A Thug, Me?

The idea for this post came from a conversation with a guy who at the time was my boss and also one of my students.  This was a few years ago, not long after he got his brown belt, if I remember correctly.  He use to come into my office for 30 minutes to an hour just about every day to talk about judo.  We often talked about some of the top players and the state of judo in the US and the world, etc. One day we were talking about our club and practices and he told me that he was a judo purist like Jim but Heidi and I were thugs.

Scott Moore at a Paralympic Team practice with his arms spread as it to say "what are you doing"

Scott Moore at a Paralympic Team practice with his arms spread as it to say “what are you doing”

Before I get into his explanation let me tell you who Jim is.  He was talking about Jim Carmer, a  Yodan (4th degree black belt) from Denver Judo, although I believe Jim was Sandan (3rd degree black belt) at the time of this comment.  Jim, besides being a super cool guy, is a national level referee and until a few years ago, an active masters player as well.  As a matter of fact, he met his now wife, Jessica, at the World Masters Championships in either Ireland, which led him eventually to Denver Judo. Lucky Us!  Jim has a very good understanding of the sport and rules of judo, and one of the cagiest guys I have ever done randori with, either ne waza or tachi waza.

Ok, now that you know who Jim is, I’ll get back to my conversation with Dan about why he considered Jim and himself to be purist and Heidi and me to be thugs.  This conversation happened about 3-4 years ago when Dan was in his mid 50’s and I believe Jim was in his early 50’s.  On any given night, Denver Judo usually has a very tough group  of guys and girls on the mat.  It is  not uncommon for us to have a few nationally ranked players from the US and other countries show up for practice, some on a regular basis.  For this reason among others, we can have some pretty intense practices, and our players love it, or at least they act like they do when I am there.  One of the things I like most about our club is that everyone, from the local to national and international level players all train really hard.  Even those not really into competition come to  practice and work just as hard as everyone else.  It’s a great atmosphere and we all have a great time on the mat.

Anyway, Dan, being around 180 lbs would often complain about how big and strong a lot of our guys are.  Don’t get me wrong, he worked hard. It was not unusual to see him, or at least his hands and feet sticking out from under one of our heavy weight guys.  So after he informed me that I was a thug, I said something along the lines of “a thug, excuse me?”  He explained that Heidi and I , because we had been international competitors and coached our club with a primary focus on competition that we were thugs.  He claimed that he and Jim were more interested in the principals of judo which are  maximum efficiency (seiryoku zenyo) and  mutual welfare and benefit (jita kyōei), rather than just “beating people up”, thus making them  purists.   I told him that when he put it that way, I guess I am a thug.

I will admit that I am a very competitive person and the primary focus of our practices is to train for competition.  I did remind Dan that, while we do train hard, especially when preparing for tournaments, we do back it down and spend more time working on technique when there are not tournaments coming up.  We do randori in every practice but we usually teach and spend time working on techniques before randori most of the time.  We do also require our students to take a written an a practical test for each rank so when our students go before the state board to test for Shodan (first degree belt) we have no doubt they will pass and represent Denver Judo well.  Knowing and understanding judo is very important to me.  I remember when I went to my first  judo camp, Jim Mastro, who I wrote about in my last article, was talking about a throw and could not tell me the name of the throw.  I found out that he didn’t know the names of several techniques so I asked how he got his black belt if he didn’t know the names of the techniques, because I had to taken written and practical tests for all my ranks.  Jim told me that he showed up for a camp at what was then the National Judo Institute in Colorado Springs with a white belt and was beating up some of the black belts so he promptly got promoted.  Remember from my last article, Sports Camp, What an Experience, that Jim was an alternate on the 1976 US Olympic Greco-Roman Wrestling team.    According to Dan’s model, Jim would definitely be considered a thug.  It didn’t help his case that Jim is still one of the strongest people I have ever known.  By the way, Jim does know the names of all the techniques now, and is a very good teacher.

Jim Carmer judging at the Northglenn Championships

Jim Carmer judging at the Northglenn Championships

One the other side of the coin, I have known people that could tell you everything ever written abut judo and the stats of all the top US players.  Many of them had very nice technique on the crash pads and had a great understanding of the mechanics of the techniques but in randori or shiai, could not throw anyone.  These guys are definitely purists.   Back when our club was at the University of Denver we had a student from Japan who’s father was his Sensei.  He had the most beautiful technique but it did not translate into randori or shiai.  After he had been with us for a year and we had taught him to grip he was much tougher.  He complained to me at the end of the first year that his judo had gotten worse.  I asked him to compare how many throws he was getting in randori at the beginning of the year to how many he was getting at the end of the year.  I finally got that he meant that his technique was not as sharp or as pretty as it had been.  I still thought he had beautiful technique but I pointed out that while his techniques may not have been a crisp as they were at the beginning of the year, now they actually worked!  He just smiled and agreed that he was doing much better.  By the time he graduated and went back to Japan, we had converted from a purist, if not to a total thug, he was at least 50/50.

As for me, I would like to say I am a purist, because I do believe in the principles of judo.  It is very important to me that my students not just win matches, but know and understand the sport and martial art of judo.  I want my students be a good representative of me and Denver Judo, not just for being a good fighter, but have good technique, being respectful, and a good sport in competition or while visiting other clubs.  As I said, I would like to say that I am a purist but I’m not sure I’m good enough, at least in Dan’s model, to be considered a purist, but I’m ok with that.  If being serious about competition and winning makes me a thug, I will happily remain a thug.  As a matter of fact, I am hoping that as I get older, to transition from being a thug to having “dirty old guy” judo!  That will have to be a future article.

I feel I should let you know that Dan knows that I think he is full of it.  He is a very smart guy and does read a lot about judo on the internet and books.  He would read something online somewhere or in some book then come talk to me about it.  I also want you to understand that as I talk about purists and thugs I am doing so from Dan’s model of a purist and a thug.  I do not believe that just because you are a great competitor you are necessarily a thug, although by Dan’s standard you probably are.  I also believe that it is possible for a purist and thug to coexist in a single judo player.  You can be a great fighter and at the same time understand and respect the principles of judo.

I am working on adding polls to some of my posts and maybe having stand alone polls.  I have a poll below to find out how many thugs and purists we have.  Please vote and if you feel like it, comment below and let us know how you voted or your thoughts on the subject.

Thanks for reading.

Talk to you soon…

[yop_poll id=”2″]


Sports Camp, What an Experience

This week’s article is a little different from those I have done so far, but I had a great experience and wanted to share it with you.   My friend and former Paralympic teammate,  Jim Mastro runs a sports camp for visually impaired kids at Bemidji State University in Bemidji, Minnesota.   At this camp Jim and his counselors introduce blind and visually impaired kids from age 8-18, to several of the Paralympic sports available for the visually impaired as well as other games and activities.

Northern Plains Vision of Sport Camp - Older Kids

Northern Plains Vision of Sport Camp – Older Kids

Before I get into the camp I’ll tell you a little about Jim.   To be honest, Dr. Jim Mastro is one of the most amazing people I have ever had the fortune of knowing and calling my friend.     Jim is one of the greatest athletes I have ever known. He has participated in 7 Paralympic games, medaling in 4 different sports including wrestling and judo.   Despite permanently losing his sigh while he was in high school, Jim was an alternate on the 1976 US Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling team.   Here is an excerpt from the Northern Plains Vision of Sport camp website:

My name is Dr. Jim Mastro. I am a professor of Professional and Physical Education at Bemidji State University Minnesota. I have to tell you a little bit about myself. I am blind. I was born blind in my right eye due to hypoplasia of the optic nerve (the nerve was not fully developed). At age eleven I had a curtain rod thrown into my left eye. At the time of the accident, I had two operations that managed to save my vision. Despite my visual difficulties and pressure to do otherwise, I was very active in sports such as track and field, gymnastics and wrestling. Between my junior and senior years of high school, I experienced a retina detachment stemming from the accident when I was eleven. I underwent four operations, but my vision did not return. I was permanently blind.

I attended Augsburg College and again became involved in wrestling. I ended up a conference champion; a member of the United States team for the World University games; and an alternate for the 1976 United States Olympic Team, the first person who was blind ever to do so. About that same time individuals with visual impairment and blindness (VI and B) were added to the Paralympics [Olympics for individuals with physical or sensory impairments]. I am fortunate to have been on seven United States Paralympic teams (1976 – 2000) receiving ten medals in four different sports.

Source:  http://visionsofsport.org/coordinator.html


As you can see, Jim is a pretty amazing athlete.   Before the 1996 Paralympic Games he did a fundraiser where he got pledges on how many push-ups he could do in one hour.   Would you like to know how many he did?   3,076!   That’s right, I said he did 3,076 push-ups in one hour, and he had a cold.   I remember being proud that I was doing 500 push-ups and 1,500 crunches a night. Talk about letting the air out of my tires when he told me that.   Besides being an amazing athlete, Jim is also very accomplished in his professional life.   He was the first blind person in the United States to earn a PhD in Physical Education.   Besides all this, Jim is a really cool guy!

Ok, so that is a quick look at Jim Mastro, now back to the camp.   He had been talking to me for years about coming out to help out with the camp but it had never worked out that I could make it before this year.   In my role as Paralympic coach for USA Judo, part of my job is to find and recruit new athletes for our program.   Even when I was an athlete, I was always on the lookout for new visually impaired people doing judo and talking to them about the Paralympic program.   I have never been as good at it or as persistent as my wife, Heidi Moore.   If we see a blind person walking through the mall, she will chase them down and ask them if they want to do judo.   Anyway, this year when Jim talked to me about attending the camp I brought it up in one of our Paralympic judo staff conference calls and everyone agreed that it was a good idea for me to go up to the camp to meet some of the athletes Jim had told me about and to identify any new kids who showed an interest and aptitude for judo.   What I did not realize was that Jim was not just going to let me sit around waiting for the afternoon judo sessions.   He took me to the morning session of a game called Beep Baseball.

I had heard of the game from several people I know who have played it and have seen videos but have never played it myself.     In beep baseball, everyone is blind folded and someone from your team pitches a softball with a beeper inside to you.   If you hit the ball, which is not easy at all, you have to try to make it to base before someone in the outfield finds the ball and picks it up off the ground.   If you make it to the base you earn a run, so all you have to do is get to the base before the ball is picked up.   The catch is, in beep baseball they only use 2 bases, 1st, and 3rd, and you do not know which one you have to run to until after you hit the ball.   When you hit the ball someone controlling the bases will turn on either 1st or 3rd base randomly and that is the base you have to run to.   Did I mention that you are blindfolded?

Jim had the kids do some drills involved in finding the ball and picking it up as fast as possible.   The kids would compete against each other and the winner of all the kids in the group would then get the chance to go against me. I pretty much got my butt kicked in all these drills.   After the fielding drills he had them stand at home plate and have them run to whichever base was turned on and timed them.   Again, he had me run and timed me.     I forgot to tell you that the bases are about 4 feet tall and padded and the idea is to get to the base as fast as possible, so if you really run hard you end up running the base over and often end up tackling the base and rolling on the ground.   Did I mention that you are blindfolded? It is pretty intimidating to run all out toward some random beeping sound and tackling a base you cannot see. After a few tries I did get the fastest time on the first day.

The other thing they did was have the kids play in the outfield where we would throw balls and spotters would yell what zone the ball was going towards after it was thrown and the kids would have to try to find the ball as fast as possible.   On the second day, Jim was not happy with the way the kids were moving so he had them lay on their sides which is the basic position you are supposed to assume to try to block the ball, and he threw the ball at them.   I was trying to throw it near the kids but Jim, who could not see them just hurled it out there and if it hit a kid he would say “It’s part of the game!”

I had never really been interested in playing beep baseball or any of the other “blind sports” but I have to admin it was a lot of fun!

If you want to learn more about beep baseball, check out the National Beep Baseball Association’s home page at http://www.nbba.org.

Showdown Table

Showdown Table

Another game I was introduced to was a game called Showdown.   My wife and I had actually seen a Showdown table in the International Zone in the Paralympic village in Sydney in 2000 but did not know what it was or how to play.   It was described to me as a mix of Ping-Pong and table hockey.   The table is a long narrow table with high sides and a big divider right in the middle of the table with a few inches of clearance at the bottom.   Each player is blindfolded and has a long wooden paddle they use to try to hit the ball into your opponent’s goal.   The ball is a hard plastic ball, a few inches in diameter with beads inside so you can hear it moving.   When you serve, the ball has to hit the wall on your side of the table before crossing under the partition.   The ball can only hit the wall on your side once when serving.   If it crosses the center line without hitting the wall your opponent gets a point and if it hits the wall more than once before crossing the center line your opponent gets a point.   If the ball hits the partition above the center of the table your opponent scores a point, and if you hit the ball off the table, your opponent scores a point.   Oh and if you get the ball into your opponent’s goal you score 2 points.   The game is first to 11 points but you have to win by 2 points.

Showdown is a pretty fast paced game so much so that you have to wear a hockey glove on the hand you hold the paddle with because that ball is hard and moves really fast.   Even with the glove, my little finger was swollen the day after I was introduced to the game.   The goal is a net that hangs down right in the center of each end of the table.   Because the game is so fast paced, I found out that it is not a good idea to be too close to the net when a goal is scored.   Sometimes the ball will roll in while you are searching your side of the table with your paddle but sometimes it hits that net pretty hard and if you have your leg or groin too close to the net, you know when the goal is scored right away, despite being blind folded.   It only took me getting hit several times to learn to keep my hips back.

Showdown is a blast.   If you want to learn more about the game, check out this description of the game on Wikipedia. If you scroll down to the North America heading, it actually mentions James “Jim” Mastro.   (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Showdown_(sport)).   Jim is talking about hosting a Showdown nationals at Bemidji State in May of 2014.   If I can find a table somewhere to practice, maybe I’ll go up and give all those guys a chance to kick my butt, AGAIN!

Another game I was introduced to was blind darts.   They had a talking dart board that would tell you what score you got, well it told the other guys, if you miss the board, it doesn’t say anything.   I did eventually get the hang of it but that was after breaking a few of the dart tips and even completely destroying a dart.     It was a lot of fun but I did take 5th… out of 5.

Bemidji State has an outdoor adventure program, so the kids also got to do things like rock climbing, and canoeing on Lake Bemidji.   That was a lot of fun.   I went out with one of the other counselors then when we got back he needed a break so I took one of the kids and a semi-counselor who had never been canoeing, out on the lake.   We had a blast.   I used my paddle to splash s little water on the younger kid in the middle of the boat.   When the counselor in the front tried to do the same thing, she got a drop or two on the kid but she soaked me.     It was a lot of fun.

Northern Plains Vision of Sport Camp - Younger Kids

Northern Plains Vision of Sport Camp – Younger Kids

Of course we did some judo at the camp.   The kids were broken unto two groups with the younger kids going first then the older kids.   They did judo for an hour and a half each for five days but I was only able to be there for the first two days.   Some of the kids had done it in previous camps so it wasn’t totally new to all of them.   I also thought it was cool that several of the counselors, both sighted and visually impaired, had been introduced to judo in previous camps and had even joined either Jim’s club or a club in their hometowns.   It was nice to have counselors who actually knew judo to help the kids work through the skills we were teaching them.

I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with them as I would have liked but it was great to get to meet and work with them and I even got to meet one of the guys who is coming out the his first international VI tournament and training camp next month at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

USA Judo sent me to introduce blind and visually impaired kids to judo and to talk to them about the Paralympic judo program.   I was very happy to work with these kids and was even more excited when some of the kids I had talk to Jim about during the two days came up to give me their names and parents’ contact information at the end of my last session with them.

I have done several clinics for visually impaired kids over the years but this was a totally different experience for me.  I have never really thought of myself as a visually impaired athlete, but just an athlete and while I have been to sports camps for visually impaired kids as a clinician, I have never been to one as a participant.   If I remember correctly, this was the 13th year of the Northern Plains Vision of Sport camp.   The camp had about 26 kids, all visually impaired but some had other physical and cognitive disabilities as well.     The kids were divided by age but not ability level and everyone participated in everything together.

If you have read any of my other articles, you may have gotten the impression that I am a fairly competitive person.   Over the two days I was there, I got my butt kicked in everything we did except judo.

I was really inspired at how the kids of greater ability encouraged and praised the kids who needed more attention and help.   I also thought it was really cool that several of the counselors were former participants of the camp.   Some of them had been going to that camp since it started, going back every year until they were 18, then going back as counselors, giving back all the great experiences they had over the years.

I was truly inspired by the camp, the kids, and the counselors.   I definitely plan on going back, but not just for judo, and next time I go, I’m going to do my best to be there for the entire week.

If you want to learn more about the Northern Plains Vision of Sport camp please visit their website at http://visionsofsport.org.

Thanks for reading,

Talk to you soon…

Should I fight in that?

The easy answer to this question is yes, you should!   I personally don’t get practicing a sport and not competing.   This happens a lot in judo.   It may happen, but I have never heard of someone going to soccer practice several times a week, learning all the skills of the sport, and never playing in a game.     The only reason I can think of to explain why this happens in judo is because participants randori (spar) in pretty much every practice.       Now that I am retired from competition, after 19 years of competing in judo and 5 years of wrestling before that, I do get all my matches in at the dojo, but for beginning students not to compete is beyond me.   I have heard people say I just want to learn but am not into competition.   My question is: how do you know if what you are learning works?   In the dojo, you are training with the same people every day and they are learning the same thing you are learning from the same instructors.

Scott Moore taling to Coach Willy Cahill just after winning the bronze medal in the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece

Scott Moore taling to Coach Willy Cahill just after winning the bronze medal in the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece

I get that some people are recreational players and are not trying to make a team or win a National championship, but competition is a great opportunity to test your skills to see what works and what does not work.   It doesn’t even have to be about wins and losses, compete for fun and to further your learning and understanding of the sport.

Obviously, higher level players who are trying to become national champ or make national teams know how important competition is, but I think they often get so wrapped up in the big tournaments, they forget about the importance of smaller tournaments.   I think having elite athletes compete in smaller “local” tournaments can be very useful and good not only for those athletes but also for the local judo community.

Elite players are not above local competition, and should include local tournaments as part of their training.   A local tournament is a great place to work on things that might be working in practice but are not working at Nationals against other elite players.       Trying things at the local level gives higher-level athletes the opportunity to try things in a tournament setting, which is different from practice situations, where there is not as much risk of getting caught and losing if your technique does not work.   And, in a local tournament where there is nothing more than pride on the line, if you do lose, so what?   I get that no one wants to lose, especially an elite player losing at a local tournament, but you have to approach it as a training opportunity and remember that while you pride may be hurt, in the grand scheme of things a loss at a local level doesn’t matter as long as you learn from the loss.

I’m not saying you should not care about losing.   I hate losing!   I use to say that I would rather get hit by a truck than lose a match.   I have never been hit by a truck, but I was hit by a car 3 times while riding my bike, so I do have an idea what it feels like.   My point is simply that if you lose a match at a local tournament it will not cost you making the World Team!   Plus it will make a local player feel like a big deal!

One of the biggest mistakes I made later in my career was that I stopped competing in local tournaments.   Sometimes it was due to injury, but if I’m going to be honest, it was because of my ego.   My excuse is a little different from the scenario I mentioned above.   It is, however, just as much a mistake and I feel not competing more hurt me in the later years of my career.   There were other factors too, like getting older and injuries, etc, but not competing was also a big part of the problem.

In 1998, I won the World Championships, in 1999 I become the second visually impaired judo player to be nationally ranked among sighted athletes, and in 2000 I became the first American to win a gold medal at either the Olympic or Paralympic games in judo when I won the Paralympic Games in Sydney.   All incredible experiences, and the culmination of a lot of hard work and some great training opportunities with excellent training partners and great coaching.   Don’t misunderstand me, I am very proud of my accomplishments but despite my success, I have never thought of myself as a great judo player.   After Sydney, I took a little time off to recover from some injuries and I started graduate school and had gotten married 3 months before the games, so I had a lot going on.   The judo club I had moved to Denver to train with was my former Paralympic Coach’s club that he turned over to me, so I was teaching too.

The problem I had was not thinking I was too good for local tournaments; it was worrying that I would not live up to everyone’s expectations.   I

Scott Moore - Bronze medal - 2004 Paralympic Games - Athens, Greece

Scott Moore after winning the bronze in the 2004 Paralympic Games, Athens, Greece

was World and Paralympic Champion and when fought in local tournaments they would announce “Over on mat 2 we have Paralympic Champion, Scott Moore, fighting in the finals of the men’s 73kg division…”   My biggest fear was they would announce that and everyone would turn to see me getting slammed.   I worried that I was not as good as everyone now thought I was and that if I did not live up to their expectations, they would be disappointed.   I had never admitted that to anyone until one day I was talking to one of my Paralympic teammates about some local tournaments and we both started hinting about it and it turned out we had both stopped competing in as many local tournaments for the same reason, ego!

Part of the problem is that I was getting older; I was 30 in Sydney and 34 in Athens.   I won a bronze medal in Athens but I almost did not qualify at all because I struggled at the 2002 and 2003 World Championships.   The problem as I said was I was getting older and I was not fighting as much, so I wasn’t as sharp.   I was still training just as hard, and doing really well in practice but as I said earlier in this article practice is not the same as fighting in a tournament.   I was still fighting at Nationals and some of the big tournaments but not nearly as many as I had always done in the past.   When I was coming up, I fought in every tournament I could.   I remember getting on the back of a motorcycle for a 4 hour drive to Houston in the winter for a little local tournament.   Luckily a guy with a car pulled up just as we were leaving and asked if he could go, so we parked the bike and jumped in his car.

I retired after Athens and came back in 2006, but never really did as well as I had in the past. I did win a bronze medal in Athens and actually had some really good matches.   There are many factors as to why I wasn’t doing as well.   One of these, as I said was the fact that I was getting older and fighting much younger guys, but I believe a bigger issue is that I was not as sharp as I had been in the past.   I was losing matches to guys I knew, even while I was fighting them that I was much better than, but I just wasn’t as sharp as I had been.

Of course I know that you can’t always fight in every tournament, especially the elite athletes.   I can certainly understand not fighting in a local tournament the weekend before nationals or the world trials, or sitting out of a local tournament if you are banged up, but when there is a nothing right around the corner, why not?   Back when I was still competing in everything, I was also training a few times a week at the Olympic Training Center with guys like Carols Mendez who was #2 in the country at 73kg and fought in the 2000 Olympic Games for Puerto Rico, and Ryan Reser who is a 2008 Olympian.   Not only did I get to train with these guys, I also go to fight them in local tournaments in Colorado.   Nothing like making it to the finals of a local tournament then fighting Carols or Ryan, both super cool guys; Ryan as well as being a fantastic judo player is a super nice guy, by the way, but he blasted me with a big o soto gari in the finals of the Colorado State Championships.

Ryan and I have spoken about this topic several times and he understands the importance of fighting in local tournament as a crucial part of an elite athlete’s training and even now he fights at a couple of local events in Colorado every year.

I believe competing is important for the development of all judo athletes from beginners to elite level athletes, although for different reasons.   I also believe it is very important for kids.   The thing I think is so great about competition in judo for kids is that there is always a winner and a loser. No judo match ends in a tie and you do not win if you do not try.   I think kids learn valuable life lessons from competition that you do not get in an “everyone is a winner” society (that’s a whole other blog topic).

So I encourage you, at whatever level you are, fight in the local events.   It’s good for you and it’s good for judo, especially in your local area.

Thanks for reading!

I’ll talk to you soon…