“A man with a vision is never truly blind”


Jim Stevens has quite an extensive resume. He is a veteran, former commercial diver, precious metals chemist, university professor, a world-renowned scrimshaw artist (an art form where the artist makes tiny etches in fossil ivory, and then fills them in with pigment), author, and he holds a black belt in karate.   He is also legally blind, the result of being shot in the head in the Vietnam War in 1970.  The bullet fragments left behind caused severe migraines for years, until in 1993 a migraine caused a stroke, which caused him to lose his vision. 

“I was pretty miserable”, recollects Jim. In the period of time initially after he lost his sight, his wife left him, and he became a blind single parent.  After he signed one of his daughters up for martial arts class, his younger daughter encouraged him to try it for himself.  The sensei agreed, and allowed Jim to attend classes and listen in.  For the first four months, Jim would sit and listen as the sensei walked around him.  For the four months following, Jim would stand and listen.  His sensei would throw kicks and punches, and Jim was expected to block them or get out of the way.  “Sometimes he’d kick and I’d go ‘Ugh!’”, laughs Jim. However, he persevered with a reminder from his daughter that, “You promised not to quit, Dad.”   Two years later, he competed in the Martial Arts “Tournament of Champions”.  His opponents did not know he was blind, and the fights were brutal.  After five fights, a broken nose, three cracked ribs, a torn left rotator cuff, and a dislocated left knee, he became the oldest, and the only legally blind man to ever win the men’s fighting competition at the Martial Arts “Tournament of Champions.” In 2004, he received his black belt in karate.

Now, at age 61, he no longer competes, but continues to keep his skills sharp.  Recently, while walking out with his white cane, some people tried to rob him.  He immediately went on the defense, and fought them off.  When the police came and saw what happened, one commented, “They sure picked the wrong blind guy to jump!”

Even though he has been drawing and creating scrimshaw for years, he quit in 1993, feeling he couldn’t do it anymore.  His sensei encouraged him to go back to art, saying, “Art teaches art”, meaning Jim should use the skills learned in karate to go back to creating art.  It took hours of frustration and countless drawings thrown away, to re-learn his craft, but after two years he had taught himself again how to create scrimshaw.  Jim uses five different lenses to help him see his work.  A challenge he faces in his art is keeping everything in perspective, however he simply gets around this obstacle by using a compass to measure everything.  Jim explains, “Before I start a piece I have to sit down and think what size I have to do, and keep that in mind.”  He has won numerous awards for his work, and his art is exhibited all over the world.

Despite his busy schedule, Jim continues to stay involved in his community, helping others who have lost their sight.  Earlier this year, he was elected to the Board of Directors for the American Council of the Blind of Colorado. Understanding how difficult it can be to learn or relearn a skill after losing one’s sight, Jim says, “[You] are gonna want to quit.  I think we all reach that point.  It’s worth it.  It’s worth it not to.  Even though you can’t see the benefit, it shows up, sometimes right away, sometimes a little later.  The only time you lose is when you quit.”  Ever the wordsmith, Jim came up with a saying to encourage himself, “A man with a vision is never truly blind.”   He has it hanging in multiple places in his studio, so “Every time I turn around, I remind myself.  I wrote that to remind myself.  As long as I have a vision.”

If you are interested in purchasing one of Jim Stevens’ works of art, please visit his website:  https://www.scrimshawstudio.com. He can be contacted at stevens@scrimshawstudio.com, or by phone at 303-234-1946.

Moyes, David. “Blind Martial Arts Champion Has Future as Scrimshaw Artist.” AOL News. AOL, 1 Feb. 2011. Web. 5 Dec. 2012.

Evans, Linda A. “Finding the Light.” Scrimshaw Studio. The Saturday Evening Post, May-June 2011. Web. 5 Dec. 2012.

Stevens, Jim. Telephone interview. 5 Dec. 2012.


Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind

December 21, 2012