Title: Certain Victory
Please turn off popup blocker in order to view photos and videos!

Olympian Article (courtesy of the Olympian) click here to return home

Blindness doesn't take fight out of martial artist

Fort Lewis contractor lost sight in 1990 shooting
Venice Buhain, The Olympian

LACEY - Robert Ott of Lacey, dressed in a martial arts uniform and dark wrap-around sunglasses, towered in front of the four 8-year-old soccer players in bare and sock feet in his Lacey studio.
The Olympian - Click Here

"Who knows how to make a fist?" he asked in his East Coast accent that falls somewhere between the voices of Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro.

Each of the girls balled her right hand and watched him expectantly during a one-day self-defense session that would include learning how to punch and how to get away.

Ott got down to his knees and reached toward the nearest student.

"You gotta keep your wrist straight," he said, positioning her fingers and thumb by feel before spinning her around to demonstrate to the others.

Ott hopes the girls with Lakewood's Blast Soccer Team never need to use those lessons.

But if they take one thing out of the afternoon, he said, it might be that a blind man taught them how to fight back.

"They will learn that even if you have an issue, and a disability, you can move on in life," Ott said.

A bullet to the head failed to end Ott's life 16 years ago. It didn't stop his entrepreneurial energy, either.

A native of New Jersey, Ott, 37, is owner and operator of Certain Victory Food Services, which runs cafeteria services at the Fort Lewis Army Base.

Ott oversees hundreds of employees, depending on how many soldiers are stationed at the base. About 23 percent of the employees have a disability, he said.

"I want to increase it," he added.

He recently wrote a memoir of his life - to be out soon in hardcover and audio book - and finished construction of the Temple of Certain Victory, a semiprivate martial arts studio in his Lacey home, where he teaches selected clients Kidokwan, a martial arts system that he developed from different Korean styles and his own experience since becoming blind.

Finding direction

Ott was a 21-year-old martial arts studio owner and instructor when his plans were derailed by a gunman in 1990. Ott said that he was defending himself and defeated another man at a bar in New Jersey. The man got upset and retaliated by shooting Ott over near left temple.

The bullet damaged the nerves of his left eye and obliterated his right eye, leaving him blind at age 21.

For the first few months after surviving the bullet, he was afraid to leave his mother's home, but friends and teachers encouraged him to return to martial arts. He had to make his own way when it came to adapting martial arts for the blind.

"They were all very encouraging, but nobody knew what to do," Ott said.

Ott's system relies heavily on direct and indirect touch to detect one's position and distance in relation to the other fighter. He calls it "touch on touch" and "black on black."

"If you put your hand close to me, I know where your arm is, and I know where the rest of your body is," he said. "I can learn to see again."

Three years after being shot, Ott headed to Washington "with $500 and a gym bag" for the opportunity to run and operate a cafeteria, he said.

Ott became a subcontractor for the Washington Department of Services for the Blind, which contracts for food services at different public agencies statewide through its Business Enterprise Program, program manager Jeanne Gallo said. Today, Ott is one of 18 visually impaired entrepreneurs who run about 22 food service locations throughout the state, she said.

He ran the Modern Day Cafe in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle. One repeat customer was particularly insistent that he return to teaching his martial art, Ott said.

It started with one self-defense workshop, and as people started to hear about the blind martial arts instructor, that aspect of his business grew, he said.

"I've done 135 events and workshops with companies and schools," he said. "Each time I did it, I was realizing how much medicine this was for me. I could share my experience, knowledge and wisdom to others.

"I'm thankful every day that I have a life and a purpose," Ott said. "That man who shot me, he left me without sight. But I could have found myself without a purpose, and that's worse."


The self-defense workshop for the soccer team is one way he tries to spread his message. Last week, he spoke to the Department of Labor and Industries, and he mentors younger blind people.

"I mainly work with people who have become blind suddenly because of trauma, because of what happened to me," Ott said.

Kidokwan student Steve Matthewson, who last week became the first black belt to study under Ott, said he wanted to study under Ott because of the combination of his story, personality and his martial art.

"This is someone who not only got a grasp of the Korean martial arts but he also invented a martial art that is a combination of many different styles," said Matthewson, a chiropractor from Carnation. "He's taken everything I've wanted to learn about martial arts. He taught you to put it into your own thing and create your own martial art," Matthewson said.

Robert Ott

Age: 37

Residence: Lacey

Business: Owner of Certain Victory Food Services, which operates cafeterias for soliders at Fort Lewis; and a cafeteria in the Department of Social and Health Services

Family: Wife, Kimberly, and daughter, Savannah, 4.


"Certain Victory" The Biography of Robert Ott ($29.95)
A 12 chapter, 200 page hard cover book that tells the story of strength, courage and indomitable spirit. Filled with photos and philosophies of a true Flowering Warrior of Modern times. Co-written by Bob Olson. A definite must-have for anyone looking for methods and inspiration for overcoming challenges and extreme changes in life. A true tool to be used in ways other than sitting on a shelf.
Payment is made via PayPal. You do not need a PayPal account to purchase the book.

Tentatively scheduled for completion in Spring 2007 is the audio CD version of Certain Victory narrated by Wayne June. This 8-cd book will be presented as a box set with photos & information on speaking seminars & workshops.

Top of page