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Professor Helen Carollo

1998 Recipient: Award of Excellence

Stories about Professor Helen Carollo on the web: An internet search will lead you to many conversations, articles, and references to Professor Helen Carollo, but these links lead to articles focusing on her:

A wife, a Mother, a Judoist – Black Belt January 1962

 Taking Care of Themselves – Martial Arts Experts Show Other Senior Citizens How to Avoid Becoming Victims – LA Times  February 1993

Professor Helen Carollo

9th degree Black Belt in Danzan Ryu Jujitsu
4th degree Black Belt in Judo

By Karen Dean

Prepared for presentation at ST’98Professor Helen Carollo has been involved in Jujitsu and Judo longer than many of us have been alive.  After moving from Spokane, Washington to Oakland, California in 1941, she was so impressed with a Judo demonstration, that she immediately enrolled in the Oakland Judo School and has been active to some degree ever since.

That significant encounter with Judo led to a second meaningful event: Professor Carollo met her future husband, Dom Carollo, at the Oakland Judo School.  He was an assistant Judo instructor at the time, and not surprisingly, they later founded the Carollo Judo School in 1946.  Professor Carollo instructed the women’s classes.  She recalls, “I found teaching women could be very easy.  I encountered difficulty only in instilling self-confidence…”  It also helped that when women students saw her taking falls, they reasoned, ‘if she can do it, I can too.’  The result: a huge increase in enrollment, which forced the 10-mat training area to expand to 40 mats!

By 1952, Helen Carollo had been in Judo for over eleven years.  And it was on July 30, 1952, that she became the first Caucasian woman in the United States to be promoted to Black Belt outside of Japan.  She did, however, visit Japan twice: once in 1953 and the second time in 1960.  During the first visit, she trained at the Kodokan, six days a week, in excess of eight hours a day.  She tripled the number of Japanese women participating in Judo, in part, because she demonstrated how a married woman and mother (by then, she and Dom had two children) could work out in Judo and do it effectively.  Once again, Professor set the example and the women followed.

 The Professor’s second visit to Japan revealed how famous she had become.  She enjoyed constant recognition and admiration by the Japanese.  Pictures of her on the mat appeared in Japanese newspapers quite regularly.  In fact, it became customary that every time she was out enjoying Japan’s beautiful sites or just on a stroll, people would point at her, excitedly, exclaiming, “Judo, Judo!”

Fast-forward to 1997.  The Professor is now 79 years old, and she and Dom, now grandparents of four, have lived in Redondo Beach, California since the mid-1960’s.  Both Dom and Helen Carollo hold the rank of 9th degree (Kudan) in Danzan Ryu Jujitsu and 4th degree (Yodan) in Judo.  Both are chief technical advisors to the Southern California Jujitsu Association, Professor Carollo still assists in teaching Monday and Thursday evenings at the Westchester Jujitsu Kai.

With a penchant for sharing her vast knowledge and an everlasting interest in improving women’s Judo, this diehard pioneer delighted a number of women martial artists during the weekend of November 8-9, 1997, when she hosted the 1st Ladies Martial Arts Seminar in Venice, California.  To a standing-room-only crowd, complete with video and still cameras, Professor Carollo demonstrated a range of techniques, in a way that only a master could.  She made a memorable impression when she, quite effortlessly, ‘took out’ three women Black Belts (who were all a minimum of forty years her junior!)  She demonstrated Yawara techniques using a hammer handle. Her level of skill was nothing short of spectacular.

In applying chokes, one didn’t appear to feel pain, only lightheadedness.  It was absolutely fascinating to see that someone’s grandmother could pin women considerably younger and arguably stronger (women with at least 20 years of experience in Judo, Jujitsu, Brazilian Jujitsu) yet these women could not escape!  The soft-spoken Professor matter-of-factly reasoned with her humbled students, “I’ve been doing this for over 50 years!”  These women could not throw Professor Carollo, who is just over five feet tall.  Pinning her was next to impossible.  The Professor’s eyes twinkled and she shyly smiled each time one of the students made a futile attempt to throw her or escape from a pin.

One of the cameramen, who claimed to be a former high school wrestling champion, was awestruck upon seeing the many uses of defending with a walking cane– something that many senior citizens now know to use, thanks to the Professor.  He was also quite impressed with Professor’s pinning combinations and counter-attacks.  Professor noticed how curious he was watching her and being the gracious person that she is, with that twinkle in her eye she asked, “Want to come onto the mat, young man?”  The cameraman nervously declined and resumed his work.

In addition to hosting seminars and teaching classes, Professor Carollo regularly visits local senior citizen centers to teach self defense to seniors.

This crusader for women’s Judo is a delight to young and old, and despite thanking those in attendance for coming to the Venice seminar, it was apparent that the gratitude and joy was widely felt.  Whether Professor Helen Carollo discusses subtle gripping techniques, Lomi-lomi (back walking) or the time she was the guest of the Prime Minister of Japan, one realizes: this is an incredible woman, she exudes confidence and humility, and she is a person with a huge heart and a lifetime of knowledge.  Professor Carollo will continue to host women’s seminars, as she quipped, “assuming anyone’s interested.”  That is not likely to be a problem.  Her only concern might be finding locations large enough to accommodate all of the knowledge-thirsty students!!!!