21 February, 2017

More detailed post about Far East Wrestling 2017

My view for three days. I'm thankful for my sheep-skin seat-cover.
I take it to all wrestling meets and it gives just a little cushion to these hard
I've edited my summary post and taken out some of the details, putting them here for those who are interested. As I suggested, I'm also working on a more reflective email. Reflecting not just on this week, but on our journey over the last six years of our son's wrestling.

I always find leaving home for nights away hard. 
Have I remembered everything? Will the guys be okay in my absence? Is there one more thing I've forgotten to take care of?

It turned out that us travellers all left before our two youngest, who didn't start school until 9.30 last Wednesday. So I was getting texts on the train like, "Should I turn all the lights out?" (Yes, I had told him earlier that that was what I wanted!)

Travelling on peak hour trains is always stressful with luggage. But my travelling companion and I somehow seemed to avoid the sardine-squish of the worst trains. It's still a long way to the airport, though. Two hours.
We were warned that the pace would be slow, however
it turned out that there weren't really long periods
of boredom. I was my usual ADHD-wrestling-spectator
self, jumping up to go down and sit mat-side for most of
our team's bouts. However I did manage to pull out
some colouring-in. Even some cross-stitch on one day,
though the lighting where we could sit with a backrest
 was too poor for fine needlework. 

Our travel was smooth. Even the bus from the airport to the area near our hotel was good. Transport is cheap in Korea and this luxurious 1 ½ hr bus trip cost us just a bit more than 1,100 yen or AU$10. I slept for 40 minutes or so, which was just what I needed to get through the last little bit.

On the bus we encountered an interesting man who turned out to be the Stars and Stripes (military newspaper) reporter who was going to cover the wrestling tournament. It is always strange to meet people who know my son's name. This guy not only knew that, but knew that he was the favourite to win his weight category as he'd reported on earlier tournaments this season.

The hotel was not fancy, but entirely adequate. It's location was the best thing: five minute walk from the front gate of the base. It's also the hotel that many other base-related travellers stay in. We saw mostly foreign faces during our stay there, including the parents from St Mary's, the school that won both individual and duals in the larger schools category. They also had a breakfast buffet included in the deal that came with our hotel-travel deal (the whole trip was really a very good package deal).

There were four of us parents who travelled together. A married couple and two mums. Us mums shared a room, which was nice, but meant I got hardly any time on my own, except in the bathroom. The introvert part of me struggled with this, especially towards the end of our four-night trip.

I woke early again this morning, typical for the start of a wrestling day. The biggest blip of the morning was discovering that I'd packed no spare underwear!

We had to meet our sponsor at the gate of the base at 8am to get through security, then we walked about 20 minutes to the gym, which was a nice start to the day. 
Something about having boys that I didn't realise. I love seeing their muscles.
Does that sound weird? It's akin to the pride in seeing them learn to walk
or learn to read. Watching a boy grow up has many facets.

This tournament was run more loosely than the tournaments we're used to in Tokyo. Though there were five mats out (it is a long, thin gym with two basketball courts end-to-end), rarely did we see action on all five mats at the same time. There was lots of down-time. The slower pace was necessary as the guys had to last three days (and some of them wrestled up eleven times in three days). However, they were given very little warm-up time before each bout. Knowing that they could be called up with a minute or so notice to wrestle again meant it was hard to relax.

We did get an hour for lunch, which was nice. Though I didn't have much of an appetite. The base's large food court was conveniently nearby and I found a nice chicken salad that wasn't too heavy. And finished off with my first (and only) coffee of the day, badly needed after a few days of poor sleep, plus tiring travel.

The wrestling was over between four and five and we did a little bit of shopping on the way back to the hotel. Including buying my first ever pair of underpants from a 7-11 to supplement my poor packing!

Dinner that night was at a sit-on-the-floor Korean restaurant where we cooked our own meat at the table. It came with a plethora of side dishes, some for dipping, others for eating as is. It seemed that the meat should be dipped in a sauce and then wrapped in a large leaf or some lettuce. It was delicious and affordable. A great way to finish the evening.
A quick selfie before eating on Friday night. One of the
challenges we faced was the difference in temperature
between inside and outside. About 25 degrees different,
which I found difficult to cope with and resulted in
multiple clothing additions and removals.

Except it wasn't finished. My roommate asked me to accompany her on a foray into the rabbit-warren of streets near the hotel. We bought a few things, including a bra, again to supplement my poor packing!

All in all we walked about nine kilometres on Thursday. It was a good day to be out, the weather was mild compared to the cold that followed. My legs were a bit sore the next day!

This started out with semifinals, then wrestle backs. It was not a simple knock-out competition. If you lost in the main bracket, you got another chance or two to get back into the running. If you lost the semi, you had another bout with someone who'd come up through the "loser bracket" to go for the final.

Even if you lost the final, you could have a second chance at it, if it was your first loss of the tournament, which basically amounted to a "best of three" wrestle-off for the gold.

So it shouldn't be a surprise that it took almost the whole day to get through the semis, and finals (including wrestle-offs for third to sixth places).

Like I wrote in my summary post, this was a hard day for me. Our son had a tough wrestle in the semi. He only won it by the skin of his teeth and it threw me.
This is the same area after dark. I loved the illuminated trees.

His opponent was wary, particularly in the first three-minute period and didn't engage well. Our son finished the first three minutes 2-0. But the second half was tighter, with our son behind for a good portion of the time. Our son was still behind with 12 seconds left. He scored a single point at 11.7 seconds (I've just gone back and looked at the video) with a push-out that levelled the score. Phew, it ties me up even to watch it now! He only won because his opponent had broken the rules by fleeing the mat during the bout and that broke the tie.
The back of the medal he was awarded on Saturday.

Four hours later the two of them went at it again, but the result was much clearer with his opponent scoring nothing on him and our son scoring 10. I felt like the hard work had been done earlier, and hence a little bit of a let-down.

After dreaming that my son may possibly have a chance at Far East Champion for a few years now, it was like a dream when it really happened. I'm still pinching myself. And a relief. (But I'll talk about that in my reflection post.)

Then the dual competition started. This is when whole teams line up against each other to wrestle off across all thirteen weight classes. The system works well when each team has all, or nearly all the thirteen weight classes filled, but it more challenging when there are several gaps. Our team was in the smaller schools' division, so most of the schools there had small teams. Our team of nine was one of the larger. 

The system is that the two teams work their way up from the smallest weight class (101lb or 49kg) up to the heavyweights (under 125kg). Coaches can choose to be strategic when their opponents have gaps, like we did. While wrestlers can't wrestle lower than their weight, they can wrestle up, so a 115lb wrestler can be promoted to 129, for example, if they know their opponents don't have a 129lb wrestler, and thereby earn their team the maximum five points for a forfeit. It isn't a fun way to do a wrestling dual, but is within the rules. 

As first seeds in this bracket, we got a bye for the first round and didn't wrestle any duals on Friday afternoon. It was 4.50 when we were told this, and that we had just ten minutes to vacate the gym. So we rushed away.

Friday night we caught a taxi to meet the team at another restaurant and ate Chicken Galbi, something like a chicken stir-fry in rice not noodles but it was cheesy. It was also cooked in front of us and was delicious, though also spicy.

The hardest bouts were over for our son. His toughest competitors were in the large-schools division, so I slept better on Friday night. However, we still had to get up for a 6.30 breakfast.
The area we were located in wasn't pretty at all. This is from the hotel roof.

First up our team went up against another team, but as I explained above, coaches can legally wrangle things when there are gaps, so that though the other team barely wrestled us, they got more than 20 points because they put wrestlers into categories that we didn't have competitors in. We still won, overall, though.

The second team we met had only four certified wrestlers. So we won several bouts via forfeit. Their fifth team member had missed out on qualifying because of weight on the first day, but was 158lb and our son did an "exhibition" match with him that didn't count for points, but gave the other guy a bit of experience. It's a pity to come to a three-day meet without any wrestles at all!

The third team was the finals. This time the organisers vetoed lunch (but didn't tell us beforehand), so we were left with scrounging through our bags for whatever we could find. I think I ate a banana, an apple someone had spare, and a granola bar, plus the coffee I'd managed to snaffle mid-morning. I was famished by the time we were done at 3.45.

The final was agonising, as I wrote in my summary post. We knew that it would be close and that as many guys needed to pin as possible, while defending against being pinned themselves, because we started 20 points down by giving up four forfeits. 

Here was another twist brought on by the way points are scored. Different wins get scored differently. The best way to win, as always, is a pin. That scores five points for your team (and zero for them). Alas forfeits also score five points. If you get ten more points than your opponent, you score four points for your team. If you score ten more points than your opponent (called a technical fall), but they have points too (for example 14-4), they also get a point. If you win by getting more points over the six minutes, but not by ten or more points, you get 3 points for your team. If you get points and they don't, it's 3-0. If you both get points the winner gets 3 and the loser 1.

The twist is, that because you get more if you score by a pin than a technical fall, the ref asked the coach when a tech falls was achieved before the six-minute mark whether they wanted the match to continue to see if the wrestler could achieve a pin for that extra point. It was a risk, though, because that gave the other team another chance. The one who was winning could be pinned, for example. As a result there was a lot of pressure on the whole team, including the coach, who had to make some hard choices in the middle of bouts.

Our team fought hard. Because of the above twist, some of the matches went to more than 20 points. One guy scored 24 points on his opponent in six minutes another scored 18. That's a lot of work and our guys all wrestled to the end, though it was the third straight day and many were very tired. The intense strength conditioning that our team had been through in the previous three months really showed. They were up to the challenge.

They had 13 wrestlers to our 9 and we tied score with them, despite giving up 20 points with forfeits. Our guys were hands-down the best team, it's just that there wasn't enough of them. It hurt to watch, especially afterwards.

We offered around bananas soon after the defeat, knowing that they had skipped lunch, but almost no one was hungry. It wasn't until a while later that they came looking for food.
One individual gold, one team gold, and one team silver.

The coach of the opposing team came up to us parents afterwards and complimented us on our wrestlers, especially for their exemplary conduct. He called it "Christian conduct" and said it spoke loudly to the wrestling world represented in that gym. I never saw one of them lose their tempers or say a bad word to or about their opponents. Amazing, considering how intense this sport is. Their coach holds them to very high behavioural standards and they consistently meet that. He's a great coach, we love the influence he's had/having on our boys.

Then we had awards. A long affair, as they gave out medals to the top six wrestlers in each of the 13 categories, plus medals to all the team members of the top three teams in both the individual and dual competitions. 

And then lots of photos. This was it, the last wrestling meet of the season. Our son's last wrestling meet of his six-year school career. A moment to savour.

It's been a long road, one that I'll write about in my reflection post. But it's ended gloriously. I was concerned that with such high expectations from many people, he'd fail to meet them (it's happened often in the past at the end of the season) and it's great relief that he didn't. It's so exciting to see how a lot of hard work has paid off and also how he's matured as a person and a wrestler. This sport is as intense psychologically as it is physically. Being able to keep your head in the match right to the end of a long, tough meet (and season) is hard, but really important.

We went out with the team again this evening. This time to an all-you-can-eat cook-your-own-meat restaurant. The guys ate and ate and ate. No more weigh ins!

After we left there we did a bit of wandering in the cold in the small streets around the front of the base/hotel before collapsing into bed. We encountered other roving teams of wrestlers too. All looking relieved all the hard work was over.

This little cultural centre in the airport proved to be a short diversion during
our wait for a flight home. We made paper-covered trays, listened to traditional
Korean music live, and bought a couple of souvenirs.
This was our travel day. But first, as I said in my summary post, we had lunch with two former CAJ mums and then onto the airport for a late-afternoon/evening flight. With all the intensity over, it was an exhausting day. I think I caught a nap on the plane, but I'm really not good at sleeping in a seat and only do it when I'm really tired.

It was great to finally sink into my own bed just before midnight, knowing the season was over. 

As I've said before, I love wrestling. I love watching my son wrestling. But it is exhausting: emotionally and physically. I've looked forward to this wrestling season since last February and it hasn't disappointed. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to actually go to Korea and be a part of the event, rather than hear about it via other people's reports. 

I'll treasure this memory for the rest of my life. I don't know where my son will go from here with wrestling (though he does intend to continue, be it in a less intense fashion, both here and in Australia), but he's had wonderful opportunities and success as a high schooler and that's been an integral part to his growth. I'm so glad he found his niche, something he was passionate about. It's helped him (and us) through some really rough times. The lessons he's learnt are bigger than how to pin an opponent . . . but now I'm morphing into my reflection post, so I'll finish up.

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