Masahiko Kimura was known for his work ethic and his performance in challenge matches, where he would represent the art of judo against challengers from other styles.
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Kimura is widely regarded as one of the finest fighters of his generation and as one of the best judoka of all time. To reach this level of greatness, he followed a grueling training regimen, training up to nine hours each day.
Kimura was born in 1917 in Kumamoto, Japan. He began judo at the age of 10 and was promoted to the rank of fifth dan, or degree, black belt at the age of 18, the youngest ever to attain that rank. He only lost four bouts in his judo career, all of which came in 1935.
He won the All Japan Open Weight Judo Championship at age 20 in 1937 and remained undefeated for the rest of his career in judo competition as well as in bouts against representatives from other styles. He was known for his osotogari, or leg throw, as well as his dedication to judo and training.
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Kimura was not the tallest or heaviest competitor. He was roughly 5-foot-6 and weighed 185 lbs. He compensated by training harder than all his competitors, including practicing his famous osotogari on trees. According to his biographer, Jim Chen, in a day's randori, or free sparring, it was common for many training partners to receive concussions, with many eventually requesting "'no osotogari."
At the end of the day, he would review his training in his head, scanning for room for improvement. If he saw an opportunity to improve, he would get up in the middle of the night to train immediately. The same night he won his first championship, he performed 500 pushups, bunny hopped for 1 km and performed 500 karate strikes because he was unhappy with his performance.
San Bai Ro Rioku
Kimura believed that to be better than his competition, he would need to train harder than them. In his book, "My Judo," Kimura describes how he initially performed 300 pushups a day and trained for three hours a day, which was typical for a skilled judoka. After his losses in 1935, he began to train twice as hard, up to 600 pushups and six hours a day.
After winning his first All Japan Judo Championship, he realized that others would now train twice as hard to catch him. He decided that he would now train three times as hard, up to 1,000 pushups and up to nine hours a day. He called this San Bai Ro Rioku, or triple effort.
According to Chen, much of Kimura's lasting fame comes from his successes outside of judo. He is particularly well-known for two fights in Brazil. At the age of 34, he fought Helio Gracie, a founder of the art of Brazilian jiujitsu and one of the most famous figures in mixed martial arts history.
Kimura dominated the fight, eventually throwing Gracie repeatedly, choking him unconscious at one point and pinning him over and over, before breaking Gracie's elbow with the ude garami armlock when the Brazilian refused to surrender.
This submission is now known in Brazilian jiujitsu as the Kimura. At the age of 42, he also fought another Brazilian, Aldemar Santana, who was a young, strong vale tudo champion. The fight ended in a draw after 40 minutes.