March is Women’s History Month, but if you’re not part of the judo world you may never have heard of “the mother of women’s judo,” Rena “Rusty” Glickman Kanokogi.
Glickman’s story is told in the upcoming picture book Rena Glickman, Queen of Judo. Read on to for a fascinating overview of her story and to take a peek inside the book.
“In life, you’re either the hammer or the nail,” she famously said, and Glickman was most definitely a hammer. She was the first woman to practice judo at the world-famous Kodokan in Japan. She fought to get women’s judo into the Olympics, and then she coached the first American team.
Jewish Rena Glickman was a fighter from the start, both on and off the judo mat. She started working odd jobs on Coney Island when she was seven years old. She was the leader of a gang by the time she was a teenager. The redhead was nicknamed after a stray dog in the neighborhood: Rusty.
As a young woman, a friend showed her a judo move and she was immediately hooked. After begging to join the men-only class at the YMCA, she had to change in the broom closet because there was no change room for women.
Like so many female athletes, Glickman had to fight her way into the boy’s club. Little did she know it would take decades. Determined to compete in a tournament in 1959, she disguised herself as a man . . . and she won! The judo world wasn’t ready for a female champion, however, and she had to forfeit the win when the judges realized she was a woman.
Change doesn’t always come easily. We are indebted to the women who came before us, refusing to give up. Fifty years after that fateful tournament, the New York YMCA awarded Glickman the medal she rightfully won. Like most of the challenges she took on in her life, on and off the judo mat, Rusty Glickman eventually was victorious.
Part of Kar-Ben’s Jewish Heroes series, Kirkus Reviews called Rena Glickman, Queen of Judo “a worthy homage to a fascinating woman who was a force for change in a man’s world.”