pioneers have to be radicals? Don't all those who change society's perspectives
have to lack perspective? Kanokogi could not have hoisted women's judo onto her
shoulders and run with it if she had stopped to mull over the questions other
women were pondering. She felt them shake her, and kept moving—women who
followed her would have the luxury of pausing and considering.
When she learned
during the '84 Olympics that the IOC had rejected women's judo for the '88
Games, every function in her body seemed to stop—the cause she had given her
life to, extinguished. "It was like somebody was dead and I couldn't
cry," she says. "Then, step by step, I could almost begin to hear the
music to Jaws in my head. Da-da...da-da...DA-DA...DA-DA, DA-DA.... What should
I do? Take one of the IOC members and put him in an armlock? Go on a hunger
strike? But I could stop eating for a year and no one would notice the
difference. For the first time in my life I was thinking terrorist thoughts.
Then it hit me. My god, this is L.A.! The American Civil Liberties Union is
here.... Sue the bastards. Get 'em!"
At 6 a.m., having
dialed judo officials and the ACLU all night, she finally got hold of a janitor
at the ACLU offices who couldn't comprehend that the world was about to
"They come in
at nine, Ma'am," he said.
give me a home number?" she bellowed. "This is an emergency! What would
you do if the building was on fire?"
maniac hung up, thought of someone else to awaken and began dialing and
shouting again. "When will they stop trying to hold us back?" she kept
asking herself. "When?"
When had man ever
made room for woman in his world, unless her activity celebrated what he
idealized in her—her grace, her litheness, her effervescence, her legs? Women's
gymnastics and synchronized swimming, even tennis and basketball, evoked some
or all of these. Nothing jiggled, no one flitted or giggled in judo. What trace
of those things for which a man depended upon a woman could be found in a
female in a baggy, rumpled uniform knocking the legs out from under another,
slamming her to the floor, leaping on her and applying a headlock?
From the start,
the battlefield Kanokogi entered was mined with myths: Full contact encourages
lesbianism, hard impact creates breast cancer, strenuous workouts damage the
reproductive organs. You couldn't rouge or perfume that kind of opposition
away. You needed someone who would hurl words and fists and court injunctions,
someone half lip-buster, half filibuster, a short-haired, deep-voiced,
225-pound, fifth-degree black belt and a Jewish mother from Brooklyn. You
needed Don't-Blink, Don't-Twitch, Don't-Cry Kanokogi.
was once a little girl named Rena Glickman who grew up among the freaks and
barkers and hustlers on Coney Island, where her mother sold hot dogs. Her
father, a silent man, tended bar at a club Al Capone was said to frequent, but
often he did not work. He collected what little money the family had, tipped
his hat politely to the neighbors, lost it all at the racetrack and tipped his
hat politely to the neighbors when he returned. "Such a gentleman!"
they used to say. Kanokogi remembers little of him except the ketchup bottle
that hit her during a battle between him and her mother. At 51 he was found
dead of a heart attack on the steps of a Coney Island subway station with 51¢
in his pocket.