This story originally ran in The Denver Post on June 19, 2012.
An out-of-shape lump like me may not be much of a challenge for an Olympic or Paralympic judo athlete, but it is important for them to work with people like me who aren’t familiar with their techniques. That way they can continue to perfect their ability to throw, pin, choke, or armlock their opponents in competition, which is how a judo match is won.
Oddly enough, I was looking forward to such an experience while driving in to practice recently. Ron Hawthorne, the United States’ representative in the 60 kilogram (132 pound) division in the London Paralympics, was going to be at the Denver Judo Dojo that morning.
That’s one of the great things about the judo community, particularly here in Colorado: with the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, top-level judo athletes are easily accessible at the local clubs and tournaments.
I hadn’t yet set my bag down after walking through the door, and I was already being scolded by Scott Moore, Paralympic head coach and winner of a gold medal at the Sydney Games.
“You are not going to work with him [Hawthorne]. He isn’t even half your size.”
I’m rusty after being out for several months, so it’s my technique and ability Moore doubts, not Hawthorne’s.
“Pound for pound he’s one of our strongest fighters,” Moore said. “If he goes out there and does what I know he can, he can definitely medal.”
I saw it firsthand, too, as Hawthorne moved and attacked during practice. He set up his opponents and finished his throws with determination. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of work to be done.
As the London Paralympics approach, Hawthorne is working with his coaches not only to perfect his favorite techniques during practice, but also to develop strategies to use against specific opponents.
Hawthorne has optic nerve atrophy and is rated as a B2 athlete, which is someone who is not completely blind but does have some useful vision. And he uses that to his advantage when fighting someone who has less vision and is rated as a B1.
“If I’m going to fight someone who is a B1, I’m going to try to move them all over the place so they don’t have a sense of where they’re at. Then I can use my feet a lot to set up my other throws.”
One of those throws would be his morote seoi nage, or shoulder throw. He is working on making it better than Moore’s so he can win the gold.
“We’ll also be focusing on certain techniques we’ll use in the Games. We’ll also do a lot of randori (sparring), drilling, and lineups. With those we could be out on the mat for 12 or 15 minutes straight.”
That’s an eternity in judo, considering that tournament matches — unless they go into sudden death — last no longer than five minutes.
But it will make Hawthorne a stronger and better-conditioned fighter, preparing him for what is to come this summer in London.
What shape you’re in doesn’t matter for judo, though — you get in shape by doing it. All that’s important that you get out there and try it.
Meanwhile, you can lend your support and encouragement to Ron Hawthorne by following him on Twitter at @Showtime_60kg.
Get in the ring
The Denver area has several options for folks to get involved in judo. Check out these clubs:
Denver Judo Club, 719 Mariposa St., 303-591-9563, denverjudo.com
Northglenn Judo Club, 11801 Community Center Dr., Northglenn, 303-450-8800, northglennjudo.org
Highlands Ranch Judo Club, 4800 McArthur Ranch Rd., Highlands Ranch, 303-791-2500, hrjudo.com