The Mission to Become the First American Olympic Gold Medalist in Karate
Tom Scott is featured on the cover of the December 2018/January 2019 issue of Black Belt. The cover story is different from this post and includes numerous photos of winning Olympic-karate techniques and combinations. Get your copy when it goes on sale November 13. Until then, enjoy this post!
The United States doesn’t have a particularly remarkable history of success in traditional karate competition on the international stage. But with karate set to debut in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the pressure is on to find a standard-bearer for American karate. No martial arts practitioner fits that bill better than 10-time U.S. champion Tom Scott.
A 28-year-old native of Texas who started training in wado-ryu karate at age 8 under an instructor named Brody Burns, Tom Scott gives full credit for his success to his sensei — and to the work ethic that the martial artist instilled in him.
“He’s been an unbelievable mentor to me, and today he’s my best friend,” Tom Scott said. “I still work in his karate school and do the marketing for them. I love doing it. But I also pursue being a full-time athlete, traveling internationally to compete every month. He’s the one who’s made that possible.”
Among the most important traits Tom Scott has picked up from his instructor is how to be consistent in his karate training and skill development. That consistency goes hand in hand with his goal of being a different fighter every year of his career. Not just a different fighter but a better fighter.
“I’m always working on learning new things, new skills, new rhythms,” Tom Scott said. “Some people will just stagnate and stay the same year after year. But if you do that, you’re eventually going to get picked apart.”
One of the keys to making progress, Tom Scott said, involves analyzing every competition in which you take part — the wins and the losses — and then learning from your actions. He likes to come home from each tournament with a general theme in mind, one that allows him to either incorporate something new into his repertoire or change something that’s not working.
To be more efficient at this, Tom Scott has developed a routine that entails keeping a journal of his karate experiences and then transferring the most important points he’s learned in training and competition onto flashcards. He then uses those cards to constantly remind himself of the lessons.
“I’ve been keeping this journal for 10 years and have everything I know about the sport written down,” Tom Scott said. “I’m always logging my pre-tournament feelings and post-tournament lessons.
“That way, I can go back and make sure I’m not repeating my mistakes. It’s just like in school [when] you’re constantly taking notes and learning.”
Tom Scott uses the flashcards — often the morning of an event or even in the staging area right before going out to fight — to remind himself of specific strategies and tactics he wants to implement. With all the information and feedback he’s constantly receiving, he finds this a convenient way to remember crucial points that might otherwise be forgotten.
He also said there have been times when he failed to make use of his journal and cards and it came back to bite him in competition.
“I’ve looked back over the first entries I put into the journal when I was 18 and really wanting to be the best I could be,” Tom Scott said. “I was writing down things like what is the perfect fighting stance [and] what are the appropriate angles for the knees and ankles. That’s the kind of thing an 18-year-old karate competitor should be thinking about.
“But now my latest entries are about specific countries and opponents I might be fighting, what techniques or strategies they like to use and how to fight against them.”
As a martial artist, Tom Scott exhibits an attention to detail that manifests in a quest for maximum efficiency in every technique. Similar to the way world-class swimmers and sprinters become obsessed with every facet of their form in an effort to shave just one more tenth of a second off their time, Tom Scott and his teacher Brody Burns take what they call a “sniper” approach to fighting.
In essence, that approach involves endeavoring to make all striking techniques as smooth and efficient as possible. That is the key, they believe, to beating an opponent to the punch by fractions of a second.
“My coaches on the national team have always said how coachable I was, and I think that proves sensei Burns and I have had the right outlook,” he said.
But even with all that thoroughness to detail, Tom Scott’s Olympic quest, which begins in November 2018 at the World Karate Federation’s world-championship tournament, won’t be easy. Only 10 fighters per weight division will qualify for the Tokyo Games.
One of the spots automatically goes to a Japanese fighter, Tom Scott said. Four more will go to the four highest-ranked fighters according to the WKF rating system. Three will go to those who medal at an upcoming tournament in Paris. And two will be wild-card entries. The message, according to Tom Scott, is that nothing is assured.
“You might be a little faster when you’re younger, but I think as you get older, you get stronger mentally and physically,” Tom Scott said. “And the experience is important. The most important thing is to just think about making yourself a better fighter than you were yesterday.”
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Article by Mark Jacobs • Photos by Brandon Snider