Transitioning from Wrestling to Judo For Low Vision & Blind Athletes

By: Marc P. Vink, Ed. D.

USABA National Judo Coach

The United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) in cooperation with United States Wrestling is continuously searching for low vision and blind wrestlers to transition into judo. While judo is a Paralympic sport, wrestling is not. As an Asian wrestling form, judo has much in common with freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. Many throwing techniques such as hip tosses, headlocks, underhook doubles, fireman's carry, ankle-picks and arm throw are directly transferable as winning judo throws. The training and match preparedness are so similar that over half of the United States Paralympic Judo Team members entered the sport with a wrestling background.

Success Story

Myles Porter was a successful high school wrestler in Ohio and started practicing judo as a college freshman. Utilizing his wrestling background, he was immediately successful in local and regional judo competitions.

Myles recently won a bronze medal in the 100 Kg. category at the 2007 Para Pan American Games, in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil . He is currently a resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center, Colorado Springs, CO and is preparing to compete in the 2008 Paralympic Games, to be conducted in Beijing , China. 

Utilizing his wrestling background and with less then four years of judo experience, Myles has climbed the ladder of athletic success to represent the United States in one of the largest sporting events in the world.

Like most Paralympic sports, various levels of financial assistance are available to athletes meeting criteria through the auspices of the United States Paralympic Committee.

Because low vision is sometimes not well recognized by coaches, the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) has refined the condition to three categories for easy use. Below, Table 1 summarizes the definitions. Within this context, categories B1 through B3 compete in IBSA sponsored events. The B4 category is not presently recognized by IBSA. However, several National Governing Bodies (NGB's) do recognize the category because low vision often progresses into more severe conditions. A board - certified physician specializing in vision is qualified to evaluate and document individuals interested in establishing their designated category.

Table #1: IBSA Definition of Low Vision & Blindness

Category Definition Comments
B1 Total absence of light perception in both eyes or some perception of light but inability to recognize form of a hand at any distance. Red 7cm circle on outer part of both sleeves of judo uniform.
B2 Ability to recognize shape of a hand to visual acuity of 20/600 and/or visual field of <5-degrees. None.
B3 Visual acuity >20/600 - 60/600 and/or visual field of >5 - <20-degrees. None.
B4 Visual Acuity = 20/70 up to 20/200. Can only compete nationally.

USABA schedules several developmental judo camps each year. These camps are typically conducted at the United States Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs , CO . At camp, certified judo coach's work in tandem with the athletes' coach and residential staff to deliver a curriculum resulting in competitive proficiency. USABA provides follow-up athlete support services to track and promote continuous improvement.

USABA encourages low vision and blind judoka to participate in a wide range of able-bodied state, regional and nationally sanctioned competitions. Based on the level of success gained at these events, USABA grants athletes National or Elite status. Individuals gaining either status are provided with a wide range of support and the opportunity to represent the United States in international judo competitions. These judoka typically attend several training camps per year conducted at the OTC. Athletes are selected to participate in seven male and female weight categories sanctioned by IBSA, NGB's and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). Below, Table 2 summarizes several of these international competitions.

Table #2: IBSA & NGB International Judo Events

Competition Time Period
Kodokan ( Tokyo Japan ) Team Event (NGB) Annually
Lithuanian Open (NGB) Annually
German Open (NGB) Annually
British Open (NGB) Annually
World Youth Games (NGB) Every two years
World Cup (IBSA) Every two years
Pan American Championships (IBSA) Every two years
World Championships (IBSA) Every two years
World Games (IBSA) Every two years
Para Pan American Games (IPC) Every two years
Paralympics (IPC) Every two years

Since the first Paralympic Congress in Barcelona , in 1992, American low vision and blind male judoka have competed in the Paralympic Games. Judo for female judoka entered the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens . Judo for low vision and blind athletes is one of the fastest growing and most popular sports in the world. At the 2007 IBSA World Games, in San Paulo , Brazil , over 60 countries and 130 male and female judoka competed over four days. The number of participating countries and athletes continues to grow steadily each year

For additional information on judo for low vision and blind athletes, visit USABA's Web site: http://www.usaba.org or contact Heidi Moore, USABA Development Coach at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

The Paralympics Games

In order to introduce Paralympic sports, including judo, to young athletes, U.S. Paralympics, a Division of the U.S. Olympic Committee, will send 35 young athletes with disabilities to the Paralympics Games in Beijing, China from September 4 TH - 12 TH , 2008. Fifteen Paralympics coaches will also travel to China to participate in the program. The young athletes and coaches will live in the Olympic Village, attend opening ceremonies, watch events and meet American competitors and coaches.

To enter, applicants (ages 12-18) must fill out an application, including a 500-word essay on What Ability Means To Me, as well as letters of recommendation. The deadline to enter is April 1, 2008. Applications may be found online at http://www.usparalympics.org