Masahiko Kimura: The Man Who Defeated Helio Gracie

This Article originally appeared on The entire archive of information is now available on OntheMat.comMasahiko Kimura (1917-1993), judo 7th dan obtained at age 29, is undoubtedly the greatest Judoka to ever live. He stood 5’6″ (170 cm) tall and weighed 185 pounds (84kg).

Ultimate Fight in Brazil – 1951

Kimura became the All Japan Open Weight Judo Champion at age 20. He maintained this title for 13 years without suffering a single defeat during this period. In 1950 he left judo to become a professional Judoka and wrestler. In July 1951 Kimura and two other fellow Japanese Judoka were asked to compete in Brazil. Kimura at age 34 was accompanied by a 240 pound (110kg) college champion Yamaguchi (6th degree black belt at the time) and Kado (5th degree black belt). It was to be a Judo/Jiu-jitsu fight.

Kado accepted a challenge from Helio Gracie — Brazilian champion for 20 years. The loser was determined by tapping out due to a choke or armbar, or by being knocked out of commission. Ippon (clean powerful throws) or osaekomi (pinning) would have no effect on the results of competition. During Kado’s fight he threw Gracie several times. Gracie, who was in excellent condition, demonstrated ukemi, braking the throws with little injury. After 10 minutes of frustration, Kado decided to apply a choke. However, the masterful Gracie applied his own choke rendering Kado unconscious. With Kado’s passing-out, Gracie was declared the winner and became a national hero of Brazil!

Weeks later, Gracie challenged the remaining two team members, either Yamaguchi or Kimura, to a match. Yamaguchi refused for fear of injury, however Kimura accepted the challenge. There were 20,000 spectators present. A coffin was brought in by Gracie’s followers. Presumably, Kimura was to be killed by Gracie. On the day of the match, the President and Vice President of Brazil attended at ringside.

During the fight, Kimura threw Gracie repeatedly with ippon-seoi-nage [one arm shoulder throw], osoto-gari [major outer reap], and harai-goshi [sweeping hip/loin]. He also included painful suffocating grappling techniques such as kuzure-kamishiho-gatame [modified upper four corner hold], kesa-gatame [scarf hold], sankaku-gatame [triangle hold]. Gracie proved to be a formidable opponent refusing to surrender after 12 minutes of grueling fight. Kimura then took Gracie down with an osoto-gari followed by kuzure-kamishiho-gatame. During the battle that followed, Gracie bridged out of the pin and right into Kimura’s ude-garami (arm bar) [chicken-wing arm lock]. The arm bar must have been painful but when Gracie refused to surrender, Kimura applied yet more pressure, and as a result Gracie suffered a broken left elbow.

Even with the broken elbow, Gracie still refused to give up, so his corner “threw in the towel”. Kimura was declared the winner by TKO. Although Kimura won the actual fight, it was acknowledged that Gracie had the greater fighting spirit and will. Kimura later applauded Gracie’s tremendous will to win.

Kimura’s major Judo victories

Kimurawith Championship FlagsKimura was born on September 10, 1917 in Kumamoto Prefecture in Kyusu, Japan. He started to practice Judo at age 10. By the time he was a senior in High School, he had reached 4th dan. In 1935, he won his first title, the All-Japan Collegiate Championships. At the samc time he was promotcd to the 5th dan by defeating eight (8) consecutive opponents at Kodokan.

In October 1937, Kimura competed in All Japan Judo Championships. In his semi-finals, he won with Ippon using Osoto-gari in only a few seconds. Nakashima, a two-time champion was his final opponent. The match was scheduled for 40 minutes. In the first 15 minutes no one scored any decisive points. In the second pcriod Kimura scored a Wazari with Seoi-nage. Kimura felt that he had won the match, but Nakashima countered with left Uchimata. Thus, the second period was a draw. In the last 10 minute period, Nakashima was taken down where Kimura applied Kuzure-kami-shiho-gatame, After the 30 second pin, Kimura was declared the winner.

In 1938, at The 8th All Japan Judo Championship, Kimura made it to the fourth round match easily. His opponent was Tashiro. Tashiro was known for his excellent Kani-basami (now banned from use due the fact that even if applied correctly with speed and force, it most often results in a broken leg).

When the match started, Kimura threw Tashiro with Osoto-gari. The throw was so powerful that Tashiro hurt his right shoulder and was unable to continue. In the final match Kimura won by Ippon with Kuzure-kamishiho gataine over Ogawa.

The following year at the 9th All Japan Judo Championships, Kimura again made it to the fourth round easily. Here he defeated Tsuzimoto with Tsurikomi-goshi. He warned his final opponent, Tokizane, just prior to the match that he was going to defeat him using Osoto-gari. Ironically, Tokizane’s specialized favorite was also Osoto-gari. However, even his expertise was no match for Kimura. Tokizane took an extremely defensive posture at the start of the match. Kimura circumvented these defenses with an Osoto-gari and Osoto-otoshi combination. With the winning of this title, Kimura had won the last three All Japan Tournaments. For his winnings he was awarded the Championship Flag. He is the only person in the world to ever possess the flag.

Ten-Ran Shiai (1940)

Kimura’s next major win was in 1940 at the Ten-Ran Shiai. This was a special tournament held in the presence of Japan’s emperor. Kimura won the first match with Ippon using Ushiro-goshi. In the next two matches he won with Osoto-gari. His semi-final opponent was Hirosei. Hirosei was the champion in 1941. (Kimura was not present at that tournament, but in previous meetings, Kimura had won by Wazaris using Osoto-gari.) His first five attempts to throw Hirosei were unsuccessful. However, Hirosei tired, and Kimura defeated him by Ippon using Osoto-gari.

His final opponent Ishikawa was the champion in 1949 and 1950. (Kimura had defeated him with Osoto-gari and Tsurikomi-goshi in the past meetings.) This time Kimura defeated him decisively with Ippon Seoi-nage just 42 seconds into the match. The night before the final match Kimura could not fall asleep easily. He was pondering on how to defeat Ishikawa as quickly as possible. Kimura considered applying osoto-gari or sasae-tsuri-komi ashi.

Kimura decided to apply ippon-seoi-nage. From the previous fight with Ishikawa, Kimura expected that Ishikawa would try to get a right o-kuri-eri grip. Kimura planned to allow Ishikawa to get the grip. At the same time Kimura would apply ippon seoi-nage. Apparently the fighting strategy worked.

All-Japan Judo Championship (1948)

Yasuichi Matsumoto (6’3″/187 cm, 80 kg) became the champion on May 2, 1948 in the Kodokan’s All Japan Judo Championship. The first round he won by osoto-gari, second round by osoto-otoshi, and third round by osoto-maki-komi. In the quarterfinal round he won by osoto-gari. In the semifinals he fought to a draw with Yoshimatsu (winner then decided by a coin flip). In the final match, he beat Tokuharu Itoh by decision in three overtimes. Kimura was not invited due to his refusal to return the Prized championship flag.

On Nov. 1, 1948 at the 3rd National Athletic Judo Tournament held in Fukuoka, Yoshimi Osawa (6th dan, 5’5″, 68 kg), defeated Yasuichi Matsumoto by ura-nage. Osawa is considered to be one of the best technicians post WWII. He is currently 9th dan. Osawa is famous for ashi-harai and tsurikomi-goshi.

Wins against future greats

In 1947 at West Japan Judo Championship, Kimura went up against Yoshimatsu. Yoshimatsu was 5’11” (180 cm) and weighed 250 lbs (115 kg). The future three time All Japan Champion in 1952, ’53, ’55 was little challenge for Kimura. He defeated Yoshimatsu with Osoto-gari and Ippon-Seoi-nage, by Wazaris. Yoshimatsu later defeated future Olympic Champion, Anton Geesink, in 45 seconds with Uchimata in the 1st Worlds Judo Championships (1956). Anton from the Netherlands stood 6’7″ (197 cm) and weighed 213-264 lbs (97-120 kg). He was World Champion in 1961 and 1965 and also won the Gold in the Tokyo Olympics (1964).

All-Japan Judo Championship (1949)

Takahiko IshikawaAt age 32 Kimura competed in the All-Japan Judo Championships for the last time. He won in the first round with Ude-garmai. In the next round he pinned Osawa with Kuzure-kamishiho-gatame. In the semi-finals, he won by decision with Ippon-seoi nage. His final opponent was Takahiko Ishikawa, 6th dan and rival. Kimura was more aggressive, doing all the attacking.

However after three overtimes with neither scoring at least a Wazari, Mifune (10th dan), the referee, declared both of them champions.

San Bai Ro Rioku – Triple effort

Kimura’s weight training.The secret to Kimura’s success is called San Bai Ro Rioku. Under this belief, Kimura did 300 pushups daily in High School. In his University, Taku-Shoku, the number increased to 500. After obtaining his first victory, Kimura decided to start doing 1000 non-stop pushups to ensure his future victories. However, pushups were just a small part of Kimura’s hard practices. During his prime, he practiced 4 times a day, at least 6 hours every day. He trained at Taku-Shoku University, local clubs, the Kodokan, and police academies. Quite often he would practice against a tree, always at midnight. One time Wushi-Zima, a two time champion, was aroused by a commotion in the nearby woods. When he checked out the noise it turned out to be Kimura doing uchikomi against a tree. On another occasion when he observed Kimura’s strangely improvised uchikomi, Wushi-Zima asked “Are you still trying to kill that tree?”


Masahiko Kimura Sensei, the greatest Judo legend, passed away on April 18, 1993 of Lung Cancer at the age of 75.

Toshiro Daigo wrote “I had the opportunity to fight Kimura once at the 1947 Kyushu vs. Kansai individual meet. He let me attack him in the beginning, but threw me with Osoto-gari and pinned me. He was a powerful player.”

Osoto GariYosbimi Osawn wrote, “I competed against Kimura at the 1949 All-Japan, his last All Japan. Facing him in the second round, he beat me with kuzure-kamishiho gatame. I remember during practice sessions he would regularly throw me outside the mat onto the hardwood floors.”

Japanese famous writer Tomita (son of Tomita, 7th dan — one of the four Kodokan Guardians in the early Kodokan) praised Kimura as the best Judo player in the Showa era. Tomita wrote Kimura no mae ni Kimura naku, Kimura no ato ni Kimura nashi, meaning: there never was a player like Kimura before or since.

Approximately 25 years ago I wrote a letter to Kimura Sensei. To my surprise he replied immediately and also included details on how to master Osoto-gari. To me there is no doubt that he is the greatest and most humble Judo Legend of all time, We all miss him.

This page courtesy of Daniel Israel’s Judo page.

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Jim Chen M.D.