Women in Martial Arts: Sarah Mayer

Sarah Mayer in Judo uniform

Sarah Mayer

In 1935 Sarah Mayer nee Benedict became the first non-Japanese woman to earn a black belt in judo. She started training in 1926 in London, England. Her first teacher was Gunji Koizumi, with whom she continued to correspond often after she left to travel to Japan. The trip was originally supposed to only last 4 months however she repeatedly extended it to continue her training.

Mayer’s Letters Home

Several of Mayer’s letters to Gunji Koizumi have been preserved giving us great insight into her training.

She documents that her first teacher in Japan, Sensei Yamamoto, treated her delicately in training. That is until she stated “I did not consider myself to have any sex when I was doing judo” as quoted from one of the letters home. This was a turning point in her training. From then on she was often treated more like the men training than the women. Mayer first met Sensei Yamamoto Masanobu when visiting the Butokuden in Kobe where she was convinced to give a demonstration in front of the men and press. After which she joined the group as the only woman there training. Due to this most of her practice partners were members of the Kobe Police Force. Due to the press and word of mouth, Sarah Mayer received many offers from other dojos to come visit and learn.

Sarah Mayer is rather clear in letters that she disliked the women’s section of dojos. She compares them to a young ladies’ school in her letters.  In fact, it is stated in her letters that she specifically avoided the Kodokan where Professor Kano taught due to not being allowed into the main dojo and instead being told to train on the women’s side. However, Professor Kano later insisted that she be admitted to the men’s dojo for practice instead of the women’s so that he could train her.



Sarah was 38 years old when she first earned her Black Belt. She was awarded Butokukai first Dan by Sensei Isogai. Sensei Isogai was considered to be one of the great figures of judo and the 4th youngest person to achieve the rank of 10th Dan.  Her achievement of first Dan was international news.

This was in February of 1935 shortly before traveling back to London.

Despite Mayer being a foreigner training in Japan she was influential. The women of Japan saw her training journey and her encouragement of other women to do the same. This was during a period of Japanese history when women were working on becoming more independent and changing how they were treated. These women looked up to her and the things she accomplished.

The Japanese Minister also used her accomplishments in his process of changing Japan in the eyes of the world. Sarah’s name was associated with the government in order to help increase tourism by showing the modernization and internationalism of the country.


belt display


For more Women in Martial Arts check out these posts!

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Women in Martial Arts: Edith Garrud and Crabapple Martial Arts Academy has been selected the nation’s #1 martial arts schools for SIX YEARS IN A ROW by the American Budokai International!

Founded in 2013 by Mr. C. Matthew White is a 5th-degree Black Belt in Karate and 6th-degree Black Belt in Jiu Jitsu, and Master Instructor. Crabapple Martial Arts Academy has Karate lessons for pre-school children to elementary kids ages 4 and up. These classes are designed to develop the critical building blocks kids need – specialized for each age group – for school excellence and later success in life.

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About C. Matthew White, Renshi:  Matt is a fifth-degree black belt in a traditional Japanese and Okinawan Martial Arts – Shuri Ryu Karatedo. He is also a sixth-degree black belt in Japanese Jiu Jitsu – Shintoyoshin Kai Jiu Jitsu. He is a master instructor with the title of Renshi, which means Scholar in Japanese.  Matt has a bachelor’s degree in Exercise and Sports Physiology. He has been training and teaching martial arts for over 27 years. He has owned Crabapple Martial Arts Academy since 2013. Renshi White is a motivational speaker and educator, and teaches seminars in bullying, business, and martial arts training.

Crabapple Martial Arts Academy Headquarters is in Alpharetta, Georgia at 12315 Crabapple Road., Suite 124, Alpharetta GA 30004. You can locate the Chief Instructor, Sensei Robert Reed there or directly at (770) 645-0930.


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