Fukuda was born into an upper-class samurai family in Tokyo, where the traditional path for women was to marry and bear children. But Fukuda’s life was predestined differently two generations earlier when her grandfather (a jiujitsu master) became the first teacher for Jigoro Kano, who then went on to develop a new era of martial arts by creating judo.
When she was 21, Fukuda was invited by judo’s founder, Jigoro Kano, to join the newly formed women’s division of the Kodokan (the home of judo). Kano was a visionary and encouraged women to throw one another around on judo mats at a time when most women dared not bare their legs. Kano’s untimely death in 1938 left female judo students at the mercy of the old-fashioned, sexist Kodokan Judo Institute for several decades.
During WWII, Fukuda braved the streets of firebombed Tokyo and commuted daily to teach her beloved judo classes. Kano had charged his students with going abroad and expanding the world of judo. Fukuda had already made a lifetime commitment to judo and took this on. Soon after the war ended, she was invited to the U.S. to teach judo. This opened up a new world for her and she taught judo to women and brought a skill level unmatched in the western world. She settled in San Francisco during the height of the women’s movement and soon opened her own judo dojo (studio). Fukuda became friends with one of her students, Dr. Shelley Fernandez, who was the president of NOW in San Francisco. Fernandez took on the cause of judo inequality for women and petitioned the Kodokan to promote Fukuda to 6th degree after she was frozen at 5th degree for 30 years. (1972) Forty years later she became one of only four living, to hold the rare honor of 10th degree.
Fukuda Sensei passed away on February 9, 2013. She was 99 years old, and had taught judo in San Francisco until just before her death. She was last disciple of judo’s founder, Jigoro Kano.