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The name of Masahiko Kimura is inscribed in golden letters in the annals of judo. However, this person’s relationship with this sport did not always develop smoothly.

Kimura has won the Japanese Championship three times. At the age of 30, he received the 7th dan, which was eventually taken away from him after a conflict with the leadership Kodokan< /a> prompted by Kimura's desire to become a professional wrestler. In addition, Kimura refused to return the flag of the All Japan Judo Championship and, which was completely unacceptable to Japanese sports officials, began to assign dans on his own behalf. But first he was a diligent student...

Masahiko Kimura was born on September 10, 1917 in the Japanese city of Kumamoto. Masa, as his peers called him, started practicing judo at the age of ten. The reason was the resentment that the boy harbored against his school teacher. Once he hit Masu when he was playing around. And the young Masahiko Kimura decided to take revenge on the offender. He learned that the teacher is the owner of 1 dan in judo. And I thought: "If I have the 2nd dan, then I will surely be able to defeat the offender." And soon he entered the dojo (a place where martial arts are practiced in Japan, a gym) near the school. 

Masahiko Kimura
 Masahiko Kimura in his youth. Photo:

The boy was so captivated by judo that he quickly showed excellent results. In 1932, when Masa was 15 years old, he became the owner of a brown belt. In the same year, Kimura passed the exam for the 1st dan, and the next year he received the 2nd dan. But the athlete's soul demanded more - soon he went to Kyoto to get ... 3rd dan. 

In addition to judo technique, he even had to pass a written exam, but in theory, young Mosahiko turned out to be completely helpless. The time for preparation was almost up, and he still had no answers. Then Kimura simply grabbed a sheet of answers from a neighbor who was also preparing for the exam and signed it with his name. What he later regretted very much, recalling this incident as one of the most shameful pages in his life. However, in the end, he became the owner of 3 dan. 

In the summer of 1933, the young man defeated four owners of 3 dan and six owners of 4 dan in competitions. As a result, Kimura received 4 dan and ... fame, because throughout Japan, students in grade 10 with 4 dan could be counted on the fingers.  In one year, Kimura rose from brown belt to 4th dan. This, of course, was a great result!

There are no victories without defeats

But in Kimura's brilliant career as a judoka, there were also unfortunate defeats - there were four of them in total. And all of them happened in 1935, when Masa entered the preparatory course at the university.

At the age of 18, Kimura became the youngest judoka in Japan to receive the 5th dan. He defeated eight opponents in a row in the Kodokan competition in "red vs white" duels. However, when Masa began to fight with the 9th opponent, his strength almost left him and he lost. True, there were so many victories that he was unconditionally awarded 5 dan.  

In Kimura's brilliant career as a judoka, there were and unfortunate defeats - there were four in total. Photo:

With joyful news, he returned to his sensei Tatsukuma Ushijima, but instead of praise, he received several slaps from him. In Japan at that time, some teachers allowed a similar style of communication with students - it was more likely not a forceful punishment, but an emotional one. Sensei said to Kimura, “Shiai (competition) is like a real duel with a real bushi (warrior). Either you win or you die. To throw the enemy means to neutralize the enemy. To be defeated means to die. You defeated eight people, but the ninth one killed you. Remember, if you dedicate your life to judo, you will only survive if you win all the time. Or at least bring the fights to a draw. And it doesn't matter how many strong opponents you meet.” 

It was another harsh and tough enough lesson. Of course, his teacher was too emotional when he said that Kimura should not lose - this happens even with the most outstanding athletes. But the sensei considered himself a real samurai, and among the samurai, losing a fight was equated with death.

In addition to judo, Kimura also practiced karate for some time. One day, before his first participation in a karate championship, he visited a karate club at the university and was amazed at how punches are practiced on a makiwara (an exercise machine, which is a bundle of straw attached to an elastic board dug into the ground). He noticed that students strike by clenching their fists in such a way that the thumb covers the index and middle fingers. As a result, there is no relaxation of the fist during impact. Judoka at that time usually used four fingers when grabbing, which made it very difficult to hold the opponent's kimono.  

Kimura fights Gracie
Masahiko Kimura during the fight. Photo:

Kimura understood the importance of the thumb in wrestling, but he it took a while to relearn and do five-finger grips. To strengthen his hand, he began to practice regularly on the makiwara. At first, he endured the exercise painfully, but after three months of training, he felt that he was finally starting to automatically grab the whole brush. Kimura practiced punches with the edge of his hand, the back of his fist, and jabbed his fingers into the sand—a thousand repetitions a day. The arms became strong as steel, Kimura wrote in his book. He studied the Shotokan style for two years under the guidance of master Gichin Funakoshi. And then he took up the style of Goju-ryu under the guidance of So Neychu, a student of the legendary karate master Chojun Miyagi. And even became an assistant instructor - along with the famous Masutatsu Oyama, who later created the famous contact style of karate - Kyokushinkai, and also became the prototype of the heroes of several films. in judo. And he did not know defeat. 

Three-time champion

In autumn 1937, the VII All-Japan Judo Championship was held in the Kodokan. In the first two fights, Kimura defeated the 5th dan holders: both of them with his favorite o-soto-gari - throwing the opponent over the thigh. In the final, he met with Masayuki Nakojima - he also had 5 dan. The name of this judoka thundered all over Japan in those years. His height was 182 cm, and his weight was 100 kg. Kimura could not do anything with his opponent - so the judokas ran one after another across the tatami, trying to get away from the throws. Several times they flew out of the border of the tatami, falling on the chairs on which the journalists were sitting. The rivals were so tired that both were almost on the verge of losing consciousness, but they never earned a single evaluation point. And then an extra round was assigned.  

Masahiko Kimura
To increase his stamina, Kimura trained nine hours a day day. Photo:

Nakojima and Kimura were barely on their feet, their kimonos soaked with sweat. When the judoists were given time to rest, Kimura noticed that his opponent was actively massaging his legs. And I realized where the weak point of the enemy. As soon as the signal was given to resume the fight, he rushed to the feet of Nakojima, knocked him over and held the hold. The fight, which lasted 40 minutes, ended - Kimura became the champion of Japan.

Then Masahiko thought that this victory was a pure accident: he won only because he was younger and more enduring than his opponent. Can he repeat the victory? Maybe not, the thought crossed my mind. And since then, the desire to win fights every time has turned into an obsession - he no longer wanted to give the title of the best judo wrestler to anyone.

But how to do it, Masahiko thought, because there are so many great wrestlers around him, they are full  strength, determination and desire to win back the title from him. Then he decided to increase the training load and began to work out for nine hours a day. Masahiko Kimura kept his word to himself and won two more Japanese judo championships, becoming a three-time Japanese champion.

Difficult years

When Kimura graduated from university, he again began to study at the Kodokan, where he worked his favorite reception o-soto-gari. He usually trained alone. His sparring partner was often... a tree that the athlete tried to throw over the thigh with an elastic rope. Every day for many hours in a row, Kimura practiced his favorite technique. After several months of hard training, he honed his favorite move so much that during the randori practice bouts in the Kodokan, opponents began to get injured from him. Many of them even began to ask him not to use the "killer" o-soto-gari on them.

In the spring of 1940, Kimura was chosen to participate in the Ten-Ran Shiai championship, which was attended by the emperor. He successfully reached the final where he faced Takahiko Ishikawa. The rivals fought each other on the tatami before - and twice ahead of schedule defeated Kimura. This time the duel turned out to be stubborn, but again short. Kimura finished off his opponent in less than a minute. And became the champion of the tournament.  

Masahiko Kimura
Kimura trains young judoists. Photo:

It was 1942. The Second World War thundered in the world, in which Japan also participated. In January 1942  Masu was drafted into the army - into the air defense troops (air defense). 

Once, in the unit where Kimura served, the owner of the 8th dan jukendo, the art of bayonet fighting, came to demonstrate the techniques. It was believed that no one in Japan knew how to handle a rifle in hand-to-hand combat better than him. All the soldiers of the military unit were gathered on the field, where the master explained the basics of jukendo, and then asked who wants to work in sparring. There were no applicants. And then the captain called Kimura's name. 

The fight began. Kimura, who had never held a wooden rifle in his hands before, faked a blow, and then delivered another one - he tried with all his might to hit the enemy in the face. But the master declined. And then the judoist went on the attack again - he threw himself at the opponent's feet and made a hard throw to the ground. The captain did not let him “finish off” the enemy, and the jukendo master left with his head down. He was defeated and disgraced. 

Kimura was lucky - he never took an active part in the hostilities. When Japan lost the war, a lot of American soldiers appeared in the country. Among them was a black boxer named T, a hero under 100 kg of weight. It was he who gave Masahito Kimura another lesson in sportsmanship. 

Kimura once practiced with him. And in sparring he picked up so many blows that he very quickly realized that boxing is also an art of fighting, professional boxers must be respected. 

Masahiko decided to include boxing in his arsenal of techniques, so he asked the American to train him. However, the US Marine trainer turned out to be so-so - he was very careless and rude, instead of training, the Japanese judo champion received only bruises and bumps. Once, this state of affairs tired Masahiko himself: once he blocked another opponent’s blow with his left hand and was about to throw the American on the mats with all his might, but he suddenly yelled plaintively: “No, no need for judo.” And the generous Kimura carefully laid the boxer on the mats. After this incident, training with the Marine became much more interesting.

In 1947, Kimura won the Western Japan Judo Championship, and two years later, in 1949, the All Japan Judo Championship. With this, Kimura's sports career as an amateur judoist ended and the career of a professional judoist began.

Fight to survive

Masahito Kimura chose the path of a professional wrestler. However, it just so happened that interest in professional judo in Japan was gradually fading away, and with it the fees were also decreasing. And then suddenly Masahiko's wife fell ill with tuberculosis. We needed money for her treatment. Kimura resigns from the police force, and Yamoguchi introduces him to a Japanese immigrant to the United States. He taught judo in Hawaii. It was with him that Kimura signed a contract for three months: he fought with everyone, having 10 fights in a row. 

Later, in 1951, Kimura made acquaintance with a professional promoter who offered him a new contract . He managed to pay for his wife's treatment, but inside this man was a fighter who longed for trials - that's why he went to Brazil at the invitation of a local newspaper. To demonstrate his skills again and get paid for it.  

Kimura and Gracie
Masahiko Kimura and Elihu Gracie. Photo:

In Brazil, the employer liked Kimura and several other judo masters so much that he became generous and paid the wrestlers three times more promised. And it was in Brazil where the paths of Masahiko Kimura and Eliu Gracie, one of the founders of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school, Eliu Gracie, crossed.

20,000 spectators came to the duel of these two martial artists, mostly Gracie fans. They adored their idol and dragged a real coffin into the hall for Kimura, believing that Gracie would kill him during the duel. However, the fight did not go according to the script of Gracie fans. During the fight, Kimura methodically threw his opponent using his favorite tricks, but he could not manage to defeat Elihu only with the help of throws. In the end, the fight went to the ground. Kimura continued to dominate. At the thirteenth minute of the fight, he applied one of his favorite painful techniques ("reverse hand knot"), but Gracie did not give up. As a result, his elbow was injured, and the radius and ulna were broken. And at that moment, Gracie's seconds "thrown in the towel" - the great Brazilian fighter admitted defeat. 

Kimura ended his professional career in 1960  and focused on teaching judo at Takushoku University. This man has trained several world-class judokas who have successfully competed at the Olympics.



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