25 February, 2017

Comfort on an anniversary

Today is an anniversary. The anniversary of the day my father-in-law died last year. The context of that day was that I was in Bangkok when my husband was woken at 3.30am with the news that his father had passed from this life. I woke a while later to a text from him with the news. Though I my father-in-law was not an intimate part of my life, it hit me hard that day.

But it's not the only grief that happened last year. See The colander of expat life 

This is one of my most precious memories of my father-in-law. Just after
David and I were pronounced man and wife I called him "dad" for the first
time. He asked me to repeat that, for the pleasure of hearing it!
I hesitate to write about grief, because what do I know about it? I've never had someone I'm very close to die. I haven't even had a miscarriage (that I know of). I don't work in a country up close and personal with trauma or grief. I haven't lived in a war-torn country or even a country where my personal safety has been in jeopardy (barring the time in 2011 when we had a nuclear threat over our heads).

However my life has not been without grief, it is, in fact, an underlying source of stress for missionaries like me who value deep relationships. See another post from last year: Missionaries and Grief

But as I wrote in October in Empty Chairs, it isn't the magnitude of the grief that can be the problem, it is how you deal with it. Minimising it doesn't help. Naming the griefs and recognising them does.

This post I've just seen this month talks about naming the griefs and how that, in the context of giving it over to God can be a precious gift.

So here, I'm naming the fact that this time last year we suffered a significant grief in our extended family. It hasn't gone without notice that David's dad is gone. It's something that I periodically dwell on as life barrels onwards. As I do the other griefs that continue to linger in my heart: especially the lost friendships (primarily due to distance—people moving away or me moving away from others). 

And I take comfort from God's promise to those of us who love him:
Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you (John 16:22 NASB).

24 February, 2017

Crazy season

Sports might be over for the time being, but we've unwittingly entered the crazy Feb-March season. 

This morning it was a mess in our house as two boys prepared to go away for the weekend to the middle school youth group camp (one as a leader, the other as a camper) and the third boy prepared for the eighth grade Tokyo Tour (a modified one-day scavenger hunt designed to help eighth graders learn about team work).

This weekend will be a little oasis in the midst of the craziness as we'll have just one boy at home. I think it's the first time ever that we'll have our middle son on his own all weekend!

Then next Wednesday I go away to the annual women in ministry retreat for two nights.

Two weeks later our middle son goes on the two-day Kyoto trip that all eighth graders at CAJ look forward to. 

Before he returns, David and our eldest will leave for the eight-night senior ministry trip to Thailand.

Just a few days after they return we're planning to go on an epic camping trip with some other staff families from CAJ.

As I said, crazy! Not to mention that I received an email today that said it's only about 60 school days until our eldest son graduates from high school. Arrgggghhh.

So this weekend will be mostly quiet, though things are already crowding into it. All good things, but how much can a person take?

I wasn't kidding when I said that life was moving right along here. Dwelling too long on last week couldn't work.


23 February, 2017

Reflections on wrestling: this season and a high school career

I'm sorry for so many wrestling posts. This last week has been big in so many ways.

I have many thoughts about the last week. But also about the six years that our eldest son has been a wrestler. It's been hard to get them all together, but important to me in order to be able to move on.

And move on, I must, because life is moving on quickly here. We all found that out yesterday as school started up again after a four-day weekend. Our "champion" received lots of congratulations, but that didn't stop the teachers reminding him and his teammates that there was lots of schoolwork waiting for them. So, I promise that I'll try to keep up with that and stay away from this topic in the near future!

Here are a few facts from our son's schoolboy wrestling career:
  • He's unbeaten this season (something between 25 and 30 bouts, there is some debate about the number, especially as two were forfeits in duals)
  • He's not been pinned since 9th grade
  • Amazingly, in six seasons, he's never missed a match or training session due to illness or injury, I don't know what to say about this, except that I'm thankful
  • He's wrestled with three clubs in addition to CAJ—two in Tokyo, and one in Australia
  • He's wrestled in three countries, including four capitals in Australia (Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, and Perth [the latter just a training session]).
  • We won't forget this young man quickly. He's been our son's strongest rival
    this season and over the last two seasons, they've gone head-to-head
    more than a dozen times.
  • He twice won Australian national championships for his age during our year in Australia ('14-'15) (though we are very aware that it is a minor sport there and the field of competition was tiny)

Psychology
It's easy to look at our son this season and think that he's had an easy run. But I have to tell you that, while the execution of wrestling has come relatively easily for our son, it hasn't been at all easy for him in many ways.
  • this is the only season he's won all the way through (aside from in Australia where the competition was not so fierce)
  • he didn't even get to go to the Far East competition in 9th grade because he was our second-best wrestler in his weight class
  • not being here during his 10th grade year was hard, he yearned to be wrestling at CAJ that year
  • last year he was beaten in the championship round of the Kanto Finals in a physically painful bout that lasted less than a minute
  • last year he came sixth at Far East, below people he'd beaten during the season
  • often he's struggled to maintain a strong focus right through to the end of the season, this is a maturity thing and it's encouraging to see that he managed it this year
  • CAJ's training has been difficult and pushed him both physically and mentally to the edge often
The mental part of wrestling has probably been the hardest for our son, and the hardest part of parenting him through this. I've never been very fearful about injuries, but watching him and trying to support him through the emotional ups, but especially the downs, has been hard. He's often lost concentration at the end of the season and been beaten by competitors who wouldn't normally beat him. When this happens at the end of a season, it leaves a bad feeling in your stomach for months. I was fearful that that would happen this time too, especially when the expectations were so high and it was his last season, hence the profound relief when he didn't sell himself short this time. I didn't cry when he won. I'm not sure why, but perhaps it was because I was already spent with the emotions leading up to it.

Being a passionate wrestling mum
It's an understatement to say that I get very caught up in all of this. Wrestling season messes with both my sleep and my digestion. This last week has been especially physically and emotionally challenging and will take some recovering from. I love the highs and the thrills, and hate the lows that inevitably come in the week afterwards, but I wouldn't swap it for anything. I'd hate my sons to be involved in pursuits that I didn't care to watch (maybe golf or chess?). Or perhaps if they were involved I'd become interested anyway? 

I certainly didn't anticipate becoming a passionate wrestling mum, wrestling never entered my childhood. It simply isn't a prominent sport in a country where sports have a religious status for many. But that first season in seventh grade reeled me in as I learned lots about the sport (thanks to coaches who were willing to answer our many questions), and then at the end of the season one of our son's coaches encouraged us all by saying that our son had potential as a wrestler (which was hard for us to see at the time). By then our son was hooked and so we were all in it together, for better or for worse.

I mentioned on Tuesday that this sport has helped our son through various difficulties he has faced, that was especially noticeable when we went to Australia for a year. Being able to be involved in wrestling there made an enormous difference when he was missing Japan and CAJ intensely. People have applauded us as parents in the amount of support and encouragement we've given him, but I think that we've just done whatever we could to help him pursue his passion. I believe most good parents will do this, if it is within their means to do so.


Meeting other parents
I love hanging out with other parents at wrestling meets, especially mums—we share a special bond as the mums-of-wrestlers. So it was a special joy this time to meet some of the mums from other schools. 

In the photo is the mum of one of our son's strongest competitors this year. She came over to where I was sitting and introduced herself. She figured out who I was because she saw me sitting right next to the mat and cheering for him in the final. She's got three boys and they're all wrestlers, including one just a year older than our youngest. A bond indeed. We'll probably be cheering one another on for years to come.

I was able to both weep with and congratulate another mum from St Mary's who I've seen regularly at wrestling meets since middle school (her son previous attended CAJ in elementary school). Her son persevered against a very challenging opponent to win his weight class, but was devastated when he sustained a knee injury which meant he couldn't participate in the second half of the tournament.

A third mum from the same school saw me doing cross stitch late on Friday and came over later to chat. Her son also had prevailed and won his weight category.

On Sunday morning we encountered yet another couple at the hotel from St Mary's (there were a lot of parents from there). Their son hadn't gotten the result he'd hoped for and was very disappointed.

The bond forged with all these parents was brief, but enjoyable. A bond that is rooted in watching our children struggle with this challenging sport, then sitting at these meets for hours each weekend. Celebrating their wins and mourning their losses—over many years. 

Qualities wrestling instills
I wrote a blog post back in 2012 at the end of our son's first ever wrestling season. I noted, even back then, some qualities I could see wrestling was developing in our son:
  • sportsmanship
  • ability to cope with losing
  • perseverance
  • ability to overcome frustration
  • patience
  • compassion
Sportsmanship is a strong value in wrestling. Lots of handshaking, limited expressions of emotion on the mat, and no questioning the ref (this season they've cracked down on that for the coaches too).

Coping with losing when wrestling is such a personal thing is hard. Having to cope with it in this arena when the consequences aren't so big is a good way to learn how to deal with the emotions that come with it.

Perseverance. This sport takes a long time to learn and become good at. First year wrestlers are rarely good, and frequently look terrible. It is only by persevering at this difficult sport for a lengthy period of time that one gets the necessary experience under his or her belt to cope with challenging competitors. The flexibility in dealing with different styles and situations and knowing what to do in varied situations, these things come through lots of experience on the mat.

Ability to overcome frustration. It gets frustrating out there on the mat. You get stuck in positions you don't want. The other person doesn't do what you want them to do. Your opponent sometimes gets points awarded to them that you don't think they've earned. Sometimes you think you'd done your best, but it wasn't good enough and your coach yells at you. You try what you think is the best move and it fails. Lots of frustration. Learning how to overcome that is a great life skill.

Patience. Oh, the number of times the coach yelled, "You've got lots of time. Be patient." Working an opponent into the position you want him in before you make your move often takes time. Knowing when to move is important. But on a grander scale, being patient through the years as you develop the skills necessary to win more and more often.

Compassion. This isn't something teenage boys are necessarily good at. I think that wrestling has helped develop this in our son. He knows his strength and is very gentle with those he knows aren't up to going toe-to-toe with him.

Respect for others in authority, your opponent, and yourself is another thing that is highly promoted by the CAJ coach. This is so valuable. They have to call their coach "Coach Yaegashi" or "Sir" and there are penalties for disobeying him in this and other areas, like many, many burpees (combination pushups and squats).

Humility Being willing to admit that the coach has a better idea of what you need to do than you do, is something that many boys don't get. But those who do listen and learn become good wrestlers.

Risk taking. This is something that also is hard to get a good balance in, especially when wrestlers are a year or two into their "careers". Early on they can be quite cavalier, but then they learn more caution, often too much caution, and sell themselves short. Knowing when to take a risk and being willing to do it is challenging.

Underlying a lot of this is self control. Oh boy, do they have to develop that. The ones that don't, don't go far in this sport. It's not just self control when you win or lose, it's self control in what you eat, how much sleep you get, how you conduct yourself on and off the mat, and during training. We continue to pray that the self control he's developed in the sport will spill over into other areas of his life. We're seeing glimpses of it as he matures, and looking forward to much more as he continues to grow into a man.

As an aside: in that 2012 post I've linked to above I mentioned that our son pinned another wrestler that week who'd become distressed, that young man was also a Far East champion this year (different weight class). It's been amazing to watch them both grow and mature through the years.

Relationships with our boys
As I noted in my pictorial reflections yesterday, this has been a family affair. We've all been involved. We've spectated and all our boys have wrestled, David's even learned about coaching the sport. We've videoed, supported not just our boys but other wrestlers and their parents too. We've been present when others couldn't (and relayed almost real-time news to them). It's a common topic around our dinner table and when we're talking to boys late at night, especially at this time of year. This sport has given us a commonality. I love that I've been able to really get into it, because it gives me an entry into their lives, and a way to connect with teenage boys is not to be sneezed at.



So, all in all, can you tell that I'm satisfied? That I'm happy that our son has developed a passion for this unlikely sport. A sport that he would almost certainly not have encountered if we'd remained in Australia. I'm also so thankful that we've been able to be as involved as we have been. Our work, health, and finances have allowed at least one of us to be present at almost all of his meets. What joy this has given us, and not just because our oldest son has had success this season.

As for the future? Our son has plans to continue to train, both with the university club he trained with here over this last summer, as well as when he returns to Australia this time next year to start university. It's healthy to have a community like that to continue with. I've got no idea whether he'll ever compete again. There are opportunities in Australia, and, if he succeeds, and wants to, overseas. We'll see.

Meanwhile, our sixth grader has been inspired by his brother's success and wants to wrestle all the way to twelfth grade. We're still waiting while our thoughtful and athletic middle son decides if he wants to take this challenge on next year in high school. 

We'll be doing this for a while yet. . . good thing I enjoy it. But I also think it is a good thing that we've got a break now, the intensity of an American international school season is quite something!

Next, is track and field season and our middle son has high goals (he's in eighth grade, which puts him at the top of the middle school competition, age-wise). But first we get a month or so break.

22 February, 2017

Reflections on six years of wrestling in photos

Who knew that reflecting took so much time? Not to mention that today I've been hit with all work that's built up while I was away. So I'm still working on writing my reflections, but here are some pictorial reflections, first of my week away and second just a few from our son's six years of wrestling.

This photo represents one aspect of what I love about wrestling. Our son is in the middle here, talking to a guy from a rival school. Both of them won their weight class, the other guy's brother lost to Callum several times during the season. He came second in the Kanto finals, and third in the Far East competition, but is two years younger.
I love the camaraderie that develops between rivals. It is a combat sport, but the competition generally remains on the mat. I have another photo that I don't want to put up here, because I don't put my kids faces on my blog, but it is a photo of our son with his Outstanding Wrestler's award from the Kanto finals, with his main rival who's got his arm around our son's shoulders and a big smile. I love it.

Tired. It wasn't uncommon to see someone flaked out in the stands last week.
These are the other parents I travelled with and generally spent all of the five days with. Thankfully they put up with me!
I generally try to avoid caffeinated coffee at breakfast time because it causes headaches later in the day, but exhaustion on the last morning meant it was the wiser thing to do. I loved these cup and saucer sets that they had at the hotel. In fact the breakfast room had a large farm-kitchen feel to it, very comfortable.
Now on to some older wrestling memories. Here was one of the matches that stands out in our memory, our son pinning only 2 seconds from the end of a colossal dual in grade nine.
This goes back even further to middle school, year eight, I think. He's so skinny!

And a year in Australia gave him the chance to represent Queensland in wrestling.
It's been a family affair since almost the beginning. We all go to these meets. This photo is of the five of us sitting in the stands in 2014. 







Yes, a family affair. Always sitting by the mat and videoing, often by a little brother. The technology has improved and this year we've mostly used school iPads, rather than our own video camera and tripod. It's wonderful to be able to give all the wrestlers a recording of their bouts, and also family, especially those family who couldn't be there. We've found that our Australian extended family have enjoyed following along with our son's wrestling journey via watching videos too.

I didn't get to know these ladies very well, because their sons were seniors when our son had just begun high school. It was a pleasure to watch their sons wrestle in the Far East competition in 2014. Just the beginning of many years of enjoying sitting in the stands with other wrestling-mums.


And various coaches along the way. This is Coach Kumate when our son wasn't taller than him yet.  
















And Bob, one of the Queensland coaches. 












Coach Yaegashi, the current CAJ coach.

















Not a great photo, but this is the wrestling club in Brisbane where our boys all trained for a year. Our son is looking forward to going back there next year.










The silver medalist in our son's weight and age class at the first Australian national competition he went to came from this club on the west coast. When we were over there for work a month or two later, we dropped in on them and our boys all joined in a training session.




And this: one of my favourite wrestling photos. Two mums supporting one another mat-side.




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
bench-seats.
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.

Wednesday
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.

Thursday
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!

Friday
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.

Saturday
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.

Sunday
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.


Summary post of my Far East Wrestling adventure

I'm back at my desk in Tokyo. I tried to blog while I was away, but it was really difficult. Not technically difficult (I had WiFi access most of the time), but people-difficult. To write, I need not just time, but people-free time. The trip was people-intensive.

I wish I'd written earlier, because now I've stored up way too much to write for one blog post. So, I think I'll try to write a short summary now and also post a longer, more detailed post for those who want more details. I suspect there will be a third post in the next day or two that is more reflective.

Wednesday 
My travelling companions at the airport in Korea.
We travelled. Roughly two hours for each segment of the trip: two hours (three trains) to the airport, two getting through the airport, two in the air, two in Incheon airport, and two on a bus and then walking to our hotel. We left at 8.15am and got to our hotel at 7. I slept badly the night before, so did all this on about 4 ½ hrs sleep.


Thursday
The start of the Far East wrestling tournament. "Far East" is a US military term. This is a regional competition for their base schools, though historically our school and a couple of others have been invited to also participate. 15 schools from Japan and Korea competed this year.
Dinner on Thursday night. Yum!

Our son had only two wrestles this day, one fairly easy, the second more difficult but not heart wrenching. What was difficult to watch were others who didn't wrestle as well as they could have, or were simply outmatched. Of our nine wresters, three were knocked out of the individual competition this day.

We went to dinner with the team each night of the competition. It was a fabulous part of the trip, two of the team were Korean, so organised the restaurants. Really fun hanging out with the team and coach socially too! These guys can eat!

Each night my fellow wrestling-mum roommate and I talked via FaceTime with her husband and our three boys that had remained in Tokyo. They seemed to weather the week okay.

Friday
This was the hardest day of wrestling for me. Late morning our son had his semifinal. He levelled the score in the last 10 seconds to tie  6-6. But he won the match, because the other guy had "fled" the mat during the bout (with our son hanging on to one of his legs), which is against the rules. 


This match left me shaking.
This is the bout that left me in need of oxygen.

The guy who lost to him is the same one who he's wrestled more than a dozen times in the last two years. Most times they've been hard fought matches, though he's only bested our son twice and that was last year, he's pushed our son hard.

That match left me a mess until the final four hours later. In the meantime we had lunch (or I tried to eat lunch) and the loser of the semi had to wrestle one more time to decide who would face our son in the final.

The final was somewhat of a let-down. It was the same guy he'd wrestled in the semi, but the wind seemed to have been taken out of his sails. Our son won 10-0.

I didn't cry. But I did feel a profound sense of relief. It was like a dream.


The second part of the tournament began, it was a team competition (though there was a team element to the individual competition too). This was team vs team. Our school seeded first, so got a bye in the first round and didn't have to wrestle on Friday afternoon.
Osan is the name of the US airforce base. South of Seoul. This building
is where we spent our days. US bases aren't very pretty, though. All their
buildings are pretty drab.
The area outside the base was also very drab plus dirty.

Saturday
The dual meet continued and our team met, and easily defeated two teams on our way to the final. The final, however, was a different story. The team we met was not as good as ours, but had a full line-up (wrestlers in all 13 weight categories) compared to our team, which was four wresters short of a full complement due to illness, injury, and a lack of team members (almost no students at CAJ are as heavy as 215lb [97.5kg] or heavier, so our teams often lack the top two weight categories).


It was a hard fought dual where they only beat us twice in bouts where we had wrestlers to face up to them, but we tied in points at the end. The tie-breaker was the fact that we had had to forfeit four matches and they walked away with the title. There are many what-ifs here and many of the guys were beating themselves up. It really is something to see a team of tough wrestlers in tears.

The awards were many, and it was great to see all our wrestlers with at least two medals around their necks. The team won first place in the individual tournament in our smaller schools division and got silver for the dual meet. We had two Far East Champions (our son was one), one third and three fourths too.

Thankfully we were also able to go out as a group again later and have some fun. But it was very cold to wander the streets, we didn't stay out all that long.


Sunday
The cup of coffee that saved me on Sunday afternoon.
With everything over barring the travel, we got to theoretically sleep-in this morning. I still woke at 6, though that was better than many of the days beforehand. A former CAJ mum picked us up and took us to lunch an hour away with another former CAJ mum, both Korean. So we were treated to some more delightful, but hot, Korean food. 

But I was so tired. If I was prone to falling asleep vertically I could easily have done so during lunch. Not only had my sleep been messed up with all the emotion, my digestion too. I've not been able to eat much during the last week and I simply could hardly make an impression on this large dish that we were given. It was embarrassing, but there was nothing I could do about it.

We flew out close to 6pm, and didn't get home until after 11pm. Everyone was in bed/asleep when I got home. Thankfully David and the team had arrived a couple of hours earlier and he was able to get our younger two boys home and into bed.