ROK-U Spring 2017 Season Wrap-Up

This past weekend saw the end of another season of the recreational Ultimate in Korea. Spring 2017 was an interesting season for me, as I began to take Ultimate more seriously than I have in the past. I saw great growth in myself and the team I play for, the Wonju Knights, even if the playoffs didn’t quite go as planned. We may not have won the league or even the consolation bracket, but we certainly had a good time and looked damn good doing it.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, my wife Kris has been in recovery from a torn ACL that she unfortunately picked up earlier this year. Despite this, she stoically remained captain of our team for the season. She didn’t miss a weekend, and gave the team encouragement and hearty cheers from the sideline. Her presence was inimitable, and boosted our morale immeasurably. Sadly, she could not add that fire onto the playing field itself. This left a gap in our handlers (essentially the playmakers of Ultimate) which I had to step up and fill. While I had played handler for the past few seasons, I was now required to play it for every point that I was on the field, and I was needed on the field far more than I was in previous seasons. I felt a lot of pressure at first, but the more I played, the more confident I became in my own play. The increased need for my mediocre skill helped me push past my previous skill ceilings. I am by no means anywhere near a good player, but I am on the road to getting there. My skills are no longer the weak point of my game – that is now my fitness, which I will work on in the coming months of downtime.

Beyond my own improvements, I saw great progress from every single person on our team. Newer players began to throw throws that they would not have done last season, and gained a greater understanding of how Ultimate works. Even experienced players on the team threw fewer risky, flashy throws. Off of the field, most of the players on the team were already friends before the season, and we tried our best to include the new players to the team into our fold. After play concluded on Saturday, we held a fines and awards evening to acknowledge everyone’s contribution to the team, and to have a few drinks together. Everyone received an award from the team, reflecting on some aspect of their play, attitude, or pretty much anything. Mine was the following:

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Even though I improved this season, I had a tendency to get a tad grumpy at myself whenever I made a clear error on the field. This may have involved outbursts on the sideline at no-one other than me. Over and above this, my defense style is quite passionate. Hence, the Super Saiyan award.

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Don’t mind me. I just missed an easy catch. I’m fine, I swear.

This weekend may have been a great final bonding moment for the team, but it was not our most successful. We finished league play in the middle of the table, landing a solid seed for the playoffs. However, our team cohesion just wasn’t quite there this weekend. We all missed easy catches (there may have been a couple of Super Saiyan moments from me), our throws went to nowhere more often than any other time this season, and we just weren’t gelling. We didn’t manage to win a single game in the playoffs, losing to teams that we’d beaten during the season. Our heads were a little down after our first loss, but by the end of the day, most people had realized that it was the last chance for this iteration of the Knights to be together, and we just had some fun.

With spring season of 2017 over, all that lies ahead for the next few months is the off-season. There is a club tournament coming up, but I didn’t make the cut for that one. For Kris and I, we have a couple of months to decide whether we will play again in the autumn. Kris may still be too injured to play, and I will need to decide whether I’d rather spend time with her or play Ultimate. Judging my how quickly this year has flown by, we will need to decide before we know it. Until then, we’ll just keep on enjoying our life here in Korea, and seeing what the future holds for us.

 

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Sport or, How I Learned to Socialize Whilst Sweating

I sit with most of my body aching at present. My shoulder is sore. My calves are tight. My back occasionally reminds me that it is not at tip-top performance either. Finally, my throat is hoarse, and my voice gaining husky sultriness and quiet awkwardness in equal measure. Why is this? Bonding over sport, namely Ultimate and rugby. There were losses. There were wins (although these were fewer). Most importantly, friendships were formed or forged even stronger through the simple acts of playing and watching sports that we love together.

In school, I found sport largely an odd phenomenon. Sure, I played sport all of the way through my schooling career. I was in the 3rd cricket team in my final year. I batted at number seven at earliest, and bowled one over per game if I was lucky. I occasionally latched on to the optimistic thought that my fielding was that good, but most of the time I realized that I was profoundly average. The sport that I enjoyed the most in school was hockey. Although I did not achieve a higher team placement than cricket, I felt like a more integral part of the team than I did in cricket.

My first truly great sporting experiences lay on the hockey field, but on the club level. When I say club level, I do not mean the kind of club level where the players are all sporting six-packs, there is constant training, and my team is expected to win the title each and every year. I mean the kind of club level where the players are all sporting six-packs of beer, there is no training whatsoever, and the team is expected, well, to hopefully remain in the same league and not get relegated.

It was great fun, and I had many happy memories from my club hockey days. Some of these great memories came from on the field, but the majority arose during the shenanigans that took place off of the pitch. One memory that springs to mind most often is the one and only time I have seen my father truly drunk. Here is a picture from that night.

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Doesn’t he look majestic? I was a year or so shy of legal drinking age, and fairly responsible. I ended up driving us home, because he was incapable of doing so. It was a night I will never forget.

Whilst hockey was my first foray into social sport, I feel that I truly found my outdoor sporting community in Ultimate Frisbee at Wits. Everywhere else, I had felt a little bit of an outsider, for one reason or another. I was too slow. I was too young. I didn’t drink enough. The list goes on, and many are likely to be overly critical perceptions from my mind. But in Ultimate, while I wasn’t the most integral part of the lineup, I still felt like part of the team to a degree that I had never felt before. Some of my strongest friends from my days at university come from the Ultimate team, despite me only playing in my final year in the university. I even played with my supervisor for my Honours thesis project whilst doing my thesis. Witsies will always be there to jol (have a good time for all of you not from South Africa), and that is what I loved about Wits Ultimate and the Ultimate community as a whole – everyone simply wanted to have fun.

This feeling continued into Korea, where the emphasis on the community is even more intense, especially in ROK-U, the main league in which I am playing now. ROK-U is largely comprised of expats from countries as varied as Russia and Canada, with several stops off in South Africa along the way. As a result, when game weekends are planned, so are organised social events for the teams to mingle and grow their expat connections within Korea. Ultimate people are great. Everyone is a little weird, and no-one cares, because you are all there together, in a strange country, playing the game you all love.

This past weekend, there was a two-day game weekend in Daejeon, which is pretty central in Korea. At one of these parties, the South Africans in ROK-U all bonded by staying up until 2am to watch our national rugby team, the Springboks, suffer a narrow defeat to the rugby juggernaut that is New Zealand. It was a heart-breaking affair, but I will never forget the sounds of a handful of South Africans (some more drunk than others) screaming at the top of our lungs at a television screen in the corner of a bar. It really was one of those special moments.

So, to everyone looking to meet new people, try sport. I’d say try Ultimate, but I may be a little biased. I am sure there are many sporting codes being played really close to you that you never knew existed. You don’t have to be serious, or even fit. I most certainly am not. Just get out there. Spend a little bit of time away from the digital overload. You won’t regret it. Not even when everything aches on a Monday evening and you have to carry heavy shopping.

Six on the Beach: Six Things I Learned

This past weekend, Kris and I went to a ridiculously fun Ultimate tournament in Pohang called Six on the Beach. It was a two-day celebration of Ultimate, filled with sand, sun, and throwing some discs. We brought back sore muscles, sand in places where sand should never be, and many lessons. I’ll share some of the things I learned this weekend, from the difficulty of running on sand, to the quality of the Ultimate community in South Korea.

Playing Ultimate on sand is painfully hard. 

Running of any kind is difficult enough, but sand goes out of its way to be exceptionally uncomfortable and awkward. Whether it is the mini-mountain-climbing feeling of playing on soft, uneven sand, or the pain of playing on unyielding hard, wet sand, it is not an ideal surface for quick, sharp sprinting. The only benefit that sand has over other surfaces is that it is rather suited for layouts (diving to catch an otherwise unreachable disc). This did lead to more layouts than I would have expected. Some of these were clearly gratuitous, and players were jeered accordingly from the sidelines when they planted themselves in the sand for a disc more in their reach than the hem of their sleeves.

Every Ultimate player, no matter how experienced, has something that they need to work on. 

I have a great deal of my game that I need to improve on, most of which were agonisingly highlighted during the tournament. Most prominent amongst them is my need to gain speed and endurance in my running. Close behind my physical ineptitude is my need to not panic when I get the disc. I have the annoying tendency to simply throw the disc away wantonly. This was demonstrated in what could have been a highlight of mine for the tournament: I made a full stretch, horizontal layout, catching the disc with the tips of the fingers of my right hand. The fact that I succeeded in doing this sent a surge of adrenaline through my body, and I casually tossed the disc away to what I thought was a nearby teammate. Sadly, my throw flopped pathetically to the dirt. I was, however, heartened by the fact that even the most experienced players had moments that they could have done markedly more proficiently. Whether it was throwing the wrong type of pass to making a cut to the wrong side of the field, we all had something that we felt we did poorly. We are all human, and it is helpful to remember this when you mess up.

There is no shame in having McDonald’s for two (or even three) meals in one day. 

It’s close. It’s fast. It’s (mostly) in English. When you don’t feel like breaking out your rudimentary and embarrassing grasp of Korean or waiting a long time for your meal, the golden arches lie in wait. They know you want their salty, fried, processed goodness. And they are more than willing to give it to you.

Ultimate tournaments can run on time!

I have only participated in a handful of Ultimate tournaments before Six on the Beach, but a common feature of all of them is that they ran over time to varying degrees. Some were a handful of minutes over time. Others were a handful of hours. Six on the Beach proved that they could run to schedule. With nothing more than an air horn, a watch, and some shouting, the Six on the Beach team managed to start and finish matches when they said they would. Well done! While Ultimate people are generally relaxed when it comes to time, I appreciate when events I attend run on time, and Six on the Beach did not disappoint!

Not all love motels are seedy. 

When we had been told about love motels before this weekend, I had the impression that they were completely decrepit, poorly-maintained old buildings with tiny rooms and beds filled with lumps and mysterious stains. When we booked a love motel for our one night stay in Pohang, I had my reservations. I quelled these by rationalising that we would only be there for one night, and the price was very reasonable. I needn’t have consoled myself. Our motel, which was two minutes away from the beach, was spotless. It came complete with a well-sized shower, computer (for stimulation purposes, we deduced), television, a comfortable bed, and clean towels. We would gladly stay there again, and will be far more willing to frequent love motels in the future.

The Korean Ultimate community is amazing.

While we had experienced some of the Ultimate community beforehand by playing in the Seoul Spring League, Six on the Beach was our first major exposure to players from around the country, and we were eager to see if players from around the country were as friendly, helpful, and generally pleasant and fun to be around as the Seoul community was. This was indeed the case. From first-timers brimming with enthusiasm, to veterans with the name of their Korean hometown tattooed onto their bodies, everyone was simply enjoying the weekend of sandy disc-throwing revelry. Advice was passed cordially and in good nature. Smiles abounded. Laughter contended with the various tactical calls throughout the weekend. It was sublime.

While my legs may still be sore from running, what will stay with me longer will be the memories made at Six on the Beach. The lessons I learned, the new friends I made, the older friendships made stronger – this is what Ultimate is truly about. We may all leap around after a small plastic disc, but the main driving force behind it all is something that Ultimate has had everywhere I’ve played it – a wonderful community. Thank you to the organisers. Here’s to the next tournament being as epic!