SAN FRANCISCO -- With tiny, shuffling steps, 98-year-old Keiko Fukuda took a seat in a director's chair on the mat of her dojo, a storefront studio in an old Victorian at the corner of Castro and 26th.
This 4-foot-10, 100-pound granddaughter of a 19th-century samurai is the most revered woman in the history of judo.
In August, she became the only woman ever to attain the 10th dan, or highest degree black belt.
The honor is held by only three living men and achieved by only 15 men in the history of the sport as recognized by the Kodokan, judo's ruling body in Japan. Fukuda was awarded the distinction by USA Judo, the sport's governing body in this country. The Kodokan has not yet followed but awarded Fukuda the 9th dan in 2006, five years after she received that honor in the United States.
There are no formal regulations for promotion to 10th dan, but USA Judo called Fukuda "very deserving." Kodokan promotions are decided by the organization's president.
"It's no matter to me whether it's this rank or that rank, but I feel that it was an important thing to happen, and it was the wave of this generation that this honor was bestowed upon me," Fukuda said quietly through an interpreter before one of the classes she still oversees three times a week.
"I feel that the most important thing about it is it opens roads to other people, and for that I am grateful."