Competitive judo popular for the visually impaired

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Judo is one of the most popular competitive sports for men and women who are blind and visually impaired. (WLS)

Judo is one of the most popular competitive sports for men and women who are blind and visually impaired; in fact Chicago has the largest judo group in the country.

For many of these individuals, it's all about qualifying for nationals, internationals and Paralympic games.

At the Military Arts Institute in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood, people with and without vision impairments practice different judo techniques.

Sarah Chang just started judo in December.

"I am here because I wanted to excel at a sport that I could do as a person with a disability," she said.

She has already competed in four different events.

"One of them in Reno, Nev., and I placed third, brought home bronze and I'll be going to the Worlds (competition) in September," Chang said.

Sensei Brett Wolf, a fifth-degree black belt is the head coach of the blind and visually impaired judo program.

"We have upwards of 30 athletes with visual impairments doing judo at our club," Wolf said. "We have seven athletes who compete on a regular basis and hopefully will represent the United States in various international tournaments in the next 12-18 months."

Classifications for blind and visually impaired are by weight.

"There is a seven weight class for men and seven weight class for women," Wolf said. "Down the road, IBSA, who runs Paralympic judo, would like to separate visions by level of visual impairment but there are not enough players right now to do that."

Always an athlete, Angela Geis started judo 11 months ago.

"I had participated in the VI, which is the visually impairment para-division," Geis said. "I took first place in that against a teammate and then that went to national that was held in Reno, Nev. in May and I placed second place silver."

"It's a great sport for people who have visual impairment because it's a hands-on sport, it's a grappling sport and the rule deviations between Paralympic judo and Olympic judo are very minimal," Wolf said. "And since your hands are always on, the ability to see is not as important as it is in some other sports."

This week is the World Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo., where several of them will participate.

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