MMA Royalty: Masahiko Kimura

Any MMA fan will have heard of something known as the ‘Kimura arm lock’, and many people will know of a legendary fight between Masahiko Kimura and Helio Gracie. 

Although it is unlikely that many people who are alive today would have been able to see it in the moment it happened, and the occurrence that led to that particular submission gaining that name. 

We know the tales of Kimura, and of the Kimura arm lock, but no one really seems to know the man behind the mask, and that he really was much more than simply the fighter that broke Helio’s arm in that fight. 

If Kimura was fighting in today’s MMA championships, we know that many would be running to the sports books to find out the MMA odds and find that all were in favor of Kimura. However, his fights took place quite a long time ago. 

So, let’s remember the legend behind the name of a submissive move.

Who Is Masahiko Kimura?

Masahiko Kimura was a Japanese judoka as well as a pro wrestler, he is believed to have been the greatest judoka ever. Kimura won many matches including the All-Japan Judo Championships thrice consecutively, he was the first to do so and he never lost a single match from ‘36 to ‘50 in judo. 

He was born in 1917, and passed away in 1993. He was an incredible fighter and has been described as being the strongest judoist to ever be. 

“In the history of judo, no one is the strongest before Kimura, and no one is the strongest after Kimura”. 

The ‘reverse ude-garami arm lock’ was named after Kimura after he turned victor over Helio Gracie in that jaw dropped match, for which he is known to the world. However, in Japanese pro wrestling he is better known for having had a controversial match against Rikidozan. 

Kimura Vs Gracie.

In 1949 Kimura and company journeyed to Brazil after being invited, where they were confronted by Helio Gracie. 

Gracie suggested a match which would apply the ‘Gracie Rules’ in which throwing and pinning would not be counted towards a victory, instead only losing consciousness, or submission would count. 

This was against the rules of judo, wherein throws and pins would usually account for a victory. Nonetheless, Kimura accepted. 

Kato of Kimura’s troupe went first, he was the second-best fighter regarded in Japan, however he lost in a gi choke. Yamaguchi was up next, but Kimura challenged Gracie for the world championship. 

This fight took place in front of 20,000 people. 

What was incredible about this match was that Kimura was told by the Embassy of Japan that if he lost this match, he wouldn’t be welcome back into Japan after this. So, he had a lot on the line. 

He entered the stadium to booing and raw eggs from spectators. Then the Gracie company showed up with a coffin, giving symbolism that Kimura would end up dead, like Kato had. 

Kimura was already the heavyweight champion of the world, but Gracie was confident. He started off trying to throw him, but Kimura sustained his every move. Gracie managed ukemi due to the types of mat, but Kimura was fighting back hard. 

After he had performed a series of epic holds on his opponent it seemed like Gracie was struggling to breathe beneath him, however, Gracie tried to move, he tried to push using his arm. 

This was when Kimura seized hold of his arm and performed the gyaku-ude-garami move, Helio was too stubborn to surrender, and Kimura twisted it, and it broke. 

Gracie still wouldn’t give up, and so he kept twisting it until it broke again, and again, and again. As Kimura went to twist again, Helio Gracie’s corner threw in the towel in defeat and Kimura won!  

Professional Wrestling Career.

This is not the only fight that stands out in his history, however it is the one we often remember the most, and the one we recount the most. 

Kimura took up Judo at 9 years old, and was a black belt by the time he was 15, at 18 he was the youngest to reach 5th dan black belt when he won eight matches.

He is also renowned as having some amazing physical gifts, an incredible work ethic and some of the most punishing workouts ever. 

There was always more to Kimura than met the eye, but the story of Kimura vs Gracie is one you never forget.

Ireland's leading MMA media outlet. Home of Severe MMA Podcast. Producers of 'Notorious,' 'The Fighting Irish' & other MMA docus