International Women's Day "A History of Struggle"
Friday, March 08, 2019

In March 8, millions of people around the world commemorate International Women's Day. Why is it celebrated on this date? It all started with labor movements in North America and Europe. In 1909, the first National Women's Day in the USA was celebrated. in honor of the women's strike of 1908, against poor working conditions.

The incursion of women into martial arts at a professional level has not been easy, above all, in world-wide competitions.

Historically, judo has been a combat sport that jointly promotes the physical and mental development of those who practice it. This discipline was created by master Jigoro Kano, in 1882. Of Japanese origin, this martial art arose from the combination of styles and techniques of the two ancient schools of Jujitsu (classical Japanese martial art), the Tenjin Shin'yō-ryū, and the Kitō-ryū. Having managed to reunite both, Kano founded his Kodokan school. In it, he called Judo the most effective way for physical and mental strengthening, that is, the path to flexibility.

Because it was a combat world it was associated with the masculine, therefore, it was exclusive for men and forbidden for women, for carrying out the attack, the annihilation and the personal defense, actions that traditionally related to the masculine characteristics of strength and aggressiveness.

Being inappropriate attitudes for women, their battle to belong in this space was fraught with difficulties.

These are the 3 stories of 3 women, 3 different generations, but with the same sense ... equality.

"Be strong, be kind, be beautiful"

Keiko Fukuda was born on April 12, 1913 in Tokyo. Her father died when she was very young. In his youth, he learned the art of calligraphy (Shôdô), the flower arrangement (Ikebana) and the tea ceremony (Chadô), typical activities for a woman at that time. Despite his traditional education, Fukuda felt an affinity for Judo through the memories of his grandfather. One day, accompanied by her mother, she went to see a Judo training. A few months later the training began on its own.

Kano sensei formally opened the Joshi-bu (female section) of the Kodokan in 1926. It was he who personally invited young Fukuda to study judo. Keiko Fukuda started her practice in 1935, being part of only twenty-four women who trained in the Kodokan.

The graduation system for women in the Kodokan was very antiquated and sexist. There was nothing for a woman beyond 5th Dan. Keiko Fukuda was 5th Dan for 30 years.

During the Second World War, Fukuda confronted him with the bombed streets of Tokyo and traveled daily to teach his beloved discipline. Kano sensei had commissioned his students to go abroad and expand the world of Judo. Fukuda made that commitment with Judo for life.

After the war, she was invited to the US to teach Judo. This opened a new world for her, as she taught to women with a level of ability unparalleled in the Western world. He settled in San Francisco, coinciding with the struggle of the women's emancipation movement, and soon opened his own Judo Dojo. Fukuda became friends with one of her students, Dr. Shelley Fernandez, who was president of NOW (National Organization for Woman) in that city. Fernandez took up the case against gender inequality in Judo and asked Kodokan to promote Fukuda for 6th Dan, claiming that he had been in the 5th Dan (1972) graduation for 30 years. Forty years later she became one of the four living people who held the 10th Dan, becoming the woman with the highest graduation in the history of Judo.

Fukuda Sensei passed away on February 9, 2013 at the age of 99, in San Francisco being the last disciple of the founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano

"Either you're a hammer or you're a nail. I prefer to be a hammer "

Rena Kanokogi, originally from Brooklyn, New York, in her teens belonged to one of the urban tribes called the Apaches in a dangerous environment, she had to be strong to survive in that violent environment against women.

In 1955, a friend who took judo classes at the Center for Young Christians in the city (YMCA) showed him a technique, causing in Kanokogi at 20 years of age a strong attraction to this discipline, leading her to want to learn more about this art. At the beginning the instructor refused to accept her as a student, since it was an exclusive sport practice for men, even so, due to her perseverance she managed to join the teaching, finding in judo a way to channel her energies, and a powerful tool for self-defense, necessary or useful in your neighborhood.

The beginning was not easy and because she was the only woman practicing judo, her classmates did not accept her, although being the only woman among so many men, she helped her improve her strength and technique.

Years later, in 1959, she was selected by the Central Brooklyn team to compete in the New York State Championships. His coach, aware of the problem in which he could be involved in having a woman on the team, suggested that Kanokogi cut his hair and bandage his chest to remain unnoticed.

 It was so, that Rena started as a reserve in the competition, but when injured, a teammate had to take his place. Annihilating its rivals, the Central Brooklyn team was the winner. However, when it was discovered that Kanokogi was a woman, she was forced to renounce the medal, since otherwise the rest of her classmates and the institution she represented would be entitled to lose the title.

In short, this event full of difficulties and injustices marked the life of Kanokogi, because he committed himself to make judo an equal space for women as well as for men. She participated in competitions frequently and in 1962 she was the first woman to be allowed to train at the Kodokan, located in Tokyo, where she earned the respect and admiration of the most important masters of this sport. Upon obtaining the Seventh Dan, he devoted himself to teaching, to arbitration, and, above all, to making judo also feminine.

 To achieve his goal, in 1980, he mortgaged his house to pay for the organization of the first World Championship in New York. And finally, in 1988, she managed to include the female judo in the Olympic program in Seoul, having the role of selecting the US Olympic team.

Over the years could not miss the recognition of this admirable woman, because her struggle to achieve equality in participation in judo was impregnated with obstacles and prejudices that led her to persist. In 2008 he received the Order of the Rising Sun, one of the most important prizes to be awarded in Japan. Also, in the month of August 2009, months before dying, being a victim of leukemia, in a ceremony the State of New York gave him the medal that he had worthily earned and had been forced to resign because he was a woman.

"If a person has the potential, he should receive the opportunity"

Yuko Fujii's first contact with judo determined the direction his life would take. It was 32 years ago in Japan, when in her first training, a boy threw her head on the tatami. His first thought was that he would never practice judo again, but that hot reaction did not come true and Fujii ended up reversing the roles of that first meeting. It is she who has now put the men in the lead after becoming the first woman to lead the men's judo team in Brazil.

In a traditionally macho society like Brazil and in a world - that of sports - clearly dominated by men, the choice of a woman to lead a men's team in one of the main Olympic modalities was unthinkable. Hence, the appointment of Fujii was unexpected and received as a step forward in the struggle of women for gender equality, not only in judo but in sport in general.

Fujii seeks to lower the profile of his figure and refers to wanting to do the best for the team, contributing with "everything I have". She defines her training style as one directed 100% to the individual. "I do not teach my own style of judo to fighters, I work with them based on their own strengths and weaknesses," he said. "I never think much about men versus women."

It was Fujii's mother who did not let her daughter leave judo after her first bad experience. Decision that Fujii thanks today after living a successful career as a judo player in his youth and taking advantage of sport as a tool to learn English and live in other countries. Thanks to her knowledge she was appointed as coach of the judo team of the University of Bath, in the United Kingdom, and after the British team.

It was not easy at first because I used to "suffer" when children questioned what she was trying to convey to them. But she recognizes that this experience also inspired her to discover the sport from a much more technical point of view, in detail.

That way of understanding judo was what drew the attention of the Brazilian Judo Confederation, which hired her as assistant of the male and female teams ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. And the first gold medal for the host country in those games it arrived thanks to one of the directed ones of Fujii, Rafaela Silva.

His reputation continued to grow and confidence in his skills opened the doors to his new position. "I was ashamed to train men, I did not know what I had as a coach could be of value to them," he explained in an interview with the BBC in London.

"I started with an individual training with one of the fighters and we talked about many details and strategies based on their characteristics, we both gained in confidence in each other and in oneself". "All my coaches have always been men," he recalled. "It was the norm." "But if a person has the potential, he should receive the opportunity," he said.

Indeed, judo is a fighting discipline, in several ways, in which Fukuda, Kanokogi and Fujii broke the stereotype by creating awareness in the equal treatment of the sexes, becoming the pioneers that thousands of judo women will remember, because thanks to they judo stopped being an exclusive sport for men as much as to practice it as to direct it.

As well as many women have given recognition to our sport a small recognition to each and every one of them.

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