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Masahiko Kimura
Career Snapshot
Born September 10, 1917
Total Fights Unknown
Won Unknown
Lost Unknown
Drew Unknown
Tournaments Won
  • All-Japan Collegiate Championships (1935)
  • 7th All Japan Judo Championship (1937)
  • 8th All Japan Judo Championship (1938)
  • 9th All Japan Judo Championship (1939)
  • Ten-Ran Shiai tournament (1940)
  • 1947 West Japan Judo Championship
  • 1949 All Japan Judo Championship

 was a Japanese judoka (Judo practitioner) who is widely considered one of the greatest judoka of all time. Kimura (5ft 7in 170 cm; 85 kg, 187lb) was born on September 10, 1917 in Kumamoto, Japan. The reverse ude-garami arm lock, is often called the "Kimura", due to a famous victory by Masahiko Kimura.


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 entered 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 Chojun Miyagi) and finally became an assistant instructor, along with Gogen Yamaguchi and Masutatsu Oyama in his dojo. In his Autobiography, Kimura attributes the use of the makiwara (a karate training implement) as taught to him by So Neichu and his friend and training partner Masutatsu Oyama, as being a significant contributor to his consequent tournament success. He began using the makiwara daily prior to his first All Japan success and never lost another competition bout.

Kimura vs. Hélio Gracie

Kimura vs Gracie –
his winning "Kimura lock."
The headline reads:
"(moral) Victory for Helio Gracie."

In 1955 Kimura defeated Hélio Gracie of the famous Gracie Jiu Jitsu family in a submission judo match held in Brazilmarker. 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, Helio proved to be tougher than he looked and Kimura was not able to knock him out with throws, although in the 1994 interview with Nishi (cited below) Gracie admitted that he had been rendered unconscious very early in the bout by a choke, although Kimura released the choke and continued the bout. Kimura dominated Gracie by using techniques 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 and had his elbow dislocated as well as the radius and ulna bones broken. Gracie's corner had no choice but the finally throw in the towel, something many say they should have done much earlier but perhaps had been under instructions from Gracie not to do so. It is said that Kimura was so impressed by Helio's technique that he invited Helio to teach at the Imperial Academy of Japan.

As a tribute to Kimura's victory, the reverse ude-garami technique he used to defeat Gracie, 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."

Kimura in Professional Wrestling

In the early 1950s, Kimura was invited by Rikidōzan to compete as a professional wrestler. They performed both as tag team partners and as opponents, but Kimura was not marketed or publicized as much as Rikidōzan, primarily due to Rikidōzan's own opposition (Rikidōzan was actually Zainichi Korean, and thus he reportedly felt conflicted or insecure about having a real Japanese in competition with him for publicity ). The Rikidōzan 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 Rikidōzan, whether it was premeditated or in the heat of the moment, shot (began fighting for real) on Kimura and 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 Rikidōzan. 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 organization 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 several ten yakuza are on their way to Tokyo to kill Rikidozan."

On December 8, 1963, while partying in a Tokyo nightclub, Rikidōzan was stabbed with a urine-soaked blade by gangster Katsuji Murata who belongs to Bōryokudan 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 vs. Valdemar Santana

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 of lung cancer at age 75.


  1. Jim Chen, Theodore Chen. The Man Who Defeated Helio Gracie. July 3, 2003.
  2. Andrew Lundy, John Molinaro, Dan Tavares. Japanese Athletes. CBC Sports. November 15, 2006.
  3. Lawrence Eng. Grappling: Fact and Fiction. October 7th, 2000.
  4. Jim Chen M.D. Masahiko Kimura Biography
  5. Masahiko Kimura Excerpt from My Judo 1984.


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