Former U-Hi standout wins world grappling championship

Proficiency in judo led Scott Garcia to a stellar University High wrestling career. Since graduating in 1995, the globetrotting Garcia has expanded his grasp of martial artistry and parlayed it into international success.

Now living and teaching in Mesa, Ariz., the fourth-generation American of Mexican-Japanese descent in March captured the championship of his weight class at the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA) World Gi Grappling championships in Krakow, Poland.

It is the latest chapter in a fascinating journey of discovery around the world that began with a two-year stay at the Air Force Academy following high school.

He joined the LDS church and took his mission in Japan, where he had first learned judo from his father as a youngster, and later returned again to teach English; has taught ethnic dancing learned while continuing college in Hawaii; mastered a variety of combat sports and became an instructor; and said he is authoring two books.

Gi grappling is a combination of judo and wrestling. The sport is seeking sanction as an Olympic sport. It took Garcia to Poland. How much farther can he go?

“I’m just taking it year-by-year, improving my skills and learning new technique,” said Garcia, an elementary special education teacher on the Gila River Indian Reservation near Phoenix. “Right now it’s just a hobby.”

At the Worlds, he overcame illness to defeat Zoltan Illes of Hungary for the 80 kg (176-pound) title in a thrilling finale, breaking a tie with five seconds left by throwing his opponent to the ground for the decisive point.

In the semifinals, he beat world champion David Pierre Louis of France with an overtime pinning combination.

“My high school wrestling coach, Don Owen, used to lecture us in the room,” Garcia said. “He said, ‘I don’t want to see any of you guys put your No. 1 finger up in the air unless you are No. 1 in the world.’ Just for my coach, I had to take a picture on the stand with the No. 1 finger up in the air.”

Garcia’s late father, Fermin, had been his judo instructor beginning at age 3 while stationed with the Air Force in Japan. By age 14, Scott was a black belt and currently holds fourth degree status.

Fermin was later assigned as a civilian to Fairchild Air Base and became a noted instructor at area community centers. He died five years ago.

Judo made Garcia an instant wrestling success at U-Hi. His unconventional head-and-arm judo move from underneath caught opponents by surprise. “That head-and-arm was deadly,” said Owen. “I never had anybody who could do that.”

Garcia said wrestling opponents were unaccustomed to judo moves. “I learned different pressure points, where to put my weight and take oxygen out of people.”

Scott reached the state finals for U-Hi as a sophomore and placed twice more in the top five at 141 and 148 pounds.

He wrestled at the Air Force Academy, he said, but upon becoming a Mormon, spent two years on his mission to Japan, becoming fluent in the language. Afterward, he graduated from BYU-Hawaii, majoring in political science with a minor in Japanese and learned Polynesian dances, he said, from Tahiti, Hawaii, Brazil, Africa and New Zealand. He teaches them to his young students today – with U.S. hip-hop and the “Chicken Dance” thrown in, he said with a laugh.

Garcia got his teaching credentials at UNLV and returned to Japan to teach English. He also began teaching judo and competing again. Since retuning to the U.S., he said he has won five United States national judo and Sambo wrestling titles, the latter a Russian form of the sport.

“I said I could do that,” said Garcia. “Me and my coach wrestled in the finals in Las Vegas in 2007.”

Garcia is currently coaching martial arts at Arizona State University for the American Pankration team. It is another combat sport that originated in Ancient Greece and is akin to the current UFC or MMA phenomenon.

Sambo wrestlers, like in Judo, wear a jacket, or Gi, which made for a natural transition to grappling.

“Grappling is a style of wrestling in which an athlete wins by performing a takedown using throwing techniques, making an opponent tap out from a submission technique, or pinning,” Garcia explained in an e-mail.

The world traveler said he is becoming expert on frequent flyer miles and pinching pennies. One of the books he said he’s writing is a how-to about traveling on a teacher’s budget.

Garcia returns home each winter to visit his mother, Eileen, a retired teacher of 34 years, and spend hands-on time helping in the U-Hi wrestling room. This year’s state champion Titans chipped in a little financially to help one of their own reach Krakow and win a world championship.

That, come to think of it, might make an added chapter in Scott Garcia’s travel guide.

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