This chapter will explore the experiences of women in judo through five case studies of well-known pioneering figures in women’s judo over the last 50 years.

Rusty Kanokogi left an indelible mark on the development of women’s judo when she organised and sponsored the first women’s world judo championships. Six-time world champion Ingrid Berghmans was voted the Belgian Sportswoman of the Century in 1999. Kaori Yamaguchi won the All-Japan Championships 10 consecutive times and was world champion at the age of 19. The manga character Yawara Inokuma is said to be based on her. Karen Briggs MBE, a four-time world champion, competed in the Barcelona Olympic Games and was a torchbearer for the London 2012 Olympic Games. She was the inspiration for the John Godber play, “Blood, Sweat and Tears”.

Royko Tani (ne Tamura) became the first judoka in history to win a medal in five Olympic Games and is widely viewed as the best female judoka of all time. On retirement from competitive judo, she moved into the world of politics.