Tokyo Olympics: Martial Arts – Meet the Coaches

History of Martial Arts in the Olympic Games

Martial arts were among the first sports that became part of the Olympic Games. Going all the way back to Ancient Greece, wrestling was a part of the 708 BCE Olympics. Twenty years later, a type of boxing referred to as Pyx (which means “with a clenched fist”) had its debut at the 668 BCE Olympics. In 648 BCE, one of the modern mixed martial arts precursors, pankration, was introduced as an Olympic event.

During the years, martial arts like wrestling, fencing, boxing, budo (Japanese martial arts), savate (french version of kickboxing), and many others appeared at the Olympics. 

Meet the Female Coaches…

Kate Howey – Judo (GB)

Former University of bath student, Kate Howey MBE is the only British judoka to have competed at four Olympic Games. Kate is also the only British woman to have won two Olympic judo medals (silver at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, and bronze at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona). She was awarded the MBE for services to judo in 1997.

She was also selected to carry the British flag at the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

She announced her retirement from competition on October 27, 2004, having competed in the women’s under 70kg weight category for 16 years.

Kate then became a British Judo Association National High Performance Coach. She played a key role in preparing the GB judo team for the London 2012 Olympic Games alongside Darren Warner.

She coached Gemma Gibbons, who became the next UK woman to win an Olympic medal in judo. Gibbons won a silver at London 2012.

Yuko Fujii – Brazil

In traditionally macho Brazil and in the male-dominant sports world, a female coach of the country’s renowned judo programme was practically unthinkable. 

In professional sports, it is uncommon for women to coach women’s teams, and almost unheard of for women to coach men’s teams. 

So Yuko’s appointment was an unexpected and welcome step forward for women, not just in judo but also in sports in general.

Women often face discrimination in sports in Brazil. In football, by far the country’s most popular sport, for example, women are traditionally discouraged from taking part and renowned players like Marta Vieira da Silva receive relatively little recognition at home.

The only woman to ever coach the Brazilian women’s national football team was fired after less than a year, prompting protests by players.

The Brazilian Judo Confederation hopes it is playing a part in changing that.

“Yuko is an excellent example of the increasing recognition of women’s role in sports, especially since judo is a martial art that women have had restricted access to throughout history,” says Ney Wilson, a confederation administrator.

“Our selection of Yuko as head coach for the men’s team really surprised the judo world. I’m sure other federations and other sports teams in Brazil will follow the example.”