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A Brief History of Women in Judo - May 2019

“It’s Only Women’s Judo”

It is a very common phrase that is often thrown around in the Judo community and an easy way to dismiss the progress of women in Judo and Judo as a whole. I believe every Judo player should understand their sport’s history, especially women participating in this ancient art. The advancements women have made within Judo have been shockingly recent—and have yet to be widely shared as an impressive part of women’s history.

In 1882, Judo was first founded in Japan by Jigoro Kano. Kano’s vision was to create a sport that could be realistically utilized in actual self defense scenarios. “Judo” is a Japanese phrase meaning, “the gentle way”. Encapsulating the idea that the techniques were supposed to utilize the opponent’s strengths against them. Kano opened up his first dojo, the Kodokan, and one of the very first people he instructed in the techniques of Judo was his wife, Sumako Kano. Judo spread like wildfire through Japan after that and was first included in the Olympics in 1964. World Wars I and II helped the spread of Judo all over the world. Self defense was a major concern, especially amongst women stranded at home while the men and boys fought in the wars abroad. Though both genders were allowed to participate in Judo in most countries, competing was an entirely different matter. Up until this point, only men had been allowed to compete.

One of my idols, Rena (Rusty) Kanokogi, is a key reason why women can compete in the Olympics. I am appalled by the number of people in Judo that haven’t ever heard of her and

all she has done. You could say, Rena was a modern day Mulan story. Rena Kanokogi was a Jewish-American Judo player from Brooklyn, New York. In 1959, she disguised herself as a man and won a medal at the YMCA’s Men’s Judo Tournament. After confessing to being a woman, she was forced to give up her medal. She then traveled to Japan and became the first woman ever to be allowed to train with the men at the Kodokan. In 1980, she organized the first Women’s Judo world championships in Madison Square Garden Felt’s Forum and was able to pay for it by mortgaging her own home. By threatening to sue the International Olympic Committee, she succeeded in allowing women’s Judo to be showcased in the 1988 Olympics.

It is scary how recent it is that women weren’t allowed to compete alongside their male peers until the 1992 Summer Olympics. In some countries in the Middle East, women are just

now being allowed to practice Judo. Women’s Judo and Judo as a whole, has come such a long way but has a lot of room for growth. I believe it is our duty as elite athletes to help inspire more young girls and women to join our sport. Self defense is such an empowering thing to have and Judo serves as an amazing competitive outlet as well. As we continue to make an impact, women’s competition prizes will be forced to be as much as the men’s, the amount of funding will increase for women, and with more numbers, more women’s training camps and other unique opportunities can be offered to women as well as men.

I am excited for the future of Judo. Amazing Judo athletes in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the UFC are helping to popularize Judo to the masses. Women everywhere are becoming much more

involved in sports and exercise and it is so inspiring! Thanks to my sponsor SR CarnoSyn, I am working with Oxygen Magazine this spring on the #WomenStrong edition. All of the athletes I’ve met along the way had such amazing stories and great attitudes. As the youngest, I was given a very positive outlook of the future, seeing the women I was working with being from all different walks of life. They proved to me that a woman can be in any sport at any age or stage in her life. I hope that my presence in the magazine can help lead more women to take up Judo and regular exercise in general. My long-term goal as a Judo player is to inspire others to explore martial arts, study its history, learn self-defense, inspire their generation and the next to take it even further.

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