Coney Island

Push to co-name Coney Island corner for pioneer in women’s sports

June 28, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
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A corner on the Coney Island Boardwalk may soon be co-named in memory of a pioneer for women’s sports — also known as the “mother of women’s judo.”

Community Board 13 voted Tuesday to support an application for the creation of “‘Rusty’ Kanokogi Way” at the corner of the Riegelmann Boardwalk and West 17th Street, in between MCU Park and the Abe Stark Skating Rink.

Born Rena Glickman in 1935, ‘Rusty’ Kanokogi grew up on Kister Court in Coney Island. She fell in love with martial arts in her 20s, but was barred from local judo competitions because of her gender.

In 1959, Kanokogi cut her hair, taped down her breasts and competed in a YMCA championship match in Utica, disguised as a man. She won the bout, but was quickly found out and stripped of her medal.

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But, that didn’t stop her.

With nowhere to compete in America, Kanokogi made her way to the Kodokan Judo Institute in Japan, where women back then were invited to train, but were still separated from men. She went on to become the first woman allowed to train with the men’s group — and, later, a seventh-degree black belt.

She spent decades advocating for female athletes, and moved for a time to the sport’s home-country of Tokyo, where she met her husband, a fellow judo blackbelt named Ryohei Kanokogi. The two married in New York and settled down back in Brooklyn.

Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term Judge Devin Cohen, who is also versed in judo, advocated for the street co-naming.

He was a longtime student of Kanokogi’s.

“She’s done more for women’s sports than anyone,” CB13 Land Use Committee Co-Chair Marion Cleaver told the board Tuesday before the vote.

Councilmember Mark Treyger echoed the board’s support.

“Rusty Kanokogi was a fighter not only in judo competition, but broke barriers for women athletes to compete in martial arts and other sports,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle. “She embodies the spirit and tenacity of southern Brooklyn and I’m proud to support the effort to co-name a street in Coney Island in her honor.”

Kanokogi’s resume also includes coaching the US Women’s National Team, directing the first junior judo tournament in New York City and organizing the first women’s judo world championship. She was also instrumental in bringing women’s judo to the 1988 Summer Olympics.

The star athlete died in her home borough of Brooklyn in 2009, after complications from cancer. She was 74.

Just before her death, she was re-awarded the YMCA medal that was once taken from her in 1959 at a ceremony in Brooklyn.

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