KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Every day, it seems, has served as an educational experience for Kadena wrestling newcomer J.C. Henderson.
Perhaps the toughest yet most rewarding part of that education has come the past two weekends, in invitational tournaments featuring plenty of tough, seasoned Japanese wrestlers.
"They’re a lot stronger, quicker and more technical," Henderson said during Saturday’s 3rd Okinawa-American Friendship Wrestling Tournament at Kadena High School. "They’ve been really tough, every match I’ve had so far."
A transfer from RAF Lakenheath in England, Henderson, a junior, has had to transition from collegiate folkstyle wrestling used in DODDS-Europe to international freestyle used in the Pacific.
Throw on top of that the challenge of facing Japanese wrestlers here and in the Nile C. Kinnick Invitational Beast of the Far East Tournament on Jan. 10 at Yokosuka Naval Base, and you get a wrestling lesson of a whole different kind.
Japanese wrestlers compete year-round, unlike American prep athletes for whom the sport is seasonal. As such, Henderson and others said, Americans learn much from the aggressive Japanese style, the different moves and techniques.
A sampling of coaches and wrestlers commented on the Japanese wrestlers’ use of tilt moves such as the gut wrench, leg lace and head-in-arm.
"They make you so much better," Henderson said, adding that when he views a match on video, he’s able to critique himself and correct his mistakes.
"Every match, you learn something, no matter how experienced you are," said reigning Far East Tournament gold medalist Harry Bloom of Kadena.
About 72 wrestlers from Kadena, Kubasaki and seven Japanese schools competed in 136 bouts over nine hours at Kadena High School’s Panther Pit. Three Americans, Bloom and Kubasaki’s Jon Goddard and Matt Payne, each won gold medals; 11 posted top-three finishes in their weight groups.
And every American wrestler stood to benefit from competing here and at Beast, Bloom said.
"You learn that the world of wrestling is bigger" than DODDS-Pacific, he said. "You can’t get a big head; you can’t get too full of yourself. The smallest (Japanese) guy can have the best technique and hit a home run on you."
One might also learn a move or see a way to perfect a move that better prepares him for higher competition.
"You see stronger competition. You wrestle somebody different," said three-time Far East gold medalist Scott Wood of Kubasaki. "You get stronger for Far East."
"The more matches we get, the better we are," Kubasaki coach Terry Chumley said. "It provides me a list of things for me to work on in practice. We’re looking at the learning experience now, and hope we can become more competitive at Far East."
Kinnick seizes driver’s seat in Kanto Plain title chaseYOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – Chris Santos’ decision over Sayer Austin at 180 pounds helped propel Kinnick into at least a tie for the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools regular-season title.
Santos helped the Red Devils (4-0) edge Yokota 29-28, ending a streak of three years that the Panthers won the Kanto title outright (2006) or shared it with St. Mary’s International (2007 and 2008).
Yokota (3-1) got seven victories on the mat, but had nobody to fill the 215 and heavyweight classes, giving Kinnick the points it needed to overtake the Panthers.
"We got the wins. We just didn’t get pins," coach Brian Kitts said of a Yokota team that won four bouts by decision. One more pin would have given the Panthers the dual meet.
Kinnick can seize its first Kanto Plain regular-season title outright since 2004 by winning at Christian Academy In Japan on Feb. 4.
Kitts credited Kinnick and its assistant coach, Go Yamada, a former Far East gold medalist. "They’re for real this year," Kitts said. "Go’s done a great job with them."