First Woman to Earn Highest Level Black Belt: Keiko Fukuda set world record (HD Video) SAN FRANCISCO, CA, USA -- Sensei Keiko Fukuda of San Francisco, California, a petite 98 years old woman who is only 4-feet-10 and 100 pounds, was promoted to the rank of 10th dan (degree) black belt in Judo this week by USA Judo, the sport's national governing body , setting the world record for the First Woman to Earn Highest Level Black Belt.
Photo: Sensei Keiko Fukuda, the World's First Woman to Earn Highest Level Black Belt.
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Fukuda, who is addressed by the honorific title of sensei which means master, is as soft spoken as she is humble. "I appreciate it very much," was all she would say to ABCNews.com.
This is the highest ranking one can achieve in judo; only three other living judokas have reached the 10-degree black belt level, and they're all men.
Even more importantly, Fukuda is the last surviving student of Kano Jigoro, who invented judo in the late 1800s in Japan.
"All my life this has been my dream," said the woman who is the last surviving student of judo's founder, Kano Jiguro.
Fukuda is not exaggerating. She eschewed traditional Japanese arts such as calligraphy and tea ceremonies - not to mention her marriage - when she took up the sport in her 20s, she then spent 30 years stuck as a fifth dan black belt due to a regulation prohibiting women from being promoted beyond that level.
She managed to break down that rule in 1972 and was the first woman to become a sixth dan black belt and has since continued to climb the ranks and inspire her students with her personal motto: "Be gentle, kind and beautiful, yet firm and strong, both mentally and physically."
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.
Fukuda's grandfather was Hachinosuke Fukuda, one of Japan's last eminent samurai. Her grandfather taught Jiu Jutsu to Dr. 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.
"Her grandfather taught Dr. Kano, the founder of Judo, and when she expressed an interest in the art in her 20's, Dr. Kano himself invited her to come in to the women's section of the Kodokan," said Eiko Saito-Shepherd, a Fukuda disciple.
As a direct student of Kano's, "Sensei Fukuda is a living legacy, she's a direct descendent of the origins of Judo, as well as the longest, and only living student of Kano's worldwide," said Gary Goltz, president of the U.S. Judo Association.
Dr. Shellie 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."
Fukuda's personal motto is: "Be gentle, kind, and beautiful, yet firm and strong, both mentally and physically."