Masahiko Kimura: Mastering the Art of Judo

Masahiko Kimura

Most know that the submission is named after him, but many don’t know the history of Masahiko Kimura. During his time, Kimura was one of the most accomplished Judoka that won numerous championships and shoot fights.

Here is the story of the legendary Masahiko Kimura. Going over his time as an athlete and his grueling training regimen. Also, of course, detailing his historical grappling match with Helio Gracie.

Masahiko Kimura’s Early Years

Masahiko Kimura was born on September 10, 1917 in Kumamoto, Japan. At the age of ten, Kimura would begin his Judo training.

From the moment Masahkio began his Judo training, he would be extremely dedicated. Quickly rising through the ranks and was already competing at a high level in his teens.

Masahiko Kimura

Kimura’s Competitive Career

Throughout his teens, Masahiko Kimura would win numerous low level competitions At the age of eighteen, he would compete in his first national tournament in 1935.

Successfully winning a national championship in his first attempt. Becoming one of the youngest national champions of all time.

This first national title would be one of the first of many as he would win his next five national Judo championships.

Masahiko Kimura at the Olympics

A year after winning his first national title, Masahiko would compete at his first Olympic event in 1936. Representing Japan in the lightweight division.

He would win his first three matches, but would lose his fourth match. Earning a bronze medal in his first appearance at the Olympics. 

Kimura was set to compete at the 1940 Olympics, but the event was canceled due to WW2. He would never compete at another Olympic event.

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Kimura’s Competitive Career During the 1940/1950s

Despite not competing at the Olympics in 1940, Kimura would continue to actively compete throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Winning numerous other national championships.

On top of winning multiple national titles, Masahiko would also win the All Japan Championship four times three Kodokan Cups.

Then on the international scene, Kimura would win the Asian Games twice and earn three world titles. After winning numerous major titles, Masahiko would retire from Judo competition in 1955.

Masahiko Kimura vs. Helio Gracie 

What many know Masahiko Kimura for was the highly publicized match that he had with BJJ creator Helio Gracie. In 1951, Kimura was doing a tour of South America doing demonstrations and meeting with influential people.

During this time in Brazil, BJJ founder Helio Gracie had become known for laying down challenges. Of course, when Kimura arrived in Brazil, Helio would come to him and challenge Kimura to a grappling match.

At first, Masahiko had no interest in the match as he saw Helio as not worthy to face him in a match. This didn’t stop Helio and Carlos from calling on a match against Masahiko Kimura.

After badgering Kimura enough, he gave Helio an offer. If Helio could beat his teammate, Yukio Kato in a match, he would have a match with him.

Helio Gracie vs. Yukio Kato

The first match between Helio and Kato would take place on September 6th, 1951. Their fight would go for hours, but the fight would end in a draw.

Helio demanded a rematch that was accepted and it would take place on September 29th of that year. This time, Helio would pull the upset and win the match by choke. Earning his match with Kimura.

Kimura vs. Gracie

On October 22nd, 1951, the two sides agreed to a grappling match with altered rules for more grappling on the mat. A large audience would witness the match at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

From the moment the match began, Masahiko Kimura would keep control of the match. Immediately taking Gracie to the ground and putting down heavy top pressure.

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Kimura would lock in the gyaku ude-garami or double wrist lock. Helio would refuse to tap, which resulted in Masahiko breaking his arm. Resulting in Gracie’s corner throwing in the towel.

After the match, both sides were very respectful and Helio congratulated Kimura on his victory. 

From that moment on within BJJ, the submission would be referred to as the kimura.

Masahiko Kimura’s Training Regimen

What set Masahiko Kimura apart from other Judokas and grapplers of his time was his training regiment. He took his training very seriously and would spend hours a day training.

Not only working on his technique, but also being methodical about his conditioning routine. Some publications have published what his supposed physical training routine may have looked like.

  • 1000 Push-Ups A Day
  • Bunny Hop 1 km
  • Headstand 3×3 mins
  • 100 Judo Throws
  • 100 Submission Drills
  • 100 Judo Entries
  • Multiple Rounds Of Randori(Sparring)
  • One Arm Barbell Lift
  • 200 Sit-ups(Decline/ On Partner’s Back
  • 200 Squats w/ 150 lb or Lifting Partner

It’s probably unlikely that he did all of this everyday, but doing a handful of these exercises are quite impressive. His dedication to doing any of these movements daily shows why he was a multiple time champion.

Masahiko Kimura’s Pro Wrestling Career

During the 1950s, Masahiko would also get into the world of professional wrestling. He even opened his own promotion called Kokusai Pro Wrestling Association.

Kimura would often compete in tag team matches with Rikodozen. The man is considered to be the very first Japanese pro wrestling superstar.

The two would compete with one another many times to sell out shows all across Japan. Even having a few friendly worked matches with one another.

The Incident between Kimura and Rikidozen

Since the two were the biggest attractions in Japanese pro wrestling, the two would set up a big match. Competing against each other for the Japanese Professional Wrestling Championship.

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The initial plan was for this match to end in a draw to set up future matches and big payoffs for each wrestler. However, this is not what happened and their initial match would have an infamous incident.

During their match, the two were working together and selling for each other. This was until Rikidozen put Kimura in the corner.

Initially, Rikidozen was supposed to hit Masahiko Kimura with worked karate chops to his chest. Instead, he actually hit Kimura with a hard chop to the side of his neck. Knocking the Judoka unconscious.

Rikidozen then began “shooting” on Kimura with legit kicks and knees to his face. Forcing the ref to step in and announce Rikidozen the winner.

The pro wrestler had gone into business for himself. Going off script and legitimately hurting the Judoka, who had no idea what had happened or why. There would be no rematch.

Years later, Rikidozen would be assassinated in a Tokyo nightclub by a member of the Yakuza organized crime group. Initially, the police thought Kimura was their main suspect, because he had motive to get revenge after the shooting incident.

But witnesses at the nightclub would absolve Kimura of the accusation, as he was not present at the incident.

Masahiko Kimura Becomes a 10th Dan

After decades of competing, Kimura would retire and become a full-time teacher. His years of dedication to the martial art of Judo would earn him the 10th Dan. The highest rank that a Judoka can earn.

Kimura would teach his students everyday until he passed away on April 18th, 1993. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest Judokas of all-time.

Masahiko Kimura

The Legacy of Masahiko Kimura

Masahiko Kimura lived and breathed the art of Judo. His dedication was second to none and he left an incredible legacy.

Then of course, his name has been immortalized thanks to the submission being named after. The name Kimura will never be forgotten.