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By Shannyn J. Gillespie
Itabashi, Japan - March 10, 2012 Kaori Icho is a 2-time Olympic Champion! Kaori trained with us the last day and it was a great experience for the USOEC female freestylers. It is rare to see an Olympic Champion in person. It is rarer to drill with an Olympic Champion. It may even be rarer to wrestle a live match with an Olympic Champion. Okay, so you get the theme. Kaori is a rare 2-time Olympic Champion and we got to meet, greet, and be in her space. Her former college team mate and current national team member, Saori Yoshida, is the only other 2-time Olympic Champion female wrestler in this universe.
Cass explained to me "she gave just the right feel" when drilling. Gabby said "I almost scored on her". Lilia did score on her and Kaori actually scored about 7 points in the flurry to Lilia's 1 point. It was quite amazing to see Kaori put a half on Lilia with her leg! The highlight of my trip was watching Kaori perform in practice.
Watching Kaori at work was awe inspiring and educational at the same time. She would let the USOEC wrestlers get close to scoring, when drilling, then offer just a little bit of resistance while stopping the offense, then she would let her opponents score; this happened for about an hour during the drilling portion of the practice. Kaori also displayed unbelievable balancing, timing, and calculated risk taking. It appeared she was exploring the boundaries of her abilities at every move while staying calm, poised, and ready. There is nothinglike watching a master at work.
When it was her time to coach, she also stepped up. Kaori's training partner, whose name escapes me at the moment, also wrestled matches today. Kaori urged her on when the time was right offering what I can only believe was encouragement, instruction, and support. She understands that all wrestlers need assistance sometimes to understand what is going on.
This may have been the toughest practice of the week. Some of the conditioning, after the 4-5 matches, was truly a test of courage, will, & endurance. The warm-up consisted of 3 games, then rope climbs, then 2 minute drilling. The work ethic of the Japanese wrestlers is something else. The precision with which practice is organized and the leadership of the wrestlers is truly phenomenal. I am glad we came and also know this will be my last time in Japan as USOEC coach
I do not know what the future brings and I do know how I can prepare for the future. If I can organize my life and lead my actions with the work ethic of the Japanese female freestylers, I will be okay. I am ready for the challenge. Sayonara!
Itabashi, Japan - March 9, 2012 The size of the wrestling room at the National Training Center is enormous. Today, Erin, Carlene, Cass, Andrea, and Gabby wrestled 5 matches on four different wrestling mats. Combining the first and second sentences together means they wrestled on 4 of the 6 wrestling mats available. There is a enough room in the NTC wrestling facility to have a state, national, Pan Am, World, or even Olympic Games competition in there. Sprinting to one side or the other via length or width is a challenge and several years ago, there were 2 practices going on at once. During the conditioning drills today, the athletes utilized the full extent of the room.
There is definitely a hierarchy of sorts for the Japanese female wrestlers. I've noticed who speaks and who defers and who organizes training and who the athletes respect. It appears that the eldest in the room is in charge at all times without hesitation nor rebuttal. If there is no coach in the room, the athletes follow the leader(s) literally. If a coach appears in the room, the Japanese athletes immediately greet the coach and pay their respects with a bow. Actually, 2-time Olympic Champion Kaori Icho walked in the room during training and walked right up to the coach greeted and bowed then walked away. Before she got too far, I paid my respects to her and asked if she remembered me. She said yes, shook my hand, smiled, and went about her business.
Music is the key. Daily, it seems the lead Japanese wrestlers ask to turn the music on for training. Daily, when writing these blogs, I plug-in to YouTube via the many wondrous sounds online. Everyone seems to find solace in music when working and is this is comforting. It is important to focus, of course, with or without music. However, any sort of variety to change the mood when working or rather to stimulate thought, action, and motivation is a good thing.
Tomorrow is our last day of training and we leave at around 14:00 or 2:00 pm EST. The rest of the world uses a lot of different measuring systems than the USA. Time for instance is generally measured with what I like to call 'military time'. Temperature is measured in Celsius degrees and it has been around 8-10 degrees Celsius daily with rain every now and then. Distance is measured in kilometers and we walk about 5k a day. There is nothing really super important about those facts except to say folks in the USA do things differently, sometimes, than the rest of the world.
Itabashi, Japan - March 8, 2012 Sightseeing. We spent the day seeing many of the sights of Tokyo and I want to thank Yuki, Haruka, & Chihiro now for the great day of days. I simply can not express enough what the day was like and the magnitude of feelings I went through...so a separate playlist of YouTube was created just for you --> Japan 2012 sightseeing vlog. You can also see some of the still images here. Let's just say we left at 9:30 am and returned at 6:00 pm and took a variety of trains, buses and saw some unbelievable sights.
Hopefully, you will have the opportunity to visit Japan one day. If you do, check out Tokyo and what our hosts called 'Traditional Japan'. Here you will see temples the size of football fields and shopping areas that can be described as a tourists dreamland. Well, I saw a lot of high school students and other folks too who did not exactly look like the travelling tourists we looked like. There were so many people there, it was absolutely mind boggling.
Erin reminded me that we were here 3 years ago and she was right. However, all of the sights still made me feel like a kid in candy store or a very anxious little one on his or her birthday or perhaps during the holiday season.
The trains that we took were filled to capacity and this was interesting. I grew up taking trains to and from downtown Chicago for work and play and this sort of mirrored that experience. Tokyo reminded me of Chicago combined with New York. You got all the glitz an glamour of Time Square plus Michigan Avenue with what seemed like all the shopping anyone could handle mixed in with a museum like quality of traditional Japan. It was the perfect mix of modern and traditional eye candy.
Itabashi, Japan - March 7, 2012 The third day of training was led by the USOEC team and they did a good job. This practice consisted of the basic format the athletes have been using all week i.e. a 30 minute warm-up comprised of tumbling, jogging, short live goes, then longer live goes and ending with conditioning. Okay, so that's not exactly super exciting you may say. Well, most folks have a lot of similar qualities and today, this idea was proven again.
At the conclusion of practice, the athletes took a ton of pictures, talked, and generally had a good time. The Japanese wrestlers also took us to the spa again and then ate dinner with us at the National Training Center. Who knows what they actually talked about...okay, so I can really hear and see just about everything they talked about. It appears they were looking at photos of famous people and commenting on them. I guess I'll just leave it to your imagination of who the photos were of and why this may be common everywhere.
The Itabashi Center Hotel is about 1.5 miles from the NTC or Toyo University and we walk this journey daily. Today, we walked there and back 4 times which is the equivalent to about 6 miles. Suffice it to say, we are generally tired at the end of each day. The walks are actually good because the training is hard and the walking kind of works like a cool down. We also talk about the days adventures on these walks sometimes. Sometimes, we walk as if we are in the Olympic 50k event. Actually, several times Erin and Gabby were wearing their headsets which led me to believe they were listening to their MP3's. These walks are also great because we get to be apart of the amazing amount of bike, car, and people traffic in Tokyo. The cyclists are on the sidewalks with us most of the time and we must be aware of these bikers because they are travelling fast and in a hurry. Every now and then, one of us will yell 'bike' to warn our line of walkers to beware.
Wednesday is sightseeing and everyone seems to be excited about this. The Japan wrestlers will meet us and take us out again. The Japan wrestlers and coaches have been great hosts and I am really happy about that.
Itabashi, Japan - March 6, 2012 Rain all day. I guess the thought of using an umbrella is less than remarkable...unless you like getting wet. It appears the Japanese in the Itabashi district of Tokyo do not like getting wet. This unlikely story is written because our day started with the normal communication of hand gestures, translator apps, and basically 'do as we do' prior to using umbrellas in the rain. To say 'everyone has an umbrella' was no understatement and, even though I was reluctant, I soon used the umbrella given to me. You may be saying "so what" and again, this story will not win a Pulitzer, it was just amazing to see under the sun or rain, with an umbrella.
We travelled in the rain with our wrestling guides from Toyo University via the subway to the National Training Center for lunch and back to Toyo for training. The training, which is amazing to me, again was athlete lead drills, warm-ups, then live. The coaches literally sit back and watch practice and offer comments every so often. This style of coaching was first witnessed on my first trip to Chukyo Women's University. When asked about this 'strange' coaching style, Coach Kuzuhito Sakae simply stated "my athletes know what to do". Really, shouldn't the athletes know what to do after many, many minutes; hours; days; months; and years of training. Don't the athletes use what they have been taught every time they compete? If your answer to both of the questions is 'yes', shouldn't it stand to reason the athletes can remember the structure of practices too? Clearly, this is the case in Japan.
Today, we actually ate at the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences & National Training Center which equates to Japan's Olympic Training Center. This is where we will eat and train the next 3 days. If you click that link, you can see a lot of pictures of the surrounding area of JISS and the NTC. After eating and training, the athletes treated themselves to a spa at the NTC and we talked about the difference many parts of the world use to recover their athletes. I've noticed, over the years, that recovery is as important to some countries as the physical and psychological training. What sense does it make to continue training if your body has never ever been able to recover, regenerate, or restore itself? Our next work out is at the NTC and we will likely utilize the spa again. What a relief!
Itabashi, Japan - March 5, 2012 Today was a good day. We started with breakfast at the Japan Restaurant within the hotel and ended with a welcome party by the hosts including Taga Tsuneo, the Toyo University wrestling coach Ichihashi Toshiyuki and of course Nobuo. Well this trip is not all about eating and here are some details about the wrestling: the Japanese athletes lead the practice, our athletes wrestled about 5 matches each, the training was intense, and the USOEC athletes did well especially if you combine jetlag, eating right before training and the jitters prior to competing with Japan.
Everyone likely has pre-match nerves or gets a little nervous prior to training or competing...I know I did. Well combine that with wrestling the best country in the world the last 3 decades and that the Japan wrestlers were asking who the 'strongest' wrestler of our group was. The USOEC athletes openly explained to me it felt just like a competition and I replied this is good competition stress training for our upcoming events. We scored a lot of points and so did they and I was satisfied we kept fighting and did not give up.
The Japan wrestlers are a family. Every so often, one wrestler would scream phrases like 'keep fighting' and 'do not give in' while the rest of the team would reply in concert 'yes' or 'right'. Now, I do not speak any Japanese and the translator, Nobuko, explained this to me. She also went on to say the words literally do not have the same English meaning and that there was something more to the phrases... This made me feel like they were psychologically preparing for a tough training session with us while motivating each other to continue to do their best --> no matter what. It seemed like the USOEC athletes picked up on this and starting encouraging each other for every point or position to continue to fight. I liked that.
We ate at a minutes before training and the food was great. However, the athletes felt it was to soon before training and will adjust today. I am also glad that the USOEC athletes were able to assess the need for change and also to compete at a high level despite not feeling great. I believe you must compete at a high level -even when you do not feel great- consistently to plant and nurture this 'get it done' mentally seed. When you or I believe we can 'get it done' no matter what, we are more likely to believe and use our abilities to the maximum on the mat and in life.
Itabashi, Japan - March 4, 2012 We arrived in the Narita, Japan airport around 13 hours after we left the Detroit airport. Our hosts for the day, Ayaka and Yurie, greeted us with a Northern Michigan University Wrestling Team sign. Ayaka & Yurie went to high school together and now are both graduates of Japan universities. Ayaka works for a newspaper and Yurie, it appears, is a special education teacher...a lot of meanings get lost when translating English to Japanese or vice versa. These ladies were great and I am thankful they assisted Erin, Carlene, Lilia, Andrea, Gabby, Cass and yours truly for the 1 hour bus ride plus the 15 minute cab ride to Itabashi, Japan.
After we got to the Itabashi Center Hotel, we met Nobuo, our host for the week. Nobuo was Yurie's collegiate wrestling coach and also works for Japan the Wrestling Federation. He explained the week of training to me and gave schedules of training and maps of the area we will be travelling to and from. This was great and this info was immediately given to the team so we all know what is going on. We soon received our room keys and Ayaka, Yurie, and Nobuo showed us to our rooms and how to use the keys to turn on the lights and how to use the internet. The internet in my room, at the moment, is not working with my laptop and you will get this blog at some point...
Did I mention they were great hosts? Well, Nobuo took Ayaka, Yurie, and Shannyn to the hotel sushi restaurant and yes it was great. I was hungry after travelling for what seemed like 24 hours and the many different types of uncooked and cooked meets were great. My chopstick ability does need a little work and we will be here till March 10 which will be plenty of time to practice my chopstick skills. At dinner, Nobuo, Ayaka, and Yurie described how many of the women's wrestling teams of Japan are actually co-ed teams. In other words, there may be about 4 women on a team with about 30 men with one or two coaches. This system is similar to Canada's collegiate wrestling system and very different than the USA collegiate wrestling system. There are always exceptions to all so-called rules and Chukyo Women's University in Japan, is an all women's team.
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