by Oliver Pang
Originally published in the Fall 1986 issue of American Judo Magazine
“What a challenge,” I thought. “Could I, a blind person, compete in a national kata championship?” “Why not,” I concluded. The US Senior Nationals were to be held on May 4th in Honolulu, Hawaii. It was already April and there wasn’t much time to get ready. I had been practicing the nage no kata for 8 months and felt fairly confident in performing it. Neil Ohlenkamp agreed to be my partner; I was to be tori and he was to be uke. Although Neil knew both positions of the kata, we had not worked together on it before. We had less than 4 weeks to work as a harmonious team.
The nage no kata, for the most part, required simultaneous timing of movements between tori and uke. My major concern was trying to align myself on the mats with my partner to allow proper spacing and direction. I am able to overcome most problems by counting, by timing, and by listening to our footsteps. With some limited light perception, I am usually able to adjust to my surroundings by observing the direction of the overhead lights, the light relections off the walls, and white tapes on the mat. In late April, after a dozen workouts, we were off to Honolulu.
The weather in Honolulu was slightly cloudy and moderately windy most of the time; a few rain showers made it truly tropical. We left for the Neil S. Blaisdell Center early Sunday morning for the kata competition. What a disappointment when we examined the mats. The overhead lights formed a large circular pattern, we were in the middle of a large arena and there were no walls to relate to, the mats were dark gray, and no tape was allowed on the mats for the starting position. We tried to find some point of reference, but it seemed hopeless. An idea raced through Neil’s mind. He asked the guard to open one of the side doors for a little while. The daylight from the doorway was the guiding light that I needed. Encouraged by this new circumstance, we awaited our turn to do the nage no kata.
The applause was heartwarming and gratifying. For this day, we did our best. This experience was a valuable education.
Editor’s Note: The photograph shows Oliver Pang (sandan) and Neil Ohlenkamp (godan), instructors with the Encino Judo Club, practicing tomoenage in preparation for the nationals. They placed 5th in the men’s nage no kata division. Oliver teaches at the Braille Institute Youth Center in Hollywood, California. At the time of the kata competition he was not only the first blind kata competitor at any US Senior Nationals, but he held the lowest rank among all the entrants and he was the oldest competitor. Oliver Pang is a former photographic editor for Black Belt Magazine.
Nothing would be done at all if a man waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault with it. — Cardinal Newman