Rusty Kanokogi

The first woman allowed to train with male judo students at Japan’s judo headquarters, the Kodokan, Rena “Rusty” Kanokogi pioneered women’s judo as an Olympic sport. Kanokogi was raised on Coney Island, where she befriended the freak show attractions and led a girl gang called the Apaches. In 1955, a male friend showed her a judo throw. Rusty was hooked. She joined a judo class and in 1959 she won her first YMCA championship disguised as a man, but had to return the medal after admitting she was a woman. In 1962, she travelled to Japan, where she earned a second-degree black belt and met her future husband, Ryohei Kanokogi. A driving force behind the fight for Title IX, she spent decades fighting for public recognition of women’s judo, mortgaging her house to sponsor the first women’s judo championship at Madison Square Garden in 1980 and threatening to sue the Olympic Committee in 1988 to force them to include women’s judo. She went on to coach the women’s Olympic team that year. The first woman to earn a seventh–degree black belt, she was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun in 2008, and was buried in the Kanokogi clan’s tomb in Japan with the epitaph “American Samurai.”


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Rusty Kanokogi fought for women's judo to be an Olympic sport.
Courtesy of Jean Kanokogi

Date of Birth

Brooklyn, NY
United States

Date of Death
Athlete, Coach, Activist

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Rusty Kanokogi." (Viewed on August 11, 2020) <>.


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