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Coach Tadaaki Hatta’s artistic talent helped raise funds for wrestling

The wrestling community is full of interesting characters, many with abilities and avocations off the mat which might surprise others. It has been my pleasure to have known many of these personalities. One of my favorites is the paradoxical Taddaki Hatta, a respected wrestling coach from Ohio who is gifted in so many ways.

My personal interactions with Coach Hatta include receiving his advice in my corner during the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials final wrestle-off, and the discipline I absorbed from him during one of the world team training camps I attended during that decade.

More recently, when organizing the 2006 New Jersey Drive and Night of Champions, which was a benefit golf outing and banquet for USA Wrestling and the U.S. Olympic Committee, I asked Tadaaki if he would be willing to provide one of his works of art for the auction. When he accepted, I knew the auction would benefit tremendously.

Coach Hatta has been positively affecting both United States wrestling as well as international wrestling for several decades. His father, Ichiro Hatta was the founder of wrestling in Japan. Hatta, Sr. came to the United States to promote Judo when he was a college student in 1929. He traveled through the USA with his teammates, demonstrating Judo to our nation. After the demonstrations, there were free-for-all-fights between Japanese Judo men and American wrestlers. He got whipped by the American wrestlers. Ever since then, he decided to study wrestling.

Obviously, this provided a strong foundation in the sport for Tadaaki. He enrolled at Oklahoma State in 1961 and wrestled for another icon of our great sport, Myron Roderick. Coach Roderick's Oklahoma State teams won seven of 11 NCAA Team Titles between 1958 and 1968. Taddaki Hatta's own NCAA Championship performance occurred in 1964 at the height of that dominance.

Oklahoma State so dominated the sport the NCAA Rules Committee actually legislated a new rule designed to hamper the Cowboy's strategy of "take them down…let them up…and take them down". They did this by only awarding two points for the first takedown in a match…each subsequent takedown was worth only one point.

"OSU kept winning, even after the new rule was introduced," said Tadaaki Hatta. "OSU wrestlers learned to ride....that's what the Cowboys loved to do..."ride'em" Cowboys. We took them down for two and took them down again at the end of the period and rode them out."

I was curious about how art and wrestling became such an important part of Tadaaki Hatta's life.

"My college advisor at Oklahoma State University was an artist/wrestler who taught me all about etching," said Hatta. "He also taught wrestling classes. I was a wrestler who studied art at Oklahoma State from 1961 to 1966. Then I got my Master's degree in painting from Northwestern University in 1968. Now I consider myself as an artist who teaches art and coaches wrestling and rugby. I played rugby for three years with the Chicago Griffins."

Are there similarities between wrestling and art? Coach Hatta believes there is.

"In order for one to do well in art, wrestling, and/or any other disciplines, one must study, work, practice hard. One can always acquire skills and techniques of any discipline if he or she works hard at it. I earned my black belt in Kendo (Japanese fencing) when I was 58," said Hatta.

"I think artists are trained to see things as a whole and positive space and negative space at the same time," he continued. "I don't know if being an artist can be beneficial to wrestling but being creative can be very beneficial to any activity that one participates. Also being an artist will make his life more pleasant. Cael (Sanderson) is very creative in his art and that creativity clearly showed up in his matches. He executed his moves the way they are supposed to be executed every time. He reminded me of my approach to coaching wrestling techniques."

I am personally grateful that Coach Hatta accepted my request to provide one of his paintings for the Drive and Night of Champions auction. He knew that one of the main features of the event was to be a "Roast" of Rulon Gardner. Appropriately, he decided to capture on canvas, the moment of Rulon's victory in Sydney over one of wrestling's greatest performers in history, Russia's Alexander Kareline.

The result was a stunning painting of Rulon carrying the U.S. flag after his historic victory.

"When I paint wrestling pictures, I am trying to capture the actions and emotion of the moment. I think I have captured Rulon's action and emotion in my painting," said Hatta.

Others agreed, as the bidding for the painting went back and forth all night and eventually sold at auction for $2,000.

"I get great satisfaction from getting paid for doing something I love, like painting. In this case I am getting satisfaction from supporting the sport I also love. I hope everyone feels the same way," said Hatta.

It is a noble legacy to help the sport move forward and for its athletes to follow in the footsteps of people like Coach Hatta.

Larry Nugent is the Director of Development for USA Wrestling. He helped direct the successful New Jersey Night of Champions event in May.
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