She was tiny – 150 cm in height and 45 kg in weight – but Keiko Fukuda stood tall amidst the Pantheon of Judo greats. When she passed away in San Francisco at the age of 99, she was the last remaining connection to the roots of Judo, the founder, Jigoro Kano.
Fukuda was born of samurai stock in 1913, her father being Hachinosuke Fukuda, who was a master of jujutsu and Kano’s sensei. When Kano branched off and developed a new set of techniques and rules, he founded the discipline of Judo.
Judo in Japan has been a very male bastion since its inception. Judo associations in Japan have consistently been male dominated despite the rise of Japanese women judoka. But interestingly, Kano was a pioneer in gender equality, creating a women’s section of the Kodokan, the dojo Kano created in Tokyo. It was in 1926 when Kano started teaching judo to women, and in 1935, Fukuda was one of 24 women who trained at the Kodokan.
Fukuda was not only pioneering judo in Japan, she was doing so in America. She first traveled to America at the invitation of a judo club in Oakland, California in 1953, after she had achieved the highest rank a women could get – 5th dan. She taught judo for two years, and then came back to California 11 years later, eventually becoming the full-time judo instructor at Mills College, where she taught until 1978.
In the 1960s, the glass ceiling for female judo was the 5th dan. But Fukuda’s friend and former student, Dr. Shelley Fernandez, was the president of the National Organization for Women in San Francisco, she petitioned the Kodokan to promote Fukuda to 6th dan. It worked, and Fukuda, as well as another woman named Masako Noritomi, were the first women ever granted a 6th dan.
So advances in women judo was taking place. And yet, one lingering symbol of stubborn male dominance persisted – the white stripe that ran the length of the “obi” for women black belts. You can see that belt around the waist of Fukuda in this picture below. While the International Judo Federation abandoned the black belt with white stripe to differentiate women from men, the All Japan Judo Federation has stuck to its traditional guns.
“I’m tall, so I played volleyball. It was never a dream or a passion.”
It’s not what you’d expect to hear from an Olympian. But that’s how Yuko Mitsuya, member of the Japan woman’s volleyball team that took bronze at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, started off her speech at a charity event on February 23, 2016.
“I didn’t really like how tall I was. Volleyball was the only way to deal with this.”
One imagines someone who succeeds at the highest levels would be filled with passion for their accomplishment. But the 177 cm tall woman from Katsuyama, Fukui, was ever humble in a talk that was inspirational. Mitsuya was speaking at an event called “The Next Big Pivot Charity Dinner 2017” in Tokyo, raising funds to provide young Japanese women with an opportunity to learn about leadership in the sports industry. Last year, five women went to New York City to participate in a program called Future Frontwomen, which gave them in-depth exposure to how the NBA is run and how sports can be managed as business.
Those five women were present to hear Mitsuya explain that the path to success is not just fueled by passion, it is one of hard work, persistence and learning. Mitsuya, currently the chairperson of the Japan Basketball Association and the former CEO of a lingerie manufacturer, explained that she made the team because she was tall, but in her early junior high school days, she wasn’t very good. She worked at it, got better, and was able to contribute.
I wasn’t that good. I was really a problem to the team. I hated it, but this was all I could do. Over time I got better, and more confident. I realized that becoming good at something was not a matter of whether I liked it or not. It mattered whether I practiced. And I practiced every day, and learned. I tried very hard and eventually got recognized as the best junior high school women’s volleyball player in Fukui.
Her one big lesson for young women in Japan (and perhaps for anybody who desires to achieve) is that no matter how good you are, there’s always another level up. She succeeded as a volleyball player in junior high school in Fukui, but when she moved to Tokyo for high school, she realized that she still had a lot to learn.
I thought I was good, until I got to this next level. And I lost confidence. But my friends supported me and helped me recover my confidence as I improved. And that’s what’s important – always stepping up, going another level up. There is always an opportunity to rise up further. You do well and you get to the top, and you realize, there’s another level to climb. As I got used to achieving and stepping up, I could always improve. For women, young women, I believe there are lots of chances to step up. You shouldn’t let your pride get in the way, worrying whether you will achieve or not. You need to understand that getting to a certain level means re-setting your mindset and your goals, so that you climb to the next level.
Prior to Mitsuya’s retirement, the only life she had known was volleyball. But she took it to the next level by transitioning to teaching at the high school and university level. Three years after participating in CSR activities with the leadership of a lingerie company called Ten Arrows, she was named CEO of that company. That was a big step up.
When I became a company CEO, a lot of people said I was hired just because I’m a well-known person. But I want young women to realize that specialization in one area does not mean that you cannot do something else. You need to challenge yourself and try different things because there are common skills you can use in other types of work. Based on my experience in volleyball, I learned how to motivate people (which is important for company leaders). I learned another important lesson from sports, which is also important in companies: resilience. I encourage people to challenge themselves because you need the experience of overcoming issues. And if you fail, well, through failure you grow. More importantly, if you do not challenge yourself, you may regret not making the attempt.
Mie Kajikawa understands this. Kajikawa was first a basketball player at Nagoya University. She worked in sales for the Japan Travel Bureau in Nagoya, studied French in France for a month, spent a few years doing secretarial work for executives in foreign financial services firms in Tokyo until she realized what she wanted to do – study sports management in the United States. During her master’s program at Ohio University, she had a career-defining experience – an internship with the Detroit Pistons.
From that point on, the doors to NBA officials or relevant sports industry players, as well as sports associations in Japan opened up. Kajikawa went on to participate in Tokyo’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics (which eventually went to Rio), and founded the company, Cheer Blossom, Inc., which provides consultation in CSR to Japan’s professional basketball league – B. League. And when she established the non-profit organization, Next Big Pivot, she became a significant player not only in promoting the empowerment of women in sports business, but also advocating for the development of basketball in Japan.
If you are interested in learning more about Next Big Pivot and Kajikawa’s plans, click here.
The recent revelations of decades of child sexual abuse within USA Gymnastics has created a firestorm. The spotlight has given increased awareness to the fact that “six Olympic sport governing bodies have been beset over the years by allegations of mishandled complaints of abuse,” according to the Washington Post.
In other words, cases of sexual abuse by members associated with such organizations as USA Gymnastics, USA Swimming, USA Taekwando and U.S. Speedskating have been essentially hushed up over the years.
See this link for the first part of my posts on sexual abuse in USA Gymnastics.
And now the US Government is getting involved, and their sights are on the United States Olympics Committee (USOC). On February 21, 2017, Senator Diane Feinstein of California announced that she wants her colleagues to agree on an amendment to a federal law that governs Olympic sports organizations – The Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act. This law was passed in 1978 in order to have a single governing body (USOC) manage the various individual national sports organizations, as well as assist in the process of selecting Olympic team members.
But what has been recently understood is that when suspicions of abuse emerge, the USOC’s policy has been one of passivity and reactivity, and that language in the Ted Stevens Act“has been interpreted by lawyers to afford coaches suspected of sexual abuse more rights than they would have if they worked in other industries.”
The Ted Stevens Act requires an Olympic governing body give fair notice, due process and a hearing to any member athlete, coach, or official it wants to ban; requirements that have sometimes prevented governing bodies from banning coaches suspected of abuse. Other youth-serving organizations, such as the Boy Scouts of America, have policies requiring swift actions when abuse is suspected, always erring in favor of protecting children from harm.
Senator Feinstein’s objective is to re-write the law so that any governing body affiliated with an Olympic governing organization must report cases of sexual abuse immediately to law enforcement authorities, as well as prevent the common practice of rotating a suspected child abuser from one club to another without any official record.
On March 2, US senators put considerably more pressure on the chief executive of the USOC, Scott Blackmun, to provide greater detail about how the USOC has handled these allegations of sexual abuse. In a letter from Senator John Thune of South Dakota and Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas to Blackmun, they say they have “serious concerns about the extent to which the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) is meeting its mandate to protect the health and safety of athletes.”
“The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Olympic Charter shall be secured without discrimination of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” – Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter
Principle 6 was challenged by Russia in the lead up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics when:
a Russian judge would not allow construction of a Pride House, which is where athletes who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) can gather during an Olympic Games, and
a law was passed that banned “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” among minors, which was perceived to outlaw any reference to LGBT.
The associated homophobic violence in Russia and the uproar in media outside of Russia left the IOC wondering what they could do to give teeth to Principle 6. But it’s likely they only really started considering the seriousness of the situation when a group of over 50 current and former Olympians banded together to start a campaign asking the Russian government to reconsider the law on “gay propaganda”. They called this campaign, the Principle 6 Campaign.
The IOC got the message. According to The Guardian, the IOC established a new clause to the host city contract. So when a city bids for an Olympic Games, their bid mush show they are complying with this clause: “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement.”
Perhaps unfortunately, the host city contract did not have these “teeth” in 2007 when Sochi won the bid for 2014. But any city wanting to bid in the future have to show their country is not blatantly exercising discrimination.
Japan is not a country that blatantly discriminates. While it is considered one of the most meritocratic countries in the world, there are times when non-Japanese have various cultural or legal issues, or females wonder whether they are getting treated fairly. But it is subtle and discussion today is more common and open on the issues and how to improve them.
Which brings us to golf.
For the first time in history, Tokyo has a female governor, Yuriko Koike. In addition to taking a microscope to the ballooning Tokyo2020 budget, she poked the ribs of an organization that does not allow women to enjoy full membership – the Kasumigaseki Country Club. Under ordinary circumstances, it is unlikely that a governor would want to take on a private association over female membership as a top ten priority. But Japan will be hosting the 2020 Summer Games, and Kasumigaeki CC is slated to be the venue for golf. Suddenly, the country club became an easy target.
Because the governor can exercise what is known in Japan as “gai-atsu”, or the tactic of
Their incredible story of training and triumph are told impactfully in the documentary, Personal Gold. You can find a summary of their story at this link here. This post is about the amazing transformation sports performance sciences is undergoing, and how biometric data is making an impact on the training and performance of athletes today.
With incredibly little resources available to them, Reed called her former USA Cycling teammate, Sky Christopherson, who was well on the way of making a marked transition from athlete to entrepreneur. Christopherson had become convinced that digital medicine would become a vital tool for high performance athletes. Understanding how to uncover insight from big data is hugely important in marketing, financial services, economics, and is now a big part of health and human performance sciences.
Due to the relatively low support of the women’s cycling track team by USA Cycling, Christopherson recruited volunteers to help him gather individualized biological and genetic data on each of the four cyclists, data that was being generated by sensors attached to the athletes bodies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and then to analyze it.
According to Christopherson, who was also the producer of the documentary, Personal Gold, the amount of information available to them was overwhelming, not only for Sky and his team, but for his computers, which in the early days crashed in trying to cope with the number crunching.
But once Christopherson recruited a big data analysis firm to volunteer their time and expertise, they began to take note of insight they could use. And all the data told them that each cyclist had unique characteristics and individual needs, and thus training them all the same way could at times be detrimental to the individual’s performance and growth. Here are a few examples pointed out by Christopherson at a recent speaking engagement in Tokyo, sponsored by the US Embassy:
In Hammer’s case, blood tests showed she had Vitamin D deficiencies, made worse by training indoors most of the time. Having normal levels of Vitamin D is key to getting the most out of one’s training, so Hammer was working harder than she needed to due to her deficiency.
Bausch, whose experience was greater as a distance cyclist and was struggling at sprinting speeds, was found to have what is known as the “sprinter’s gene”, which according to this Wired article, boosted her confidence.
Sensors noted that Reed was not getting enough deep sleep. More and more research is revealing the importance of deep sleep. In the case of athletes, the longer and deeper you sleep, the more HGH (human growth hormones) like cortisol or testosterone, is released naturally into their systems. These hormones are essential to faster recovery, and thus the ability to train longer at peak performance.
The data can also tell an athlete when an athlete can train hard, when the body is ready for it, or when to rest. This is key because as Christopherson advised, this knowledge can prevent injuries from occurring.
I asked Christopherson if this was a case of “Moneyball“, where the women’s team had access to insight that other teams didn’t have, using that information arbitrage to their advantage unbeknownst to the heavily-resourced cycling giants.
“We were grassroots and so we were very nimble and could innovate and change very quickly,” Christopherson told me. Being a small, low-budget operation forced them to be innovative, using whatever resources were available to them in the world. In fact, he felt that the well-financed teams, whose funds came from sponsors, often limited their flexibility. While teams are obligated to using the products of sponsors, the American team had no such limitations, and Christopher told the audience that they had the flexibility to change sensors and equipment as they saw fit.
The proverb, “necessity is the mother of invention”, was never truer.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the revelations by The Indianapolis Star of sexual abuse of teenagers and pre-teens by coaches and officials within and affiliated with USA Gymnastics.
At the time, IndyStar was aware of about 50 cases. Now they report they have uncovered through police files and court case documentation that hundreds of gymnasts have been abused in the past 20 years.
“At least 368 gymnasts have alleged some form of sexual abuse at the hands of their coaches, gym owners and other adults working in gymnastics. That’s a rate of one every 20 days. And it’s likely an undercount.”
The IndyStar’s most recent article on this travesty provides a fascinating analysis of a sports organization and its affiliated officials, coaches, and gym owners in denial. Here is a good chunk of that shocking analysis in full:
USA Gymnastics focuses its efforts to stop sexual abuse on educating members instead of setting strict ground rules and enforcing them. It says it can’t take aggressive action because member gyms are independent businesses and because of restrictions in federal law pertaining to Olympic organizations. Both are contentions others dispute.
Gym owners have a conflict of interest when it comes to reporting abuse. Some fear harm to their business. When confronted with evidence of abuse, many quietly have fired the suspected abusers and failed to warn future employers. Some of those dangerous coaches continued to work with children.
Some coaches are fired at gym after gym without being tracked or flagged by USA Gymnastics, or losing their membership with the organization. USA Gymnastics often has no idea when a coach is fired by a gym and no systematic way to keep track. Ray Adams was fired or forced to resign from six gyms in four states. Yet some gym owners hired Adams, believing his record was clean.
Though the vast majority of officials put children’s well-being ahead of business and competition, some officials at every level have not. Coaches suspected of abuse kept their jobs as long as they accepted special monitoring. Others were allowed to finish their season before being fired. In 2009, Doug Boger was named a USA Gymnastics Coach of the Year and was sent to international competition while under investigation for alleged sexual abuse.
Victims’ stories have been treated with skepticism by USA Gymnastics officials, gym owners, coaches and parents. Former gymnasts Charmaine Carnes and Jennifer Sey said they felt pressured by Penny not to pursue allegations of abuse by prominent coaches Don Peters and Boger. Carnes said she thought Penny tried to keep the claims about Boger quiet for as long as possible to protect the sport’s image and win championships, a characterization that USA Gymnastics disputes.
Women’s gymnastics have made tremendous strides, winning team gold at the 2012 London Olympics as well as the 2016 Rio Olympics. But I’m curious – I’ve seen or read no reaction from the coaches and athletes at the apex of the USA Gymnastics pyramid: the Karolyis, the members of the women’s Olympic gymnastics team, and their parents. Their silence may be the result of counsel provided to them by the advisors that surround them. But at some point, they need to lead in this pivotal moment, this crisis of confidence in women’s gymnastics.