Meet Brett Lewis: Judo Gold Medalist and Sensei

Keynote Speaker Brett Lewis

Keynote Speaker Brett Lewis

Developed in Japan in 1882, Judo is a mutually beneficial sport for everyone involved, including blind and visually impaired athletes.

Meaning “the gentle way” Judo require a lot of self-discipline, structure, and strategy.

Brett Lewis, the keynote speaker for the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind Foundation’s 2013 Redefining Vision Luncheon on March 27, knows first-hand the challenges and rewards of this competitive martial art.

Originally born in Del Rio, TX, Brett moved to Spokane when he was just five years old.  At age six, he lost his sight due to a post-surgical infection.  Always an active child, he never let his lack of vision prevent him from being physically active, taking up Judo, running, and wrestling.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Lewis said in an interview for the Spokane Judo Club, where he serves as Head Sensei.  “The hardest lesson to learn was to always keep trying hard.  When you think you don’t have to anymore, you start slacking and you get lazy.  Then someone comes along who will stomp you into the ground and you’ll realize you’ve gotten lazy.”

This dedication paid off for Lewis when in 1987, he became the first American Judo competitor to win the Gold Medal in both his weight division and the open division at the World Championships for the Blind.  He also earned the Silver Medal in the subsequent 1992 Paralympics in Barcelona, Spain.

Lewis attended Stanford University, earning both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in math and engineering.  Prior to returning to Spokane in 2001, Brett worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency, the US Mission at NATO, the RAND Corporation.  He currently telecommutes to his job as a software engineer for Freedom Scientific.  Brett is also the proud father of two boys, Lucas and Miles.

Besides improved physical fitness, Judo can be attributed to increased confidence, defined character, and mutual respect.  Judo is based on two major principles, maximum efficient use of energy and mutual prosperity for self and others.

The goal is to win decisively.  To be successful, players must rely on their perception of the strength and behavior of the opponent and choose the appropriate reaction or defense technique.

“It is all about leverage and balance,” said Lewis.

But of course, no one wins every match and one must also learn humility.  “It’s just you out there on the mat, there’s no team to blame it on if things go bad, and some people don’t stick with it when they lose,” said Lewis. “But if you can leave
the match knowing you’ve done the very best you could, well, then there’s
really nothing wrong with losing.”