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Eiko Saito Shepherd

Copyright 2020 USJF. All rights reserved.

Eiko Saito Shepherd

Inducted 2020

USJF connections

  • USJF member since 1988
  • USJF President Life Membership since August 20, 2003
  • Kodokan Judo Institute member from 1962 – present
  • International Judo Federation member from 2014 – present
  • USA Judo Life Member 1985 – present
  • Chicago Judo Black Belt Association member 1988 – present

copyright 2020 USJF. All rights reserved.

The story

Sensei Eiko Saito Shepherd has the true heart and spirit of Judo. She was born in Japan, the homeland of Judo. Great grandfather Saito was Samurai. Her father and older brother, Chuichiro, were both Black Belts in Judo.

Chuichiro was young Eiko’s idol. She wished to be a champion competitor like him. Inspired by her brother, she began Judo training at the neighborhood dojo when she was 11 years old. She would break new ground in the Judo world on many occasions in the years to come.

(photo: The Saito family: Eiko is on far left. Her beloved brother, Chuichiro stands behind her.)

At the time Eiko began her Judo training, she was the only girl in the class. She recalls being taunted by the boys. “Onna, onna,” they would call out meaning “girl, girl”. This motivated her to train harder. In just 6 months she was promoted from white belt to purple belt by defeating her male classmates. After that they no longer teased her.

Eiko gained plenty of randori experience with young men and boys at her dojo. She wondered what it would be like to practice with females. To find out she began additional practice in the women’s division at the Kodokan. Months of tough practices at her local dojo had made her grip and strength very strong. After randori sessions at the Kodokan, female judoka often commented that “practicing with Eiko feels like I am practicing with a man!”

In 1962 Japan was preparing for the the ’64 Olympics in Tokyo during which Judo would be introduced as an Olympic event. Kodokan officials were anticipating the arrival of many foreign judoka wanting to practice at the Kodokan. The Kodokan planned to have their best students prepared to practice with the visitors.

Kodokan instructors had noticed 13 year old Eiko Saito’s unusual ability. They invited her to begin intensive training to represent the women division. Once again she was going to break new ground in the Judo world. This time it would be at the world headquarters of Judo, the Kodokan.

Traditionally only men were allowed to practice on the 7th floor of the Kodokan. Women were NOT allowed to come on the mat. However, now that the Kodokan had selected Eiko Saito to represent the Kodokan, the rule changed. Top Kodokan instructors such as Takada Sensei, Otaki Sensei and Kotani Sensei were to train her and that intensive training would take place on the 7th floor!

The Kodokan wanted Eiko Saito to wear a Black Belt when she was representing the Kodokan. To earn her Black Belt she was required to learn Kata. At first she resisted. She told instructors that she only wanted to do “shiai.” However, they would not relent. To wear the Black Belt she would need to learn Kata. Her kata instructors were the famous Sensei Noritomi and Sensei Keiko Fukuda. With their expert guidance, Eiko Saito learned Kata and passed her Shodan exam at the age of 14.

Eiko Shepherd at the Kodokan
photo: Sensei Eiko Saito on right at the Kodokan

Then in 1966 Ms. Eiko broke another tradition! At that time in Japan there were no shiai tournaments for females. If she wanted to compete it would have to be with the men. With the support of her coaches she made Judo history by becoming the first woman to compete in Kodokan tournaments against men! She did well. Her story caused a media sensation in Japan. Her courage opened new opportunities for girls and women. She has never stopped doing so.

Sensei Eiko Saito competing at the Kodokan
Sensei Eiko Saito competing at the Kodokan

In 1969 Sensei Eiko Saito came as a guest instructor to the United States where she taught at the Belleville Judo Club in southern Illinois. On the weekends she traveled throughout the Midwest to compete in Judo tournaments. In 1970 she returned the USA to live permanently. She and her husband, Terry Shepherd, have two sons, Jonathan and Timothy.

Sensei Shepherd's ippon during competition at Washington University Tournament in St. Louis.Sensei Shepherd's ippon during competition at Washington University Tournament in St. Louis.

Sensei Shepherd’s ippon during competition at Washington University Tournament in St. Louis.

Sensei Keiko Fukuda, who had also moved to the United States, asked Sensei Shepherd to direct the USJF Fukuda Scholarship Fund. Sensei Shepherd remembered how kind and helpful Sensei Fukuda had been to her at the Kodokan. She was pleased to help. Sensei Shepherd conducted fundraising that was so successful the funding increased five times the original amount. Now the USJF Fukuda Scholarhip Fund can award two scholarships a year instead of just one.

Sensei Eiko practicing with Sensei Keiko Fukuda in the United States
Sensei Eiko practicing with Sensei Keiko Fukuda in the United States

Sensei Shepherd’s expertise with youth caught the attention of a teacher, Nancy Schnell, and the principal of Ferguson Middle School, Mr. Daryl Hall. In 1985 they invited Sensei to start an after school Judo program in the Ferguson Florissant School District located in the suburbs of St. Louis.

Eiko Shepherd’s involvement with St Louis schools

Soon school faculty, administrators, guidance counselors, and parents observed the positive effects Judo had on the students. The after school Judo program for middle school students expanded to include elementary students, high school students and even adults. Her ability to inspire and motivate people of all ages gained attention. In 1987 She was honored by the school board with the Most Outstanding Contributor to Education Award.

Eiko Shepherd with her scholar athletes
Eiko Shepherd with her scholar athletes

Taichi Nakamine Sensei's nephew
Taichi Nakamine Sensei’s nephew

the olympic torchcarrying the olympic torch

Sensei Shepherd was honored to carry the Olympic Torch as it passed through St. Louis on the way to Athens, Greece 2004.

Sensei Shepherd has coached students in kata and shiai competitions throughout the United States, Canada, El Salvador, Sarajevo and Japan. She has been the USJF Kata Chair since 2000 and has taught around the world including England, Germany, France, Northern Ireland, Canada, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Brazil and throughout North America.

the 2017 USJF National Kata Conference

Sensei Shepherd started the annual USJF National Kata Conferences. The first was held in St. Louis in the late ’80s and now it is conducted each year in different state.

Demonstration with Sensei Doug Tono

Demonstration with Sensei Doug Tono

Demonstration with Sensei Doug Tono. Photos by Felix Lanier.

friendship through Judo

friendship through Judo

In 2016 Dr. Kei Narimatsu nominated Sensei Eiko Saito Shepherd for her 8th Dan Promotion. Her students hosted a wonderful celebration in her honor. Former students arrived from all over the country. They all agreed that Judo made their lives different in wonderful ways. Over the years Judo builds strong bonds among people.

friendship through Judo

friendship through Judo

Sensei Shepherd often states that she did not become the way it is by herself. All these years many people have helped her. Who could have known that the first time 11 year old Eiko Saito stepped upon a judo mat in a small dojo in Japan, would be the beginning of her Judo family that now reaches around the world?

friendship through Judo

friendship through Judo

friendship through Judo

Service in Judo


  • International Judo Coach (USA Judo)
  • USA Judo Teachers Institute Master
  • Class A Kata Judge USA Judo for all 7 Kodokan Katas
  • USJF Certified Class A Instructors for all 7 Kodokan Katas
  • IJF Kata all certifications for Class A
  • Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) State of Missouri

Service To Judo

  • Currently – Pan American Confederation Kata Judge
  • Currently – International Judo Federation Kata Judge
  • 2015 Recipient of the Jeremy Glick Award from the USJF
  • 2014 Recipient of the National Collegiate Association Special Service Award
  • 2013 – present – selected by Professor Keiko Fukuda to direct USJF sanctioned Joshi Judo Camp
  • 2013 – present- director of USJF sanctioned events including the Keiko Fukuda International Kata Competition, and San Jose’s annual Kagami Biraki Ceremony
  • 2010 – present USA Judo Kata vice chairman
  • 2000 – present USJF Kata Chairman
  • 2008 – 2019 St. Louis Community College Judo Instructor in the Physical Education Dept.
  • 2005 – present USJF Promotion Board member
  • 2005 – present Keiko Fukuda Scholarship chairman
  • 2004 carried the Olympic Torch as it traveled through St. Louis on the way to Athens, Greece
  • 2004 – Present Started the USJF National Kata Conference conducted each summer at various Locations throughout the United States. In 2017 the National Kata Conference held in St. Louis, Missouri featured two Kodokan instructors, Sensei Utsugi and Sensei Murata.
  • 2005 – present CJBBA Chicago Black Belt Association Promotion Board Member
  • 2000 – 2011 Organized and introduced the annual Kata competition at the World Masters Judo Competition involving judoka from 45 – 50 countries
  • 1995 World Bench Press Champion at the American Drug Free Power Lifting Association
  • 1st Place in 175 lbs division and 1st place in Master division Best Lifter in both divisions
  • 1993 Olympic Festival Coach in San Antonio, Texas
  • 1993 Fukuoka International Women’s Competition manager for USA team
  • 1988 – Present. Director of the annual North vs South Judo Tournament in Southern Illinois
  • 1985 – Recipient of the Most Outstanding Contributor To Education Award presented by the Ferguson Florissant School District School Board for teaching Judo to middle school students
  • 1981- present Head instructor of the Ki To Kan Judo Club in Florissant, Missouri Current International Judo Federation (IJF) Kata Judge
    1970 – 1984 Judo instructor at Holy Rosary and St. Martin Catholic schools in Fairmont City and Washington Park, Illinois
  • 1970 – 1971 Judo instructor at Southern Illinois University Adult Education
  • 1969 – 2017 Guest Judo instructor at Belleville Judo Club in Belleville, Illinois
  • 1968 Judo instructor at the United States Air Force Base in Saitama, Japan
  • 1965 – 1967 Judo instructor at the Matsudo Police Department in Chiba, Japan
  • 1962 – 1964 Selected by the Kodokan Judo Institute to represent Joshi Judo. On call at the Kodokan 7 days a week, to randori with foreign visitors who wish to test their skill in the homeland of Judo.