|Born||September 10, 1917|
At age 16, after six years of judo, Kimura was promoted to 4th dan. He had defeated six opponents (who were all 3rd and 4th dan) in a row. In 1935 at age 18 he became the youngest ever godan (5th degree black belt) when he defeated eight consecutive opponents at Kodokan (headquarters for the main governing body of Judo). Kimura's remarkable success can in part be attributed to his fanatical training regimen. He reportedly lost only four judo matches in his lifetime, all occurring in 1935. He considered quitting judo after those losses, but through the encouragement of friends he began training again. All through the nights, he practiced osoto gari, a basic leg throw, against a tree. After six months, his technique was such that daily randori or sparring sessions at various dojos resulted in 10 people with concussions. Fellow students frequently asked him not to use his unorthodox osoto gari. At the height of his career, Kimura's training involved a thousand push-ups and nine-hours practice every day. He was promoted to 7th dan at age 30, a rank that was frozen after disputes with Kodokan over becoming a professional wrestler, refusing to return the All Japan Judo Championship flag, and issuing dan ranks while in Brazil.
In 1955, Kimura, at 38 years old, participated in a match in which he defeated Hélio Gracie of the famous Gracie Jiu Jitsu family in a submission judo match held in Brazil. During the fight, Kimura threw Gracie repeatedly with Ippon Seoinage (one arm shoulder throw), Osoto Gari (major outer reap) *Kimura's signature throw. He threw Helio 3 times with Osoto Gari.*, Ouchi Gari (major inner reap), Uchimata (inner thigh throw), and Harai Goshi (sweeping hip throw). Kimura reportedly threw Gracie repeatedly in an effort to knock him unconscious. However, the floor of the fighting area was apparently too soft to allow this to happen. Kimura also inflicted painful, suffocating grappling techniques on Gracie such as kuzure-kamishiho-gatame (modified upper four corner hold), kesa-gatame (scarf hold), and sankaku-jime (triangle choke). Finally, thirteen minutes into the bout, Kimura positioned himself to apply a reverse ude-garami (arm entanglement, a shoulderlock). Gracie refused to submit, even after his arm broke, forcing Kimura to continue the lock on Gracie's broken arm. At this point, Carlos Gracie, Helio's older brother, threw in the towel to end the match to protect his brother's health. In 1994, Helio admitted in an interview that he had in fact been choked unconscious earlier in the match, but had revived when Kimura released the choke.
As a tribute to Kimura's victory, the reverse ude-garami technique has since been commonly referred to as the Kimura lock, or simply the Kimura, in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and, more recently, mixed martial arts circles.
Kimura describes the event as follows:
"20,000 people came to see the bout including President of Brazil. Helio was 180cm and 80 kg. When I entered the stadium, I found a coffin. I asked what it was. I was told, "This is for Kimura. Helio brought this in." It was so funny that I almost burst into laughter. As I approached the ring, raw eggs were thrown at me. The gong rang. Helio grabbed me in both lapels, and attacked me with O-soto-gari and Kouchi-gari. But they did not move me at all. Now it's my turn. I blew him away up in the air by O-uchi-gari, Harai-goshi, Uchimata, Ippon-seoi. At about 10 minute mark, I threw him by O-soto-gari. I intended to cause a concussion. But since the mat was so soft that it did not have much impact on him. While continuing to throw him, I was thinking of a finishing method. I threw him by O-soto-gari again. As soon as Helio fell, I pinned him by Kuzure-kami-shiho-gatame. I held still for 2 or 3 minutes, and then tried to smother him by belly. Helio shook his head trying to breathe. He could not take it any longer, and tried to push up my body extending his left arm. That moment, I grabbed his left wrist with my right hand, and twisted up his arm. I applied Udegarami. I thought he would surrender immediately. But Helio would not tap the mat. I had no choice but keep on twisting the arm. The stadium became quiet. The bone of his arm was coming close to the breaking point. Finally, the sound of bone breaking echoed throughout the stadium. Helio still did not surrender. His left arm was already powerless. Under this rule, I had no choice but twist the arm again. There was plenty of time left. I twisted the left arm again. Another bone was broken. Helio still did not tap. When I tried to twist the arm once more, a white towel was thrown in. I won by TKO. My hand was raised high. Japanese Brazilians rushed into the ring and tossed me up in the air. On the other hand, Helio let his left arm hang and looked very sad withstanding the pain."
In the early 1950s, Kimura was invited by Rikidozan to compete as a professional wrestler. They performed both as tag team partners and as opponents, but Kimura was not marketed or publicized as much as Rikidozan, primarily due to Rikidozan's own opposition (Rikidozan was actually Zainichi Korean, and thus he reportedly felt conflicted or insecure about having a real Japanese in competition with him for publicity). The Rikidozan vs. Kimura match for the Japanese Professional Wrestling Heavyweight title was the first high-profile match between two native professional wrestlers. The match, according to Kimura, was supposed to go to a draw and set up a series of rematches. But Rikidozan, whether it was premeditated or in the heat of the moment, shot (began fighting for real) on Kimura and battered him unconscious with a series of open hand strikes, punches, and kicks (some of which were to the groin), and won the match by knockout. Kimura never received a rematch with Rikidozan.
Kimura formed International Pro Wrestling Force (IPWF), a promotion based in his hometown of Kumamoto, as a local affiliate of The Japan Wrestling Association (JWA). Although JWA later took over operations, IPWF is remembered for being the first Japanese promotion to introduce Mexican Lucha Libre wrestlers.
Some biographers note that his professional wrestling career began shortly after his wife was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and it is speculated by some that he began professional wrestling to pay for her medication. Indeed, the predicament was likely beyond the financial means of a police instructor, which was his paying job prior to professional wrestling.
Kimura went to Brazil again in 1959 to conduct his last Professional Judo/Wrestling tour. He was challenged by Valdemar Santana to a "real" (not choreographed) submission match. Santana was a champion in Gracie Jiujitsu and Capoeira. He was 27 years old, 6 feet tall, and weighed 205lb. Santana had twice fought Hélio Gracie and won, both fights lasting more than three hours. Kimura threw Santana with seoinage, hanegoshi, and osotogari. He then applied his famous reverse ude-garami (entangled armlock), winning the match.
Santana requested a rematch under vale tudo rules—the first fight was apparently grappling only—and this time, the result was a draw after 40 minutes in a bout in which both competitors reportedly drew blood. Kimura fought this match despite having an injured knee, and was pressured by the promoter and police to fight against his doctors orders.