If you have tuned in to the Olympics, you have possibly glimpsed scenes from the numerous levels of the women’s Judo competition. While Judo has been part of the Olympic games since 1964, a women’s division has only been included since 1988 – and then only because of the dedication of Judo’s Jewish mama.

Brooklyn born Rusty Kanogoki (Rena Glickman 1935-2009) discovered Judo in her early adulthood. Life so far had not been easy for her, and she found order for herself through the disciplined focus necessary to master this martial art. And she was good at it.

In 1959, Rusty discovered that as successful as she was at her local dojo (training studio), women were not particularly welcome at tournaments. She won a YMCA competition without having revealed her gender, but the gold medal was rescinded when it was discovered that she was a woman.

In 1962, Rusty traveled to Japan to further her Judo studies at the Kodokan Institute and became the first woman allowed to train on the men’s level. When she returned to the United States, Rusty began training others and directing tournaments. She organized the first female world championship, held in Madison Square Garden in 1980, by mortgaging her home.

By now Rusty was aiming to include women’s Judo in the Olympics. Her first success was the inclusion of women’s Judo as a demonstration sport at the 1988 Seoul Olympic. It became an official sport at the 1992 Barcelona games.

Rusty Kanokogi was the first woman to reach the 7th dan (advanced level) in Judo. She was awarded Japan’s highest civilian honor: the Order of the Rising Sun (4th class) and was inducted into both the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. She passed away in November 2009, a few months after the New York State YMCA awarded her a gold medal for her lifetime achievements – a replacement for the one they had refused to give her at her first competition.

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