Masahiko Kimura Biography Introduction:
Back in 1951, Masahiko Kimura took on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
co-founder Helio Gracie
in a judo
/jiu jitsu submission
match in Brazil. Gracie was the smaller fighter in the bout, and a heavy underdog. If you had been at that fight in Brazil, a few things likely would've impacted you.
First, you would've marveled at Kimura's amazing ability to utilize Ippon Seoinage, a hand throwing technique, to put Gracie on his back. Next, you would've been marveled at Gracie's will to endure the pain and dominance of Kimura over the span of 12 plus minutes. And finally, you would've turned away and grimaced when Kimura sunk in a reverse ude-garami (arm entanglement, a shoulderlock), breaking his opponent's arm. Gracie won some fans that day, as he refused to give up, allowing the break to occur before his corner threw in the towel. That said, Kimura's fight ending move was re-named after him on that day, becoming the "Kimura".
Keep reading for the story on one of the greatest judokas of all-time.
Date of Birth and Lifespan:
Masahiko Kimura was born on September 10, 1917 in Kumamoto, Japan. He died on April 18, 1993 of lung cancer at the age of 75.
Early Martial Arts Background- A Prodigy in the Making:
Kimura was clearly on the rise in judo from early on. He was promoted to yondan (4th dan) at the age of 15 after only six years of practice. This was simply an amazing feat. In 1935, he became the youngest ever godan (5th degree black belt), after defeating eight opponents at the Kodokan Dojo. By age 20, he became the All Japan Open Weight Judo Champion, a title which he maintained in undefeated fashion for 13 years. Kimura trained under Tatsukuma Ushijima. He was known for his highly intense and difficult workouts, which at one point consisted of one thousand push-ups and nine-hours of practice daily.
Losses and Turning to Karate:
Kimura reportedly lost only four judo matches in his lifetime, all taking place in 1935. In and around that time, Kimura began training in karate
with Gichin Funakoshi
, believing that it would strengthen his hands. After two years with the Shotokan
founder, he switched to Goju Ryu
instruction under So-Nei Chu (a student of Chojun Miyagi), eventually achieving assistant instructorship with legends like Gogen Yamaguchi and Mas Oyama
in his dojo. In his biography, Kimura noted that the use of the makiwara (padded striking post he learned how to use with So-Nei Chu and Oyama) contributed significantly to his future tournament success. Along with this, his use of this coincided with his All Japan successes. He reportedly never lost another tournament bout afterwards.
Like the great Russian wrestler, Alexander Karelin, opponents literally feared being injured by Kimura. Kimura trained at Tokyo Police and Kodokan dojos, where many adversaries and training partners literally asked him to not use his osoto gari (a foot throwing technique).
You see, while training many of Kimura's opponents suffered from concussions and losing consciousness. So you can understand their caution.
7th Dan, Controversy, and Professional Wrestling:
Kimura was promoted to 7th dan at the age of 30- an amazing accomplishment- before that rank was frozen over disputes with Kodokan for becoming a professional wrestler, refusing to return the All Japan Judo Championship flag, and issuing dan ranks while in Brazil.
At the time, the east was still very much secretive of their arts with the west. Therefore, offering dan ranks in a South American country was somewhat of a no-no.
Describing His Match With Helio Gracie:
"20,000 people came to see the bout including President of Brazil. Helio was 180cm and 80 kg. When I entered the stadium, I found a coffin. I asked what it was. I was told, "This is for Kimura. Helio brought this in." It was so funny that I almost burst into laughter. As I approached the ring, raw eggs were thrown at me. The gong rang. Helio grabbed me in both lapels, and attacked me with O-soto-gari and Kouchi-gari. But they did not move me at all. Now it's my turn. I blew him away up in the air by O-uchi-gari, Harai-goshi, Uchimata, Ippon-seoi. At about 10 minute mark, I threw him by O-soto-gari. I intended to cause a concussion. But since the mat was so soft that it did not have much impact on him. While continuing to throw him, I was thinking of a finishing method. I threw him by O-soto-gari again. As soon as Helio fell, I pinned him by Kuzure-kami-shiho-gatame. I held still for 2 or 3 minutes, and then tried to smother him by belly. Helio shook his head trying to breathe. He could not take it any longer, and tried to push up my body extending his left arm. That moment, I grabbed his left wrist with my right hand, and twisted up his arm. I applied Udegarami. I thought he would surrender immediately. But Helio would not tap the mat. I had no choice but keep on twisting the arm. The stadium became quiet. The bone of his arm was coming close to the breaking point. Finally, the sound of bone breaking echoed throughout the stadium. Helio still did not surrender. His left arm was already powerless. Under this rule, I had no choice but twist the arm again. There was plenty of time left. I twisted the left arm again. Another bone was broken. Helio still did not tap. When I tried to twist the arm once more, a white towel was thrown in. I won by TKO. My hand was raised high. Japanese Brazilians rushed into the ring and tossed me up in the air. On the other hand, Helio let his left arm hang and looked very sad withstanding the pain."