Remembering Keiko Fukuda First Woman Awarded 10th Dan Services held Friday in San Francisco

By Ernest Pund | March 27, 2013, 2:54 p.m. (ET)

About a week before Keiko Fukuda passed away, her longtime friend Eiko Shepherd was at her bedside in San Francisco. The first woman ever awarded the rank of 10th Dan slipped in and out of sleep.

“She said, her sensei wanted to see her,” Shepherd recalled. This was Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, who taught Fukuda at the Kodokan and set her on a path to spread judo throughout the world. To that end, she moved to the United States in 1966. Also calling to her was Hachinosuke Fukuda, her grandfather, who taught Kano jujitsu.

“And I said, ‘No sensei, I don’t want you to go yet.’”

Services were held Friday in San Francisco for Fukuda. Shepherd left Sunday for Tokyo to return Fukuda’s ashes to a family plot in a cemetery there. Half of the ashes will remain in San Francisco.

Between 300 and 400 admirers, friends and students attended the service at the Herbst Theater. A Buddhist priest offered prayers and about judo leaders and close friends, including Shepherd and U.S. Olympic Silver Medalist Kevin Asano, spoke about the woman who inspired them. Other services are planned in Tokyo.

There is still work to be done that Fukuda began, some of it never ending, said Shepherd, including the guidance of her motto: to “be strong, be gentle, be beautiful.” Fukuda taught that if we are strong and gentle, said Shepherd, “you look so beautiful, inside of the body and outside of the body.”

 Trailers to the documentary titled after the motto, “Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful,” can be found at

And Shepherd intends to continue work to grow the Keiko Fukuda Joshi Judo Camp,, scheduled June 14 – 16 at San Jose State University. The camp is designed for women to gather and help each other in their sport.

When Fukuda was awarded the rank of 10th Dan by USA Judo in the summer of 2011, she was quoted, “This is a dream come true.” She passed away Feb 9. She was 99 years old.

The work of Sensei Fukuda “will be existing, alive forever,” said Shepherd.

By Ernest Pund, USA Judo Communications