernandez, who has lived with Fukuda for the last 45 years as a caretaker, described her as "an amazing person who is very humble and believes that through judo and self-discipline, your mind tells your body what to do, how to move forward and put your spirit behind it to live your life in balance…she is a master."

Fernandez described the moment when Fukuda received news of the award, "Her first reaction was complete surprise, she just couldn't believe it! She was very happy because this would help women, and then finally, she thought it was a dream come true. She thought it would be impossible."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio