over whether her students have a cold or a ride or enough money for the subway.
When a little boy in one of her day classes gets hurt and screws up his face
trying not to cry, she understands so well that she'll wrap a thick arm around
him and say, "It's O.K., it's O.K. That's just sweat coming out of your
eyes." Everyone who isn't an American judo official comes away from
Kanokogi with the feeling that if they have a problem they can lay it in her
hands and it is going to go away.
She teaches 14
classes at different locales in the city, hustling from one to the next on the
subway, between trips around the world coaching, refereeing, scouting talent,
trying to start judo programs in Muslim countries where women can't even appear
in public without veils, let alone pancake each other on a mat. Judo has
swallowed her life, claimed her Japanese-American children, Teddy and Jean,
both of whom are fierce competitors (she seldom sees the son from her first
marriage), swamped her dining-room table and buffet and radiator with stacks of
legal briefs, notebooks, rule books, tournament results, magazines, press
clippings, plaques and minutes of meetings. Her family hasn't dined in the
dining room in 12 years. "The day that happens, the fight is over—or I'm
dead," she says.
the phone never stops ringing—judo associates checking in from across the
world. Foreign competitors regularly bunk in her home and find themselves swept
up in her frantic schedule. Late last summer on a weekend with Berghmans, the
judo phenom from Belgium, Kanokogi awoke at 8 a.m. on Saturday; worked the
phones and snacked for two hours; taught a judo class; lunched at a restaurant;
shopped for her trip to Mexico City, where she would referee a tournament; came
home for a shower, some of the water leaking through the first-floor ceiling,
which was fine as long as nothing dripped on her judo files; told a car dealer
she would rip off his wig and stuff his cigar down his throat if the car she
had ordered wasn't delivered soon; danced at a disco until 4 a.m. and then
breakfasted at a diner; fell into bed at 7 a.m. and slept five hours; went to
the beach at noon, played ball and sunbathed there until 8 p.m.; devoured
nachos and burritos at a Mexican restaurant until 11 p.m. and then popped over
to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade to view the Manhattan skyline until midnight,
just in case it had slipped off while she wasn't looking. "Incredible,"
was all her husband could say.
Would she ever be
able to let down her guard, relax her schedule, stop organizing, stop
bellowing, stop battling? Would she ever be able to act like a woman?
the feminine side so deep, I probably don't know how to reach it anymore,"
she says. "I buried it because it wasn't relevant to the cause. Now people
expect me to be strong, to be a machine. I've built this image up so well,
people think they can say anything and it won't hurt me.
to take, but it's safer to be the machine. You can only 100 percent trust
yourself. I love Mickey Mouse because he never screwed anyone, but even Donald
Duck you gotta keep your eye on. It will be rough when I get old because I will
never say, 'Please help me put my socks on.' I don't know how to let go, or if
I want to let go.
have to know that they don't have to be like me to go into judo anymore.
Believe it or not, now they can be normal."
after Kanokogi had sent out a 32-page packet to people in nearly 100 countries,
contacted media all over the world, saturated IOC president Juan Samaranch with
25,000 signatures on a petition to reconsider women's judo for the Olympics and
threatened to file a sex-discrimination complaint against ABC-TV for entering
into a contract with an organization—the IOC—that allegedly discriminates
against women, the IOC decided to allow women's judo into the '88 Games as a
demonstration sport and into the '92 Games as an official entry. Almost
immediately phone calls and letters flooded Kanokogi's Brooklyn home,
congratulating her for finally winning the fight.
"Winning?" she roars. "Demonstration sport? Why only a
demonstration in '88? They're just trying to squeeze a little more blood. I
might fly to South Korea and talk to the Olympic officials in Seoul. It ticks
me off. This fight's not over yet. I might...."