Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

GET UP & FIGHT: Memoir Of Rena “Rusty” Kanokogi, The Mother Of Women's Judo, Available June 1

GET UP & FIGHT: Memoir Of Rena “Rusty” Kanokogi, The Mother Of Women's Judo, Available June 1

Rusty Kanokogi grew up running the streets of Coney Island with her girl gang and hustling tourists up and down the boardwalk. Heading down a dark path, she was saved by the sport of judo. In 1959 she competed against a man and won, only to have her medal stripped from her for being a woman.

Twelve years after Rusty lost her battle to cancer, her daughter, Dr. Jean Kanokogi, decided to fulfill her mother's final wish, completing the memoirs they wrote together in Rusty's final days and sharing her incredible story of triumph over adversity.

Rusty was a fighter-for women, judo, and equality. Her career in the sport spanned more than fifty years, as a competitor, pioneer, national and international coach and referee, advocate, commentator and promoter. Early in her career, Rusty defied the rules of gender by competing with-and winning against-men. Too aggressive for the "women's groups" at the Y, Rusty was considered an exception to the male-dominated judo community; her boisterous energy and passion were tolerated, until she began to win. When she was swiftly banned from the competition arena based solely on her gender, she vowed to do all she could to ensure this would never happen to a female competitor again.

In her quest for women's inclusion in the sport, Rusty founded, organized and financed the first Women's World Judo Championships, held at Madison Square Garden in New York City on November 29 and 30, 1980, putting women's judo on the map and earning the United States the international women's level competition status required to qualify for inclusion in the Olympic Games. She has been recognized as "the mother of women's judo" for her inarguable contribution to the sport.

In her life, Rusty rose to the rank of seventh-degree black belt-the first woman ever to do so. In 2008 she was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette from the Emperor's Order of Japan for her lifelong contribution to the promotion of judo. Her ashes are interred in the Kanokogi Samurai family grave site in Kumamoto, Japan, marked with the epitaph "American Samurai."

A street in Brooklyn has been named Rena "Rusty" Kanokogi Way.

Jean is considered to be "the daughter of judo" as she spent her years on the mats with her Mom. She is a Senior Special Agent for the U.S. Government, a fifth degree black belt and highly respected sensei (teacher) of judo. Most notably, Jean was one of the original signers of the American Civil Liberty Union suit to fight for women's rights in the sport of judo. She mentors high-risk youth, earned her PhD (a promise to Rusty!) and serves on the evaluation committee for the Rusty Kanokogi Fund for the Advancement of US Judo, a scholarship program managed by the Women's Sports Foundation.

Available exclusively at

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes, and More from Your Favorite Broadway Stars

Related Articles View More Books Stories

More Hot Stories For You