The Los Angeles premiere of “Mrs Judo: Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful,” a documentary by Yuriko Gamo Romer, will be presented on Saturday, Nov. 16, at 2 p.m. at the Japanese American National Museum, located at First Street and Central Avenue in Little Tokyo.

Keiko Fukuda was the last surviving student of Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo.
Keiko Fukuda, pictured at her dojo for women in San Francisco, was the last surviving student of Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo.

“Mrs Judo” is a poignant film that captures the late Keiko Fukuda as she reflects on her life and the choice she made to defy thousands of years of tradition, follow her own path, and ultimately become judo history’s only woman to attain the pinnacle 10th degree.

Intrigued by a short article on Fukuda in Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine, Romer walked the few blocks from her home to the Soko Joshi Dojo in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood. Upon observing the judo practice at the women’s dojo, she recalls, “From the moment I saw her I could sense a presence, one that commanded attention.”

After they first met, Romer was invited to Fukuda Sensei’s home for tea and learned about her remarkable life.  “I think it was my destiny to make this film, especially when I recognized so much destiny in Fukuda’s life.”

Romer was able to show the film to Fukuda and her students before her passing last February at the age of 99. The filmmaker cherishes the moment of gratitude when Sensei grasped both of her hands and with tears in her eyes, thanked her. “I think she knew that through the film, her life mission would live on beyond her. Now I feel it is my job to introduce her inspiration and wisdom to as many people as possible.”

As part of the Mrs. Judo Community Engagement series, the L.A. program will include a live demonstration of “Ju-no-kata,” Fukuda’s signature form. Following the screening, Romer, Hal Sharp of Gardena Judo Club and Kenji Osugi of Sawtelle Judo Dojo will discuss the cultural traditions and relations that continue from Japan to the U.S. through judo. The demonstration will be performed by Robin Fernandez and Charmaine Galvez of La Mirada Judo, with narration by Greg Fernandez.

Filmmaker Yuriko Gamo Romer and Keiko Fukuda.
Filmmaker Yuriko Gamo Romer and Keiko Fukuda.

Sharp, while serving in the U.S. Army and stationed in occupied Japan, became intrigued by the rigorous judo training at the Kodokan headquarters in Tokyo. He returned to Japan in 1952 to study judo, establishing judo clubs at Johnson Air Force Base and Shiroi Air Force Base and participating in 20 goodwill tournaments, numerous competitive tournaments, and several exhibitions.

Sharp reflects on his training: “When I came back to the U.S., I felt an obligation to teach because I knew that what those masters who taught me were trying to do was to create a cultural bridge between Japan and the United States of America. It was not about the technique of a martial art called judo…there was more to it. It was about bringing cultures and bringing people together.”

Osugi carries on the legacy of the Sawtelle Judo Dojo, which was founded in 1927 and remains one of the oldest judo schools in the United States. Initially established for the small Japanese American farming community in West Los Angeles, the dojo proudly received a historic visit in 1933 by Kodokan Judo’s founder, Jigoro Kano.

Having been first introduced to judo by his father at a young age, Osugi helped to continue the dojo as the Japanese American community was rebuilding after World War II. In addition to his role as head instructor, he provides instruction at UCLA and serves on the U.S. Judo Federation Board of Directors, and as judge and referee for USJF and USA Judo.

A loyal advocate and longtime judo instructor, his father Ed Osugi explains, “The dojo gives back a lot – raising the kids to become good citizens, respecting elders, and keeping up the culture as Japanese Americans.”

The event is free to JANM members or with museum admission. For reservations or information, email or call (213) 625-0414.  The “Mrs Judo” DVD with bonus features will be available for signing and sale at the retail price of $29.95.

On the Web:

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *