Blind Guy Makes History… Again

I want to start this article by saying that I have really been enjoying watching the World Championships over the past few days.   I have watched all the US matches and as many of the others as I can and keep my job.   I have to admit that while I’m still not a fan of all the rule changes over the past few years, overall there has been a lot more action than I’ve seen in a while.   The matches have really been exciting and I’m looking forward to the next few days of competition.   This brings me to the point of this article.

Scott Moore with Myles Porter at the 2011 World Championships in Turkey.

Scott Moore with Myles Porter at the 2011 World Championships in Turkey.

While the World Championships is a very important event, most people have no idea that one of the athletes, regardless of the outcome, will be making history just by stepping on the mat in Rio!       If you have read any of my previous posts, you know I do not subscribe to the idea that “we are all winners just for trying.”   Though that may be true, I am a competitor and I always went into a tournament planning to win.   I did not, of course, always win and was usually able to learn from, if not enjoy the experiences when I lost, but the experiences was still not as great as it would have been had I won.     But this Worlds marks the first time a visually impaired judo athletes has ever earned a spot on the sighted US world team.   On Saturday, August 31, 2-time Paralympian, Myles Porter who won a silver medal at the 2012 London Paralympic Games will represent the United States in the sighted World Championships in Rio!

This may not seem like a big deal, but it really is!     It is so exciting for me to see how far our program has come as far as inclusion into the mainstream judo community.     When I started judo, I had no idea it was included in the Paralympic Games.   Actually, the year I started, 1988, was the first time judo was included in the Paralympics for men.   I didn’t know anything about judo in the Paralympics until I got my USJA magazine in 1992 with a full-page picture of Jason Morris, who had won a silver medal at the Olympics on the cover.   Then I noticed a small picture down in the bottom corner of the page of Brett Lewis who had won a silver medal at the Paralympic games.   There was an article in the magazine about the Paralympic judo team.   It wasn’t long after that I met Larry Lee, the Paralympic team coach, who found me through my high school wrestling coach.

In 1996, the United States won a bronze medal at the Olympic Games.   I would guess that most of the judo community or at lest those who have been involved in judo for a while know it was Jimmy Pedro.     I would bet there aren’t many people who can name even one of the 4 people who won medals at the 1996 Paralympic Games.   I’ll give you a hint, I am one of them. But besides me, can you name any?   If you know me well, you may know others that you have heard me talk about, but probably not all.   Marlon Lopez won bronze at 65kg, I won bronze at 71kg, Jim Mastro won bronze at 95kg, and Kevin Szott won Silver at +95kg.

Ok, I’ll give you another chance, that was a long time ago.   In 2000, the United States didn’t win any medals in the Olympics but was arguably the #1 team in the world at the Paralympic Games.   Can you name any of the 4 medalists from the 2000 Paralympic Games?   I don’t count. Of all the guys on that team, I am the only one still involved with Paralympic level judo so I have had some publicity from USA Judo when I was named head coach of the 2012 team (and recently when they made me a meme!)   I’ll give you a hint, many of the same guys won medals in 2000 that won them in 1996.   Marlon Lopez won bronze at 66 kg, Brett Lewis who was injured in 1996 so had to withdraw at the last minute won a silver at 81kg, I won gold at 73 kg, and Kevin Szott won gold at +100 kg.

I won’t continue with each year but hopefully you are starting to see my point.     Please do not misunderstand and think that I am in any way talking down about our Olympic program.   I am first and foremost a judo guy. I love judo and I am very proud of all our Olympians!   I do understand that the Olympic divisions are much deeper than those in the Paralympics.   I am not taking anything away from any of our athletes.   I am just pointing out that in the past we have not had anywhere near the recognition the Olympians have had despite winning more medals.

Kevin Szott at the 2004 Paralympic Games

Kevin Szott at the 2004 Paralympic Games

I don’t think anyone is really to blame for this, we were part of a different organization and while blind and visually impaired athletes were competing at local tournaments, most people didn’t know much about us.   We were part of the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) until 2008.   After the 2000 Games, US Paralympics was created so while they were part of the USOC, we were still governed by USABA until 2008.     The USABA did a good job with our program but they were just not part of the mainstream judo community.   In 2009, it was decided that where possible, Paralympic sports should be governed by the National Governing Bodies (NGB) of their able-bodied equivalents, so judo moved to USA Judo.

I am not going to say that everything is equal, but things have come a very long way as far as exposure and press, and even funding.   I don’t care what anyone says about USA Judo, they have done a great job with the Paralympic program.   Things were a little rocky at first, but we have a great staff, if I do say so myself, and we have a great working relationship with USA Judo.   I am very proud of what we have accomplished over the past 5 years and am very much looking forward to continuing our relationship and further developing our team in preparation for Rio!   You may not be able to name any of our three medalists from the 2004 Paralympic Games, or even our single medalist from the 2008 Paralympics, but I’ll be many of you know who our two medalists were from the 2012 Games in London!   I’ll help you out, Kevin Szott and I took bronze at 100kg and 73kg respectively, and Lori Pierce, who was one of my students, took silver at 70kg in 2004, which was the first time women were included in the Paralympic judo program.  In 2008, Greg Dewall won a bronze medal at +100kg.   Do you know the names of the guys who medaled in 2012?   I’ll be you do! They are both OTC resident athletes: Myles Porter won silver at 100kg, and Dartanyon Crockett won a bronze at 90kg. You may even have received a post card with them on it when you renewed your USA Judo membership this year.

I think there are a few reasons for the recognition of our program getting better over the years.   I don’t think it was because people didn’t believe that a visually impaired athlete could be competitive at the national level with sighted athletes, I don’t think anyone had ever given it any thought at all.   Until 1998, no visually impaired athlete, at least none that I know of, had ever been nationally ranked among sighted athletes.   One of the first things Larry Lee did when he took over as coach of the Paralympic program back in 1992, was to start having our athletes train with   elite sighted athletes.   He started having all our training camps at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.   Back then it was not uncommon to have 30 or 40 nationally ranked athletes on the mat.   He started doing things like having those of us that didn’t have families or full-time jobs move out to the OTC to live and train for 4-6 weeks at a time.   I did that in 1996 before I won bronze in Atlanta, and in 1998 before I won the World Championships in Madrid.   But even then, no one had really given us a second thought.   In 1998, Kevin Szott took a bronze medal at the US Open, which made him the first visually impaired athlete to be ranked on the national point roster among sighted athletes.

After that, Kevin quit his job as a strength coach at Penn State and move to Colorado Springs to be an off-campus resident at the OTC for judo.   The following year I got on the national roster and then again in 2000, so I also became an off-campus resident at the OTC.   I never got higher than 7th on the roster, but Kevin had gotten as high as #3 in the country and had their been an Olympic trials in 2000, he would have gone.   Then in the 2000 Paralympic Games, I made history be becoming the first American judo athlete to win a gold medal in either the Olympic or Paralympic Games.   Kevin then won his gold the following day.   Maybe some day I’ll write about our race to be the first.   Because of that, and for our overall team doing so well, people started taking a little notice of our program, really for the first time.

We got a little more recognition in 2004 and 2008, but again, the issue was that our governing body was not part of the mainstream judo program.   When our program was moved to USA Judo after the 2008 games, we were all a little shocked and didn’t know what was going to happen.   To there credit, they embraced the program and ran with it and we have gotten more recognition than we have ever had, medals not withstanding.   We got more publicity going into the games than we had probably had throughout my entire Paralympic judo career, and we got more press for Myles   Porter’s silver and Dartanyon Crockett’s bronze than I ever got for my Gold and 2 bronzes.   I’m not bitter about that, not much anyway.   I look at it as we were pioneers, paving the way for these young athletes.

Scott  Moore Meme by USA Judo

Scott Moore Meme by USA Judo

I know I said earlier that the problem was not that people didn’t think we could do it, but that is not entirely true.   It was not the problem at first but once we started going to bigger tournaments in the US I think that is what people thought.   People had the mentality of “aw look honey, those blind guys are competing, and they are doing such a good job!”   People would say I did a good job weather I won or got slammed through the floor, and I hated it.   I never wanted to be recognized for being a blind judo player; I just wanted to be recognized as a judo player.   I don’t think that has totally gone away.   I often hear people praising visually impaired athletes for bad performances.   I’ve talked about that before and may again but not here.   We just wanted to be recognized as equals or at least equally recognized, and making the national roster helped.   For a long time there was just Kevin and I, then Myles came along and not only made the roster, this year he moved up to #1 on the roster and became the first visually impaired athlete to represent the United States at the sighted Pan American championships and on Saturday he will be the first to represent the US at the sighted World Championships.   Myles has lived and trained at the OTC for several years now and has really developed as a judo player.   I am really proud to have played a small part in his success.   Myles is coached by Ed Liddie at the OTC and I’m sure Ed will coach him in Rio as well, but the last few teams I was on were Myles’ first few, so we spend a lot of time traveling and training together as teammates.   To his credit, when I met him he was a green belt living in Ohio and because I had done what he was hoping to do he would call me and ask about tournaments, and training drills all the time, because he wanted to get better.

If I have to be honest, I am a little jealous at how much he has done and how much press and exposure he gets, but as a coach and a Paralympian and someone who has been involved with the Paralympic judo program for 20 years now, I am so proud of him for all he has done and is still doing.

I think it is interesting and is actually a small point of pride with me that Myles is #1 in the United States and on the sighted world team and is doing so well, but we still have not had a Paralympic gold medal since 2000.   Don’t get me wrong, I wanted for him to win gold so badly in London, and hope that he and others do so in Rio, but it speaks to how good Paralympic judo really is when the #1 guy in the country took silver!

So on Saturday, I may be at practice but while Myles is on the mat, I will be off the mat watching on my iPad or on the dojo computer.   There is no way I will miss Myles making history.   I know right now he is thinking about fighting and not about making history, but when it’s all said and done that will mean a lot and something he will never forget and it is something that is so important for other visually impaired athletes and the world to see.   We don’t do this to be role models – that is a side effect, although not a bad one.

Before I end I want to wish Myles and the rest of our team the best of luck but I also want to say congratulations to Marti Malloy for a great performance for a silver medal at the Worlds.   Also, I am so proud of team overall, everyone is fighting so well.   They may not all be making the medal stand but they are winning some really good matches.   In their first Worlds Hana Carmichael, Jonathan Fernandez, and Hannah Martin won some really good matches and represented us very well.   Hannah Martin made it to the third round and fought for 5 minutes with the former World and current European champion and lost 3 shidos to 2 shidos in a really tough match.   We still have room for growth and improvement but it is nice to the US team winning on the world stage.   Keep up the good work and again, good luck to Myles, you’ve already made history, now go out there and kick some butt!

As always thanks for reading!

I’ll talk to you soon…


Don’t Ever Give Up!

This article was inspired by a post my wife made on Facebook over the weekend and one of the comments she got on her post.   Before I get into the article I want to start by saying I am not writing this to attack anyone on their views on this subject.   I recognize that my opinion is not the only one on this subject.   I’m not even saying I’m right. This is just my opinion!

Bronze medal match at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece.

Bronze medal match at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece.

Ok, now that I have that disclaimer out of the way I’ll tell you what I’m talking about.   My wife was watching the World Cadet Championships over the weekend and saw a few kids get caught in pins and one tapped out and a few others just laid there and didn’t fight to get out.     So Heidi posted on Facebook, “I don’t get not fighting when you are pinned or tapping out of a pin.”   Now, of course we were not there and it is possible, although unlikely, that 3 or 4 kids in a row who got pinned were injured so they tapped out or just lay there until the 20 seconds ran out.   Like I said, we weren’t there so I’m not going to talk about these kids specifically, this is just what started the conversation on Facebook and was the catalyst for this article.

Most people agreed that you should never give up then someone said, “You know if you have a chance or not of escaping. No sense in making everyone watch you flop like a fish for 20 seconds if your opponent has a good one sunk in.”   When Heidi came back and said, “at the World Championships?” he did come back and agree that kids should fight but for the “old farts” you have to conserve your energy.   He then talked about using losing as a teaching tool to come back better next time and that experiences will tell you when you have been bested and conceding gracefully is honorable.   He went on to say he has seen many early taps in masters divisions.   I’ll give you the masters divisions if we are talking about the much older divisions, but in general, especially in elite level competition, shouldn’t we be teaching our kids to never give up?   After all, 20 seconds may seem like an eternity when you are the one being pinned, but it is not all that long to try to escape from a pin.   When I was competing, I loved nothing more than holding a grown man down against his will for 30 seconds.   I always thought anyone can get caught with a good throw or even a good choke or arm bar, they happen so fast, but a pin lasted for 30 seconds when I started and 25 by the time I retired, so wining by a pin in judo, while not as flashy as a big ippon throw, is a much better show of control.   Conversely, there was nothing I hated more than being pinned, so I always fought tooth and nail to get out of every pin.   Even today in practice, I do occasionally get caught in a pin, but I rarely stay in one because I fight so hard to get out.     Don’t get me wrong, I do love getting a nice big throw for ippon, and I eventually transitioned into more of a standing player as I developed, but I came from wrestling so when grappling, I am much more likely to win by a pin than a choke or arm bar.

My first comment on the post was in response to his comment about using losing as a teaching tool.   I said, “Learning from a loss is important but what does giving up or quitting teach? I talk to my students about learning from a loss but I also teach to never give up!”   His comment to that was, “If someone has a choke applied, do you tap or nap? If the outcome is inevitable, why delay” to which I commented, “A choke is a little different than a pin. You have 20 seconds to get out so why not at least try? I would rather try and fail than just lay there.”   There is nothing dishonorable about conceding victory when your choice is to tap or take a nap.   If those are your choices, you have lost.   The reason a pin in judo lasts 20 seconds is so you can have 20 seconds to try to get out of the pin, so why not use them?   One of our athletes was pinned at nationals and got out with one second remaining and got up and threw the girl for ippon.

If you try, you might lose, but if you do not try you are guaranteed to lose.   My Facebook friend and I each posted one more time but they were longer so I won’t post them here but the last comment on the post, so far, was from a friend and former Paralympic teammate of mine, Scott Jones, who said, “Sports, i.e. judo, are a reflection of life. It’s struggles, the successes, the failures, the need for tenacity, the opportunity to overcome. It can build great tools to handle the realities of the world. And one reality is if you practice giving up you will give up both on the mat and in life. And that’s why you teach your kids to never give up. Not for the medal but for the life’s lessons.”

Never Give Up - Frog in a Crane's mouith, choking the crane

Never Give Up

I had not gone into the discussion thinking about anything more then competition but I could not agree more with Scott’s thought on this subject.     Many people may not think lessons learned in sports apply to every day lives but those people are wrong!         If we teach kids that giving up when it gets hard in judo (or anything), do you not think they will carry those lessons to other areas of their lives? Of course they will.     That’s not to say that if a kid gives up on a pin he or she will necessarily be a failure in life, or in judo for that matter.   I am saying that if a kid gives up every time they get pinned and it is not addressed then the lesson being learned is that when things get tough, I can just give up – and that is not a lesson we want our kids learning in any area in their lives.   On the flip side, they should also know that if they get pinned and try really hard they may not get out, and while that may suck, it is the effort that is important.   This is when learning from a loss comes in, when the athlete tries and fails you address ways to improve and practice, but if the kids doesn’t even try to get out, then the lesson they need to learn is to try.

One of the things we tell our kids is that the chances of winning are much greater if you try!   We even have a poster from the Paralympics on the wall that says “You can’t win if you don’t try. What’s your excuse?”   Of course no one wins all the time, and we can learn from losing, but I feel it is very important that kids learn that if you try, you may fail, but if you do not try failure is guaranteed.   I lost many matches throughout my athletic career, but I never lost because I did not try.   I hated losing, but as much as I might be disappointed in a loss, if I knew I gave it my all, I could at least hold my head up knowing I did my best.   If I did my best and lost that is when I went back to my coach and talked about what I should have done differently.   If I did not try, then what I should have done differently is I should have tried!

Don’t get me wrong, if a young kid does out on the mat and gets pinned and just lays there I’m not going to pull the off the mat and yell at them about not giving up, but I am going to explain to them how important it is that they try to get out of the pin.   I am going to talk to them about giving their best effort and if they lose to be proud that they were brave enough to go out there and try.   I always tell my kids that if they do their best I will be proud of them no matter who wins the match.

One of the things I hate about our society today is the idea that everyone is a winner all the time and people don’t learn to lose.     When my son played basketball and soccer they didn’t keep score.   The officials didn’t keep score but there was not a kid on that field that didn’t know the score.   This topic is a whole other blog, but that is one of the things I like about judo, there is always a winner and a loser.   I believe that learning to lose and to deal with the loss is a very important lesson for kids to learn.     I think it is also important for them to learn that it is ok to lose as long as they did their very best.   If they did their very best and lost they should be proud.   I do not believe they learn anything good from losing if they do not try.

Again, this is my opinion and I in no way intend this to be an attack on the person that I discussed this with on Facebook.   He is certainly entitled to his opinion and I can see his point to some extent.   I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.   Please feel free to leave a comment below but remember to keep it civil whether agreeing or disagreeing with me or anyone else commenting.

As always, thanks for reading.

I’ll talk to you soon…

I Can’t Do the Work for You

A few months ago, I did a series of article about some of the characteristics I felt are very important in my success as an athlete.   It was a 3-part series called What Makes a Champion.     I apologize if some of this is a repeat of what was in those articles but this is a topic that is very important to me.   I have seen so many people come and go in judo, which I get; it’s not for everyone.   What I don’t get is the ones that come in and really get into it and come to practice all the time and show an aptitude for the sport and even talk about wanting to get serious about training and going to nationals/world championships/Olympics/Paralympics, and then you never see them again.     I understand that judo is hard and when beginners come in they may think it looks easy and are shocked at how physical judo really is. I’m talking more about the people who have been in judo, at least for a little while and talk about wanting to be a national or international champion but then when it comes time to make sacrifices or it starts getting hard, they quit.

Day 1 of camp at the 2013 US International Judo Championships for the blind

Day 1 of camp at the 2013 US International Judo Championships for the blind

One of the things I struggle with most as a coach is that I sometimes feel like I want it more for some of the athletes than they want it for themselves.   Don’t get me wrong, I coach at a local club with everything from beginner/recreational players to national and international competitors.   If someone is only interested in competing locally I still coach them to win and our advanced practices are geared for competition and we all work really hard.   What I struggle with is the athletes who talk about wanting to be national champions but are not willing to put in the time and effort and make the sacrifices to make that possible.   Or even worse, when I talk to them about what it will take to be successful and they are all gung ho and are doing well then you hear the screeching from them hitting the brakes  and you never see them again.

If you don’t want to be a national champion or have no desire to go to the Paralympics, that’s ok, but it is so frustrating to have an athlete who says they want to be national or Paralympic champion and I work to get them opportunities to help them and they turn them down.   I am always amazed when I talk to an athlete and offer then an opportunity of a lifetime and they say, “let me think about it” or “no thanks.”   This is along the same lines as the parents who say “Why isn’t my kid doing better in competition?” but only bring them to practice once in a while, and the folks who say “what do I need to do to win?” when they only come to practice once a week. I’m sure they can hear crickets when they say something like that to me.

Another one that gets me is, “I don’t have the money.”   Don’t misunderstand me, I understand that traveling around the country and the world is expensive, but when I was the athlete and the Paralympic coach called me and offered me a great opportunity, I would say YES, absolutely, I want to go, and when they told me how much it was going to cost me, I would say, ok, when do you need the money.   Then I would get off the phone and start trying to figure out how I was going to get the money, but I always got it.   I am not wealthy, not do I come from a wealthy family.   To me, it’s all part of having the desire to win, you cannot win if you do not go.

In 2005 my wife won nationals, which forced a fight off for the 2005 World team.   She was injured in the fight off, so she was the alternate.   The other girl,  after a week or so, declined her spot because she could not afford the trip to Egypt.   When the team leader called and asked Heidi if she wanted to go she said, YES.   Then she called me and asked how we would ever be able to afford it.   I told her we will work it out, but you are going to Worlds.   We did some fundraising and made a little from that but not nearly enough.   In the end, we took out a home equity line of credit so she could go.   There was no way I was going to allow her to miss such a great opportunity.   Not only did she go, but I went to watch her fight.   I realized not everyone has the ability to do what we did and maybe that was not the best thing for us financially, but again, you cannot pass up on an opportunity like that.   We did struggle after that trip, but it was totally worth it, and I would do it again. It’s unfortunate that there isn’t a lot of funding available in the US for up-and-coming judoka, but it is what it is and you have to make due.

Scott Moore talking to Coach Willy Cahill at practice

Scott Moore talking to Coach Willy Cahill at practice

My point is this, if it is important enough you will find a way.   If it’s not, that’s ok but tell me that up front.   I get that it’s not for everyone, and I get that judo is hard.   Mastering any sport is difficult, after 25 years I’m not even close to mastering judo.   I also get that along with being difficult to master, judo is very physically demanding – in other words it hurts.   It takes a special person to get thrown down to the floor and get up and do it again.   I get all of that, but when my junior students complain that something is hard, I always say, “if it were easy everybody would do it, that’s what makes you special.”

It’s hard and it is not for everyone, I get it, it’s just so frustrating when you see someone with a lot of talent who works really hard and is so excited about judo one day then not so much the next day.   I always love it when people tell me how much they love judo and how important a part of their lives it is or how important it is to their family. Then a month later you realize you haven’t seen them in three weeks, which can be a real disappointment.   If something is so important to you, I don’t know, maybe you should do it. Just a thought. Maybe they are just saying that to suck up to me because they think that is what I want to hear.   I would just as soon hear the truth.   I know judo is awesome and the coolest thing they have ever done or will ever do, I know all that.   I think I said something like this in a previous article but it bears repeating.   I am not impressed by words, or at least not any more.   I am impressed by actions.

In part 2 of my series, what makes a champion, I talk about desire.   If you truly have desire, you will do the work and you will find a way to get to practice, the gym and to tournaments.     Understand, there is a difference between the desire that drives a champion to win and just wanting not to lose, even if you really want to not lose really badly.   Desire will drive you to do what you need to be successful, wanting to not lose will drive you until it hurts or is inconvenient or expensive.

Finding one athlete who really gets it and who has the desire to succeed, if not necessarily all the talent, can make all those who do not, worth it. I was that athlete.   I wasn’t the most skilled judo player, but I had the desire and was willing to do whatever I was physically able to do and then some to succeed.

I use to laugh when I was competing and I would hear coaches yelling at their players who were visibly tired something like, “do you want this more than him”, or “who wants this more,” or “how bad do you want this,” or something along those lines. I would always think that was a dumb thing to say because my thinking was, of course they want it badly and they want to win.   My mistake was that I thought everyone had the same drive to win that I did.   I did not always win, of course, but I did not lose from a lack of effort or desire to win, sometimes I just got out played.   And that is the mistake I often make as a coach, I assume that every athlete that goes to a tournament or to a training camp must want to win just as badly as I did, and that is not always the case.

London 2012 US Paralympic Judo team

London 2012 US Paralympic Judo team

I love judo, and I love teaching it at my club, and I love coaching it.   I am so proud to be able to give back to a sport that has given me so much and as the Paralympic coach, I am so proud to be able to help visually impaired athletes realized their dreams and hopefully to help them go far beyond what I did, but if they want to be successful, they have to want it for themselves at least as much as I want it for them.   I will give everything I have to help them realize their dreams, but I cannot do the work for them!

If you have read any of my posts or if you get to the bottom of this one you will a quote I use a lot.   I use to always have to give a favorite quote for my athlete bio when I was competing so I would always try to come up with something from someone else, but one time I couldn’t think of anything so I came up with this one and have continued to use it ever since.   I have it as my signature for all my articles on this blog but I thought it would be appropriate here.

“If you are not willing to work hard to realize your dreams, why bother dreaming” – Me!

As always, thanks for reading.

Talk to you soon…