Judo master, 98, is of healthy mind and spirit

Keiko Fukuda, at the age of 98, continues to practice judo, an art she has honed for more than 70 years. While she is often confined to a wheelchair, following a health checkup in May, her doctor described her as healthy as can be.

According to her friend and caregiver, Shelley Fernandez, Fukuda has survived a number of health complications. She had a heart attack at the age of 76, prompting a triple bypass surgery. She was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 10 years ago. Her hand often shook, but one day the shaking stopped.
“I talked to a specialist and he told me the she had an inner stroke that paralyzed the Parkinson’s nerve,” said Fernandez. “If the stroke had gone even a millimeter in another direction, it would have been a normal stroke. It was a one in a billion sort of thing.”

Fukuda says she owes her health to judo. She spends her time thinking and writing about judo, as well as practicing it. She oversees classes at her women’s dojo in San Francisco’s Noe Valley three times a week. She changes into her gi and sits down on the mat to do stretching exercises with her students. Normally, after the exercises, Fukuda returns to her seat and oversees the dojo. However, on occasion, she stands up and gives demonstrations for her students.

“Judo is about the mind, body and spirit,” said Fernandez. “Sometimes the mind and spirit bypasses the body so that she can stand up. It’s a miracle.”
In August, Fukuda gained the rank of 10th degree black belt from a promotion by USA Judo. She is now referred to as shihan (grand master), instead of sensei (master) by her students. She became the first and only woman to achieve that ranking in the martial art’s history, and one of four people still alive in the world to hold that rank.

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