SENATOR BEN NIGHTHORSE CAMPBELL
… U.S. SENATOR, 1994 2002
… COLORADO CONGRESSMAN, 1987 93
… CAPTAIN OF U.S. OLYMPIC JUDO TEAM, 1964
… 3-TIME U.S. NATIONAL JUDO CHAMPION
The rigid volunteer rules of right and wrong in sports are second only to religious faith in moral training.
PRESIDENT HERBERT HOO VER
I was a troubled kid. I was born into a dysfunctional home and was placed in an orphanage when I was young. I was a high school dropout. I did the kinds of things you wouldn’t want your youngster to do, and if I hadn’t gotten involved in sports I would have been serving in a different kind of institution than the U.S. Senate. I found judo in 1949 and it saved my life. I got into judo totally by chance. I was working in a fresh fruit packing plant and I met a group of Japanese kids and we bonded. It was right after World War II and they were experiencing some discrimination, as you would imagine. I knew the pain of that, being a mixed-race American Indian myself. One day they asked me to come down and learn some judo. At the time I was fourteen and I wanted to learn just so I could roughhouse and throw someone on their tail. As I grew in the sport, the support I received turned into winning a national championship and later a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Judo gave me a healthy lifestyle I’ve maintained, since I still don’t smoke or drink. And I still train three to four times a week and that’s a discipline that’s transferable to other facets of my life.
JUDO: LEARNING TO LOSE
In judo, if you win a match, a fresh opponent comes out. No matter how good you are, when fatigue sets in, you will lose. The Japanese think that you learn as much by losing as by winning. On weekend tournaments you might fight twenty-five or thirty matches in two days. I averaged about one thousand matches a year. I won so many matches that I stopped keeping the trophies. Many kids I taught judo to went on to complete and healthy lives instead of lives of crime and despair. I remember these kids sleeping in the gym after a workout and then taking them for breakfast and maybe golfing. Linda (my wife) and I made an impact with those kids and it feels great even today
HOW TO KNOW IF YOU’RE GOING TO WIN
I would pick up on little things that gave away whether or not I had the ability to beat my opponent. I have found that whoever speaks first or whoever walks over to introduce themselves to the other guys is the one who is going to lose. It meant they did not have the frame of mind to win. It’s as if they gave up their match before the fight.
ADAPTING JUDO TO WASHINGTON, D.C.
The Willow bends in the hurricane while the sturdy Oak is destroyed.
BEN NIGHTHORSE CAMPBELL
When it comes to lawmaking, I try to never meet force and aggressive debate with force. If I sense confrontation, I relax a little bit and bend with it. The force will go by me and then I will survive. An example of a project that took all my judo restraint was the Ute Indian Water Right Settlement Act. It took sixteen years and just about all my judo discipline to make that happen. Others were opposed to getting this Indian tribe regular water, but eventually I got it passed.
HOW DO YOU PLAY THE GAME?
You don’t win the day of the tournament, you win months if not years before the tournament. I saw many people who were better and stronger than me lose. What they didn’t have was the heart to train day after day after day, when no one else was around. They didn’t have the drive to leave their buddies in the bar and go run and lift and spar. The training is the important partnot the winning.
It’s hard to picture a person doing more with less than Ben Nighthorse Campbell. He’s the type of person who had every excuse to be on the wrong side of the law, but he ended up being a world-class athlete and an outstanding congressman and senator. His theory on sizing up his opponents by how they approached him before a match is fascinating. It shows how many different ways an athlete can look to gain an advantage and how often the mind decides if you win or lose.