maniac," one of her judo students calls her.
whirlwind," she calls herself.
"A pain in
the ass," one official says, speaking for most of the American judo
U.S. judo's highest-ranked female, is the wife of the Japanese martial-arts
expert you once saw on TV commercials kicking suitcases for Samsonite and
karate-chopping limes for Hai Karate; together, they are perhaps the
highest-ranking judo couple in the world. She is the niece of the late Lee
Krasner Pollock, one of the most acclaimed female painters in American history.
How many colors, how many inspired brushstrokes would her aunt have needed to
paint Kanokogi's life—from a childhood on Coney Island spent among carnival
freaks like Milo the Mule Face Boy through an adolescence as a gang leader
dodging zip-gun bullets to a mellow adulthood of slamming bodies to the floor
and threatening court action against the International Olympic Committee, the
National Sports Festival and ABC-TV.
She hikes up her
pant legs a few moments before she must change clothes and hurry off to another
function. "Are there hairs stickin' outta my legs?" she asks. "Will
they stick outta my nylons?"
admits he isn't sure.
"Ah, whadda I
care! They got better things to do than to look at my legs."
down fondly at her bulbous, size 10½ EEE feet. "Lookit this little left
toe—broken 13 times," she says. "Lookit the fourth right one—it does
180 degrees. Ah, what the hell! Toes are insignificant."
Could a woman
enter a world where the clothes, the gestures, the lingo and the instincts were
all men's and carve a place if she didn't learn to dress and talk and laugh and
gesture like them? Was the piece of self you bartered worth what you gained?
And which became your home during a storm—the place that you abandoned, or the
one on whose front door you were pounding? Everywhere around her, women were
struggling with these questions, trying to arrange some truce between the
forces inside them and those loose in the air. But in judo it is an axiom that
any commitment of muscle and mind must be total commitment—no thrust can be
diluted by compromise. You cannot simply imitate men—you have to do everything
they do, better. To compete, Kanokogi changed clothes in closets, flattened her
breasts with Ace bandages and stared stone-faced when bones in her body
snapped. She stomped into meetings of U.S. judo officials wearing a stopwatch
and pen and tape recorder around her neck instead of jewelry, pants instead of
a skirt, and screamed louder and longer than any of them.
And then she went
home, sighed heavily, turned on Walt Disney and sobbed like a baby over