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Christina Mowatt: Blind Judoka

Christina Mowatt

Christina Mowatt

Christina Mowatt breathes hard as she leaves the gym after an intense training session at the Burnaby Police Judo Club.  She improves her speed and balance with her coach, Chin-I Hsiang,          ahead of the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA)’s Judo World Championships in Birmingham, UK.


Judo, meaning “the gentle way” in Japanese, is a combat sport where a combatant—called a Judoka—throws the opponent onto on the mat. The goal of a judo fight is to have the opponent’s back and both shoulders on the mat.  Judokas also score points by having the opponent’s one shoulder touching the mat, hold-downs, and submissions such as armbars and strangulations.  Judo is unlike other common combat sports like Karate, Taekwondo, or boxing, where combatants attack each other with punches and kicks.


Para (or blind) Judo is accessible for the partially sighted or blind with few adaptations from regular judo.  “Opponents start at the center with constant contact, gripping onto the sleeve and lapel of the uniform, called a judogi.  Their arms are always touching, with one’s left arm touching the other’s right arm or vice versa, depending on if the combatants are right or left-handed,” Mowatt describes para judo’s modifications and match procedure.  “IF contact is broken, the clock is stopped, and the referee repositions the combatants back at center.  The referee will warn you when you're getting close to the boundary of the mat.”

Since December 2021, the IBSA classifies the combatants based on their vision level into J1 (totally blind to having some light perception) and J2 (can see hand movements to having up to five percent functional vision) to ensure competitive fairness.  Before the change, para judokas who were classified from B1 to B3 would compete together, regardless of their vision level, which caused unfairness.  Judokas who belonged in the B3 class are now deemed to have enough vision to compete in able-bodied judo.

Mowatt is a J1 judoka from Burnaby, BC who has been practicing judo for six years.  She is a brown-belt—the highest of the six student (“kyu”) ranks.  The other belt ranks from lowest to highest are white, yellow, orange, green, and blue, with mixed-colour belts in between each rank.

Born in Vancouver, Mowatt has been blind from retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) since birth. She met Priscilla Gagné and competed together at a wrestling event while attending W. Ross Macdonald Residential School for the Blind in Brantford, Ont.  Mowatt’s desire to pursue judo surfaced after reconnecting with Gagné ten years later and realized that Gagné has been competing internationally and was on Canada’s Paralympic team for ten years.  

Mowatt began practising judo at age 28.  She joined the Burnaby Judo Club at the Bonsor Community Center.  “It was pretty daunting,” she recalls.  “When I first got there. I was like, ‘What am I getting myself into?’ And then I kept it up for a few months, and everyone at the club went above and beyond for me and was really supportive.”


She began competing after meeting Canadian Paralympics coach, Andrzej Sadej.    She debuted internationally at the IBSA Pan Am Championships in Montreal in 2020 where she won bronze.


“I wasn't expecting that at all because I was a green belt at the time and I had only been involved with judo for a year and a half,” Mowatt remembers her surprise in winning bronze.   “I was the underdog, but I won against the world’s third-ranked judoka in five seconds. That was pretty cool.  I never felt that elated before!”  


Mowatt was joyful to inspire upwards of 60 women aged 16 and up at Judo BC’s “The Gentle Way to Empowerment” self-defence workshop for women in June 2023.  “It was good to see the women there,” she says.  She was demonstrating judo throws among the Canadian Olympian and Paralympian judokas, as well as law enforcement officials.  “They were pretty inspired.  Many came and talked to me.” 


Mowatt encourages the blind or partially sighted who wants to join judo to give it a try. “Contact the judo club in your town and try judo for a couple of months to see if you like it,” she advises.


“Potential blind judokas who want to join the Canadian Paralympic Program should speak to their local sensei,” Mowatt adds while noting that the Canadian national team welcomes more blind judokas to join its current three members in the Paralympics program.  “The sensei can contact Andrzej Sadej to get the process of classification and eligibility started.”  Andrzej's email can be found on Judo Canada's website.


Mowatt, who embraces the pressure and performs well under the spotlight, will fight in the Parapan American Games in Santiago, Chile in November after the World Championships.  She will also fight in Grand Prix stops in Japan and Germany in the winter.


While Gagné, the reigning Paralympics silver medalist, has qualified for the 2024 Summer Paralympics, Mowatt sets her sights on qualifying for Los Angeles 2028.

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