USOEC women’s team takes training tour to Chukyo Women’s University in Japan 2007


3 X Olympic Champion Saori Yoshida poses with 1 of her 14 World Championship Gold Medal podiums CWU 2007

Nagoya, Japan — The U.S. Olympic Education Center (USOEC) women’s wrestling team from Northern Michigan University (NMU) traveled to Chukyo Women’s University (CWU) in Japan for a training tour March 2-11, 2007. This marked the first time a U.S. women’s wrestling team visited CWU solely for the purpose of a training tour. Much was learned by all involved.

The USOEC team featured athletes Sadie Kaneda, Liz Short, Amy Borgnini, Jenna Pavlik and coaches Shannyn Gillespie and Tony deAnda.

CWU, a trailblazer for women’s wrestling, started a women’s college wrestling program in 1989 and has never looked back. Three of four Japanese 2004 Olympians were also CWU women wrestlers. They include Olympic champion Saori Yoshida at 55 kg, Olympic champion Kaori Icho at 63 kg and Olympic silver medalist Chiharu Icho at 48 kg.

“We wanted to dedicate a women’s wrestling program that was designed for women – women are more flexible,” said CWU President Tanioka Kuniko.

President Tanioka Kuniko also said that many of Japan’s women’s university teams are really co-educational teams while CWU has the only all-women’s wrestling team in Japan.

There were over 15 Olympic, Senior World Championship, and World University Championship gold medalists training daily during CWU’s 2007 spring break! In Japan, Ayako (72 kg wrestler) explained spring break is about six-weeks long for Japanese university students.

“Students attend classes year round and we train year round,” she said.

Ayako trains daily with 2006 World University Championship Silver medalist; Mami Shinkai (67 kg), 2007 Japanese Sr. National Champ at 67 kg, and 2006 Sr. World Bronze medalist Eri Sakamoto Eri (67 kg).

All of the weight classes represented in the CWU wrestling room have, astonishingly, at least one Olympic champion, Senior World champion or World University champion as a training partner! All of these champions act as coaches to the younger wrestlers.

“This team is more like a family,” USOEC wrestler Jenna Pavlik said. “Here, the older wrestlers teach and look after the younger wrestlers.”

“The athletes organized and lead the practices,” noted Liz Short.

This was an everyday occurrence and seems to create leadership among the athletes, fosters fulfillment, and develops very strong with ethic.

CWU President Tanioka Kuniko was sincere when she said “these students work hard. You will see why they are the best in the world.”

The leadership skills are fortified daily perhaps due to team synergy, team chemistry, and coaching style.

Coach Kuzuhito Sakae commented on his style by saying, “You coach slow like me.” This was such a compliment that suggested yours truly was doing something similar to the best women’s wrestling coach in the world. What an honor!

CWU, which has a graduate school, a university, a junior college, a high school and a kindergarten, started a wrestling program 18 years ago and Coach Sakae has been there for 10 years, over half of that period.

In 10 years, Coach Sakae has coached two Olympic Champions, an Olympic Silver, six World Champions [who have amassed 15 world titles], and countless World Cup and age group World or Continental Champions!

“I am very lucky to have these wrestlers on my teams,” said Sakae.

He is very humble and does not brag about building a wrestling dynasty. Coach Sakae attributes his team’s success to the CWU President Tanioka Kuniko, Junior-level Japanese coaches, and their sponsors.

He does not mention his attention to detail and many hours spent traveling, teaching, and securing sponsors.

It is a privilege to be coached by Sakae Sensei, and his students know it.

Because this training tour was absent of a formal/standard competition, there was plenty of time to learn about Japanese culture and customs. Coach Sakae spent many hours showing the USOEC team around Japan.

The USOEC team learned about the Japanese Samurai mountain trails, Japanese traditional foods (chop sticks at every meal), and the pre-school and kindergarten educational systems.

The USOEC team also learned that it is a sign of respect, in Japan, when you enter someone’s house or a traditional Japanese restaurant, to take your shoes off.

Another sign of respect for others in Japan is to wear a mask when sick. In this way, a sick person cannot cough or sneeze directly onto anyone, which should quarantine common colds, influenza, etc.

Respect, honor, and tradition are critical elements of Japanese society, as is a strong work ethic.

The Japanese spa is as common as your local fitness or exercise gym. The difference here is the spa is used solely to relax the mind and body after a hard days work. Coach Sakae introduced the USOEC team to the Japanese spa. The cost – $5.00 USD for several hours or more. Perhaps, a spa is better than a movie, TV, or other leisure activities.

The concept of the Japanese spa was apparent in CWU training facilities. Not only did CWU have an outstanding wrestling room, weight room, and outdoor track, these facilities also came equipped with a “mini spa.” This spa consisted of a hot/cold bath, sauna, and showers.

The idea suggested is that one can contrast hot and cold to help body and mind recover more efficiently after a hard days work. This CWU spa is accessible all day and night for the students at CWU.

Olympic Champion Yoshida Saori is a super star!!!

Saori is treated like Michael Jordan and Anna Kournikova every time she is seen in public. What is even more refreshing is her personality and or the way she accepts her position as a role model. Saori is the epitome of a great person who leads by her positive, productive actions and seemed to relish in the fact that people recognized her.

This female wrestling super star took every picture that was requested of her [over 20 when I stopped counting], signed every autograph requested of her, shook hands with every stranger in sight, and accompanied the USOEC team at nearly every outing and meal.

Saori is an Olympic Champion and in Japan – that is a big deal!

The USOEC wrestling team from NMU and CWU women’s wrestling team is uniquely similar. Both programs allow high school students to participate in daily practices. This is different than most other Japanese or USA colleges and allows “gifted” students the educational opportunity to learn and train with the best in the world. Both programs boast athletes 16 years of age up to 25 years of age completing the spectrum of Junior level to Senior level champions, proving that age does not discriminate.

“The CWU wrestling program is the standard we are trying to emulate,” said Coach Tony DeAnda. “The USOEC wrestling program is designed to train and teach the best student athletes – just like CWU.”

Both CWU and NMU are educational places of higher learning, which are designed to teach students. A CWU English Professor expressed an interest about a possible ongoing relationship with CWU and NMU to share the power of a cultural educational exchange program.

This idea is not only outstanding but also welcome. It is my hope that this cultural educational exchange relationship between CWU and NMU can become a reality so that all NMU and CWU students have the opportunity to learn and study abroad. This may enhance the students’ education experience and educational mission of both universities.

Copyright © by Coach Shannyn, All rights reserved

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