Saturday, September 19, 2009

Visually impaired Judo contestant heads to US Competition

A Billings man who cannot see will compete in the U.S. Open Judo competition in California later this month.

Robert Deese, 47, lost his vision to congenital glaucoma, an inherited condition that has affected him since birth.

Deese took up judo about 10 years ago. The martial art pits competitors, called judokas, against each other on a mat.

It requires strength, balance, self-confidence and self-discipline.

"Out of all the sports, judo is one where you don't need sight," Deese said. "It's nothing but hands-on."

"I'm not going to lie. Having sight has its advantages," he said. "But it also has its disadvantages."

Deese earned a slot at the Sept. 25 competition in San Jose, Calif., after taking third in his division at the International Judo Tournament in Germany earlier this year.

"I was kind of shocked," the father of six said. "I thought I was going to have to work my way up the ladder."

Although judo rules allow Deese to compete against sighted judokas, he has so far only entered matches against other visually impaired athletes.

He recently trained with a team of visually impaired judokas at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. The team competes in the Paralympics Games.

In Billings, Deese trains three times a week at Park's Martial Arts Academy.

He would like to open his own dojo, or judo school.

"I want to introduce blind people, people with hearing impairments or people with minor physical disabilities to competition judo," Deese said. "You don't need to see to teach."

Contact Diane Cochran at or 657-1287.


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