After receiving her bachelor’s degree in physical and health education from Nippon University of Physical Education in Tokyo, Kuniko Takeuchi began teaching judo and physical education in the early 1960s. Later, her career as a judo and PE instructor led her abroad, and eventually to the Okubo Judo Club in Sacramento, Calif., where she currently teaches a couple of times per week.
She spent four months teaching recreational judo at the YMCA Judo Club in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia in 1964.
Takeuchi, 82, told the Nichi Bei Weekly in a phone interview that she also taught judo in England for three months in 1966. She taught children and adults at family-oriented clubs.
After arriving in Sacramento, Calif., she taught at the Sacramento Judo Club and the Kodokan West Judo Club. In the late 1960s, she taught PE at Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Sacramento, Calif. until she retired from teaching PE in 1999.
Having dedicated much of her life to judo, in 2020, Takeuchi received a kunsho from the Japanese government. She was inducted in 2019 into the United States Judo Federation Hall of Fame.
Takeuchi started her judo training in junior high school. As a high school senior in Tokyo, she received her black belt and continued training throughout college.
Takeuchi said as a judoka, one can learn from doing warm up exercises, taking falls and throwing their colleagues.
Bobby Tran, one of Takeuchi’s former students, who is now her assistant, said in a phone interview with the Nichi Bei Weekly that she still corrects him on his breakfalls. According to JudoInfo.com, a “fall is broken when one or both arms with open palms strike downward at the mat at 45 degree angles to the body.” Tran added that he’s been practicing judo for 23 years and “she still points out things I need to correct or adjust and I’ll do it.”
Tran has attended many of Takeuchi’s kata (form) clinics, adding, “people will travel great distances to study under her.” Takeuchi is a USA Judo Kata committee member and a kata judge for the International Judo Federation.
“They will go because she knows her stuff. She knows it really, really well and it’s a point of perfection with her,” Tran said. Tran added that Takeuchi “stresses a lot of the basics” when she teaches, so people can build more advanced techniques on the basics. He has been training under Takeuchi since about 2001.
Takeuchi said the late Keiko Fukuda, who founded the Soko Joshi Judo Club in San Francisco, “was very keen to teach women’s judo.” She added they would “sometimes get together and teach together.”
Takeuchi, who also taught at the Kodokan Judo Institute, the judo headquarters in Japan, mentioned she has two mentors from the institute, the late Toshiro Daigo, and Yoshimi Osawa. According to Takeuchi, both of them are 10-degree black belts, the highest black belt one can attain in judo.
During the pandemic, Takeuchi said the judo club closed until May 2021. Takeuchi said practitioners wear masks during practice. She added that when wearing masks, “doing standing techniques, throwing each other, it’s not bad, but wearing masks can make it difficult to hear one another.
Takeuchi said the club is not participating in any local tournaments yet, but she’s going to Daytona Beach, Fla. for a national judo tournament this year in May.