September 10, 1917 – April 18, 1993
Kimura was a Japanese judoka (Judo practitioner) who is widely considered one of the greatest judoka of all time. Kimura (5ft 7in 170cm; 85 kg, 187lb) was born on September 10, 1917 in Kumamoto, Japan.
At age 16, after six years of judo, Kimura was promoted to 4th dan. He had defeated six opponents (who were all 3rd and 4th dan) in a row. In 1935 at age 18 he became the youngest ever godan (5th degree black belt) when he defeated eight consecutive opponents at Kodokan (headquarters for the main governing body of Judo). Kimura’s remarkable success can in part be attributed to his fanatical training regimen. He reportedly lost only four judo matches in his lifetime, all occurring in 1935. He considered quitting judo after those losses, but through the encouragement of friends he began training again. All through the nights, he practiced osoto gari, a basic leg throw, against a tree. After six months, his technique was such that daily randori or sparring sessions at various dojos resulted in 10 people with concussions. Fellow students frequently asked him not to use his unorthodox osoto gari. At the height of his career, Kimura’s training involved a thousand push-ups and nine-hours practice every day. He was promoted to 7th dan at age 30, a rank that was frozen after disputes with Kodokan over becoming a professional wrestler, refusing to return the All Japan Judo Championship flag, and issuing dan ranks while in Brazil. Kimura also studied karate in his pursuit of martial arts, believing that karate would strengthen his hands. First he trained what today is known as Shotokan karate under its founder Gichin Funakoshi for two years, but eventually switched to training goju-ryu karate under So-Nei Chu (a pupil of Goju-ryu karate legend Gogen Yamagushi) and became an assistant instructor in his dojo.
In October 1935 Kimura won his first major title, the All-Japan Collegiate Championships. He won the tournament with Deashi Harai, Ude-garami, Osoto-otoshi, Osoto-gari, Ude-garami, and Kuzure-Kamishiho-gatame. At the very same tournament 2 years later (the tournament was held every two years) Kimura again won in an impressive fashion. His six wins were with Osotogari (three times), Ude-garami, Kuzure-Kamishiho-Gatame, and Ippon Seoinage. Kimura was the first student allowed to compete in the professional division at the All Japan Judo Championships held in October 1937.
Kimura defeated his first two opponents here with Osotogari. Eventually he made his way to the finals against Masayuki Nakajima (5th dan , 27 years old, 170cm, 82kg), a two time champion. In the first 15 minutes of the 40 minute match neither scored a decisive point. In the second period Kimura scored a Waza-ari with Ipponseoinage. Kimura had felt he had won the match and relaxed ever so slightly. Nakajima reacted immediately with left Ken-ken Uchimata and also scored. The second period ended with the two at a draw with waza-aris. In the last 10 minute period Nakajima was taken down where Kimura applied Kuzure-Kamishiho-Gatame and won the championship.
After the victory Kimura slapped his face to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. That night he had a very large meal of 13 bowls of rice. When reporters questioned Kimura about his big win he told them that winning his first All Japan Title was his most memorable experience. Even the night after the tournament Kimura was again training. He did 500 push ups, bunny hop 1km, and 500 karate chops before he went to bed. He did not sleep well that evening. Rather he kept reliving the moments of his championship match. He was troubled by the fact that he had lost a waza-ari by ken ken Uchimata. He felt this could have easily been ruled ippon in the other fighter’s favor. Therefore Kimura concluded that to maintain his title for the next 10 years he would have to train harder than the other judoka. Kimura trained 9 hours a day and did 1000 push-ups compared to 3-4 hours and 300 push ups of his rivals.
Kimura was also victorious at the All Japan Championships held on October 16-17, 1938 at Kodokan. In the preliminary round Kimura won with Ouchigari for ippon. In the Semi-final he fought Tashiro, who was known for his kanibasami. Tashiro tried his kanibasami many times but with no effect. Kimura attacked with a powerful osotogari which injured Tashiro’s right shoulder. In the final match Kimura met Ogawa (180cm 110kg). Ogawa had defeated the runner-up from last year Nakajima by decision. Ogawa attacked with the Uchimata unsuccessfully, but both of them fell to the mat. Kimura immediately moved to pin Ogawa with Kuzure-kamishiho-gatame.
At the 1939 All Japan Championships Kimura won with Osoto-gari, Osoto-otoshi, Osoto-makikomi, and Tsuri-komi goshi. In the Semifinal round he defeated Ochi 5th dan with Osoto-otoshi. In the final match he fought Tokizane 5th dan. Kimura told Tokizane before the match that he was going to throw him with Osoto-gari. During the fight Tokizane was extremelly defensive. Kimura circumvented the defenses with a Osoto-gari to Osoto-otoshi combination. With this last victory Kimura had won the last 3 consecutive All Japan Championships and was awarded with the Championship Flag. Kimura is the only person in the world to ever possess the flag.
In 1955, Kimura, at 38 years old, participated in a match in which he defeated Helio Gracie of the famous Gracie Jiu Jitsu family in a submission judo match held in Brazil. During the fight, Kimura threw Gracie repeatedly with Ippon Seoinage (one arm shoulder throw), Osoto Gari (major outer reap) Kimura’s signature throw. He threw Helio 3 times with Osoto Gari., Ouchi Gari (major inner reap), Uchimata (inner thigh throw), and Harai Goshi (sweeping hip throw). Kimura reportedly threw Gracie repeatedly in an effort to knock him unconscious. However, the floor of the fighting area was apparently too soft to allow this to happen. Kimura also inflicted painful, suffocating grappling techniques on Gracie such as kuzure-kamishiho-gatame (modified upper four corner hold), kesa-gatame (scarf hold), and sankaku-jime (triangle choke). Finally, thirteen minutes into the bout, Kimura positioned himself to apply a reverse ude-garami (arm entanglement, a shoulderlock). Gracie refused to submit, even after his arm broke, forcing Kimura to continue the lock on Gracie’s broken arm. At this point, Carlos Gracie, Helio’s older brother, threw in the towel to end the match to protect his brother’s health. In 1994, Helio admitted in an interview that he had in fact been choked unconscious earlier in the match, but had revived when Kimura released the choke.
As a tribute to Kimura’s victory, the reverse ude-garami technique has since been commonly referred to as the Kimura lock, or simply the Kimura, in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and, more recently, mixed martial arts circles.
Kimura describes the event as follows:
“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.”
In the early 1950s, Kimura was invited by sumo Rikidozan (Kim Sin-nak) to compete as a professional wrestler. They were to perform as both tag team partners and as opponents, but Kimura was not marketed or publicised as much as Rikidozan, primarily due to Rikidozan’s own opposition (Rikidozan was actually Zainichi Korean, and thus he reportedly felt conflicted or insecure about having a real Japanese in competition with him for publicity). The Rikidozan vs. Kimura match for the Japanese Professional Wrestling Heavyweight title was the first high-profile match between two native professional wrestlers. The match, according to Kimura, was supposed to go to a draw and set up a series of rematches. But Rikidozan, whether it was premeditated or in the heat of the moment, began fighting for real on Kimura. He battered him unconscious with a series of open hand strikes, punches, and kicks (some of which were to the groin), and won the match by knockout. Kimura never received a rematch with Rikidozan. Kimura describes the events as follows:
“In November 1951, I founded Kokusai Pro Wrestling Association. After I came back from US doing pro wrestling matches, I did pro wrestling shows throughout Japan. In those days, Rikidozan also started a new organisation called Japan Pro Wrestling Association. So, mass media started to talk about Kimura vs Rikidozan match. I met with Rikidozan and asked his opinion. He said, “That is a good idea. We will be able to build a fortune. Let’s do it!” The 1st bout was going to be a draw. The winner of the 2nd will be determined by the winner of a paper-scissors-stone. After the 2nd match, we will repeat this process. We came to an agreement on this condition. As for the content of the match, Rikidozan will let me throw him, and I will let him strike me with a chop. We then rehearsed karate chop and throws. However, once the bout started, Rikidozan became taken by greed for big money and fame. He lost his mind and became a mad man. When I saw him raise his hand, I opened my arms to invite the chop. He delivered the chop, not to my chest, but to my neck with full force. I fell to the mat. He then kicked me. Neck arteries are so vulnerable that it did not need to be Rikidozan to cause a knock down. A junior high school kid could inflict a knock down this way. I could not forgive his treachery. That night, I received a phone call informing me that ten yakuza were on their way to Tokyo to kill Rikidozan."
On December 8, 1963, while partying in a Tokyo nightclub, Rikidozan was stabbed with a urine-soaked blade by yakuza gangster Katsuji Murata who belongs to Boryokudan Sumiyoshi-ikka. He died a week later of peritonitis on December 15.
Kimura formed International Pro Wrestling Force (IPWF), a promotion based in his hometown of Kumamoto, as a local affiliate of The Japan Wrestling Association (JWA). Although JWA later took over operations, IPWF is remembered for being the first Japanese promotion to introduce Mexican Lucha Libre wrestlers. Some biographers note that his professional wrestling career began shortly after his wife was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and it is speculated by some that he began professional wrestling to pay for her medication. Indeed, the predicament was likely beyond the financial means of a police instructor, which was his paying job prior to professional wrestling.
Kimura went to Brazil again in 1959 to conduct his last Professional Judo/Wrestling tour. He was challenged by Valdemar Santana to a “real” (not choreographed) submission match. Santana was a champion in Gracie Jiujitsu and Capoeira. He was 27 years old, 6 feet tall, and weighed 205lb. Santana had twice fought Hélio Gracie and won, both fights lasting more than three hours. Kimura threw Santana with seoinage, hanegoshi, and osotogari. He then applied his famous reverse ude-garami (entangled armlock), winning the match. Santana requested a rematch under vale tudo rules—the first fight was apparently grappling only—and this time, the result was a draw after 40 minutes in a bout in which both competitors reportedly drew blood. Kimura fought this match despite having an injured knee, and was pressured by the promoter and police to fight against his doctors orders.
Kimura died in 1993 of lung cancer at age 75. Still hospitalised, shortly after surgery, he had started to do push-ups.