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″]

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Scott Moore
Scott Moore
Scott Moore is a 5th degree black belt in judo and he head instructor of Denver Judo. He is also a 3-time Paralympic Judo medalist winning bronzed in Atlanta, 1996, Gold in Sydney, 2000, and bronze in Athens, 2004. Scott was the assistant coach for the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Judo team and the head coach of the London 2012 team.
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Posted in Scott's Stories | 13 Replies
Scott Moore

About Scott Moore

Scott Moore is a 5th degree black belt in judo and he head instructor of Denver Judo. He is also a 3-time Paralympic Judo medalist winning bronzed in Atlanta, 1996, Gold in Sydney, 2000, and bronze in Athens, 2004. Scott was the assistant coach for the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Judo team and the head coach of the London 2012 team. Find Scott on Google+

13 thoughts on “A Thug, Me?

  1. Tad O.

    IMO a thug would be a guy who would thrashes people without regard for there safety. If a person is overly concerned with the ascetic alone is what I would call a “purist” but, there is much more than just simply the ascetic alone. I mean there is something beautiful about knowing the why to some of the more esoteric aspects to Judo and what it means as opposed to just going through the motions. As well as understanding that a good hard throw done with control matched with a good breakfall while may look like a brutally hard fall to others can be the easiest throw to take.

    • Scott Moore

      Thanks for your comment Tad. Good to hear from you and I totally agree with you. I was just writing about a conversation I had a while back but thought it would be an interesting topic. Thanks again,


  2. Gary Wood

    Nice write up Scott. It reminds me of a comment one of my friends made when I took him with me to a tournament for the first time (he doesn’t practice Judo). He said: “Doesn’t Judo mean the gentle way? Nothing about that looks gentle!”

    There is definitely a different level of intensity comparing competitive Judo to the “purists” perspective. By the way, I knew Jim Carmer when he lived in Michigan. I remember Jim as a strong and skilled player who would roll with anyone, regardless of size. I guess that would make him a thug as well. Miss seeing him around the Judo scene locally.

    It is a small world.

    • Scott Moore

      Thanks Gary. I appreciate your comments. When my wife and I do clinics at sports camps to introduce kids to judo we always tell them that judo means the gentle way. Then we do the first throw and ask them if they think that looks gentle. Then I do a little thing where I show them how judo must be gentle because I am a gentleman by helping my uke get somewhere faster.

      You are absolutely right about Jim. He is still strong and very crafty and will go with anyone. We use to do morning workouts and I would go with these big hulks and pin or submit them then get caught with a simple choke when I thought I was about to catch Jim. I love working with him because often when I think I am getting the better of him he is teaching me a lesson.

  3. Joe Ragan

    Scott, Great article. Never thought about it, but after
    decades I can’t say I’ve ever met a thug that advanced in Judo.
    Just people trying to be their best… A thug would leave after the
    first class. I’ve seen some of those… Thug’s don’t like Judo…
    Maybe I just haven’t seen it… Joe

    • Scott Moore

      Thanks for your comment Joe. We do not allow “thugs” in our dojo either, but I have run into a few over my years in judo. I think some clubs who care only about winning will promote people without taking character into account. We’ve had to ask a few people not to come back to our dojo because of their attitudes Fortunately that is the exception and not the rule.

      Thanks again for reading my article and for your comment!


      • Gary Wood

        I’ve seen a few over the years as well. One that comes to mind was a black belt who visited one of the clubs I trained at over a several week span. He had one speed and that was full-on. After he injured several students of lower rank and older age the head sensei told him to dial it down or leave. He couldn’t seem to control himself and was asked to never come back.

  4. Jason

    Dan’s arms sticking out from under a big guy? Would that be
    me? I ain’t no thug! I’m a judo purist, just like those rascals in
    Dog Judo.

    • Scott Moore

      Yes sir. You were definitely who I was thinking of when I wrote that. He would complain about how big everyone was then go call out the biggest guy in the room.

  5. Antonio

    Hi Scott, unfortunately the issue you report is widely a reason of division into the dojos. You know? In the middle of ’70 the Italian federation even spitted into two parts because of it.
    About the weight of your opponent or his physical strength I would remind how the weight categories were introduced by the “occidental thugs” while the “Japanese purist” don’t take care about the weight of the opponent.
    Personally I believe we are a little bit “thug” when we don’t give the possibility to the opponent to try his technique forgetting the difference between randori and shiai.
    Anyway I never saw a bear to win an important tournament…

    • Scott Moore

      HI Antonio,
      Thanks so much for reading my article and for your comment. I agree that we often forget there is a difference between shiai and randori. I hope you are doing well and I hope to see you back in Colorado some day soon! Great to hear from you.


  6. Jim Vyse

    You might remind the “purists” that Kano himself would necessarily be a thug. Kano engaged his students in numerous grudge matches against ju-jitsu schools where the outcome was broken limbs and spilled blood. Deliberately!
    Besides I know you are NO thug. Anyone who can tolerate a 12 year old Canadian punk smacking you on the back and say, “ok, you’re next” during tandoori and letting him walk away to practice another day is indeed a wise sensei and gentleman!


    • Scott MooreScott Moore Post author

      Hey Jim,
      Thais so much for the comment. I wish I would have noticed this before because I was just in Toronto for the Parapan American Games and would loved to have seen you and the family. I sent a message to that not 12 anymore Canadian kid on facebook but never heard back. Anyway, thanks for reading and for your comments and kind words. Interesting point about Kano. I’ll remind Jim of that. Great to hear from you! Please give everyone my best!



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