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Black Belt Judo Pioneer

98-year-old woman achieves highest martial arts honor

98-year-old Black Belt Judo

Photo by Lance Iversen/San Francisco Chronicle/Polaris

Sensei Keiko Fukuda, 98, teaches judo in San Francisco.

At San Francisco's 23rd annual Keiko Fukuda judo tournament, kicking off this month, its 98-year-old namesake will be celebrated as the first woman to achieve judo's highest level — 10th-degree black belt. Says the 4-foot-10, 100-pound granddaughter of a samurai: "My motto is, 'be strong, be gentle, be beautiful.' " That's also the title of a film documentary about her scheduled to debut in early 2012. "She's making the impossible possible for women to go farther in the martial arts world," says Shelley Fernandez, 80, a brown belt and manager of the Soko Joshi Judo Club where Fukuda still teaches.

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