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.

 

Torn

Almost two weeks ago, my wife injured herself pursuing her favourite hobby – playing Ultimate. At first, we thought the injury to be minor. As time progressed, it became clear that it was more than just a niggle. As she went to daily physiotherapy sessions and eventual MRI scans, the projections got worse. Yesterday, she had to have surgery to fix the problem – a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). She is in recovery and the surgery seems to have gone well, but it’s been a tough few days for us.

In the middle of a club practice just under two weeks ago, Kris came down hard on her left leg and immediately cried out in pain. She had the presence of mind to stop playing for the rest of the practice. At that point, no-one was exactly sure of the extent of the injury. There had not been the popping sound most commonly heard when an ACL is torn, so the general conjecture was a sprain or something less severe. Our friends recommended to take it easy, and if it didn’t feel any better in the next few days, to go see a doctor.

When it didn’t get any better, Kris did exactly that. The doctor sided with the theory that it was most likely not a tear, but a sprain, and set Kris up with daily appointments at a physiotherapist to work the injured knee and try diminish pain and regain range of motion. After a week, the doctor re-assessed Kris, and found that she was not progressing as would be expected. He scheduled an MRI scan to get a better look at what was going on.

After a tense weekend of waiting for the results, we were floored to be told that it was an ACL tear after all. This type of injury is not uncommon in Ultimate, and can put a player out of commission for more than a year in severe cases. While it is possible to live with the injury without surgery, Kris would never be able to play Ultimate again. This was ruled out instantly, and we elected to have ACL reconstructive surgery. The surgery is said to be very painful and quite expensive, but the alternative was simply not an option.

In the few days between the decision to go through with surgery and the day of the surgery itself, Kris was a hive of fluttering emotional states. When I asked her how she was feeling, she broke down, saying that she felt guilty for wasting so much money. In response, I told her:

“Look. You’re my wife. I will spend any amount of money just to see you smile one more time.”

This is one of those lines that may strike you as trite and obsequious, nothing more than a punt to try help her feel better. As I was saying it, I was worried that I would feel the same way. However, when I had said it and I looked at her, head curled into my shoulder to hide her tears, I knew that it was the honest truth. This is a woman that I have traveled halfway across the world with. A woman that I have sworn to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part. And I honestly would do anything if it meant her happiness.

When the day of the surgery came around, we went together to the hospital. I helped to comfort her in the hours before the surgery, but I cannot imagine the fear that she was feeling. As someone as afraid of needles as she is, as someone that has never had a major surgery before, for her to do so in a foreign country where the doctors were giving her instructions in another language, fills me with admiration and awe. She held back tears when they inserted the IV, something that she believed would be worse for her than the surgery itself. When I had to leave her side to go to work, I held back tears of my own. I knew that the doctors would do everything they could for her, but the fear of complications fogged my experience of the day.

When I had finished my classes for the day, I rushed back to the hospital. I ran to catch the train as it left the station, just to shave precious minutes off the journey. I did take time to stop to pick up chocolate muffins from a bakery near the hospital, though. She had mentioned them before and I thought that it would cheer her up.

When I saw her for the first time after the surgery, my heart was filled with joy and sadness. She was in pain, sleepy, and thirsty, but she wasn’t allowed to sleep or drink water yet. There was a very kind Korean lady in the ward who had stayed with her, made sure that she did not sleep, and kept Kris as comfortable as possible. I sat down by her side and stayed there, distracting her mind from the passage of time and making sure that she stayed awake until the time for rest came. Those minutes were hard for us. We were happy to be together, but what Kris truly wanted was not to be awake, but asleep, away from the pain and discomfort. I shared with her the encouraging messages that friends had sent her. I told her about my mundane day at work. We just looked at each other, held hands, and smiled.

When the time came that she could rest, she smiled broadly, told me to wake her up when she could drink water, and drifted away into a peaceful nap. I sat by her side, marveling at her strength. Shortly afterwards, I woke her, gave her some fresh water and a bit of food, and helped her get to sleep once more.

The road to recovery is long. Kris will be on crutches for a month, and unable to play sport for four months at least. Thankfully, with the help of our friends and the doctors at the hospital, the injury was picked up early so treatment could begin early as well. While I wish that there was more I could do for her, we will walk the road ahead together, as we have done for the past years. The months ahead may be tough, but Kris is tougher!

Mind Games: The Return to Ultimate

A few weeks ago, I underwent LASEK eye surgery to correct my severe astigmatism. I wrote a little bit about my experience shortly after the fact. Since then, my eyes have gradually been getting better and better. Objects are becoming less blurry, and I am able to see more clearly every day. However, there were some restrictions placed on me by the surgery, including being unable to engage in sweat-inducing sports (including my beloved Ultimate) for a month. That ban was lifted two weeks ago, and I have participated in two Ultimate weekends since then, with varying degrees of success.

My first Ultimate weekend post-surgery was a club tournament held in the coastal city of Ulsan. It was my first club tournament, and I was rather nervous for multiple reasons. I wasn’t sure how my eyes would cope with strenuous activity again. I wasn’t sure if I could keep up with my opponents, as I am normally not very quick and I hadn’t done any rigorous exercise for an entire month. I thought I might have lost some of my skills. Our wonderful, cheerful team also had many male substitutes. So, I decided to take it easy, only playing when needed and not putting myself onto the field too much.

This proved to be a wise approach. Even in the warm-ups before each game, I struggled slightly with depth perception and generally seeing the disc coming at me. I felt off-balance a lot of the time. I got winded more quickly than usual. I had lost a dash of speed. All of these played a role in not meeting my own personal expectations for the weekend. I dropped catches I should have caught. Opponents that wouldn’t have beaten me a month ago got past me for the score on multiple occasions. I even had to remove myself from the team environment during a break to listen to music and re-centre and re-focus myself.

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The wonderful band of rapscallions that I played with in Ulsan

These mistakes and shortcomings aside, I enjoyed the first weekend back. Overall, I think I did alright – I didn’t let the team down too much, and we ended up with some great results. More importantly, there was always a positive attitude and atmosphere within the team, and we had great fun together. I took what I could from the Ulsan tournament, and looked ahead to my first weekend with my ROK-U team, the Wonju Knights.

Sadly for me, I hadn’t truly overcome the problems of the Ulsan weekend. I was still slower than I was, and for some reason my head just wasn’t in the right space. The Knights managed to win our first game of the weekend (something that would have been cause for celebration a season before), but I felt frustrated with my own performance. On the club team, I was a minnow and I knew it. On the Knights, I thought I would get more game time and play a more crucial role in the team. And yet, I would let others go on the field before me. I will generally sacrifice my own play time to make sure the more under-utilized men on our team get a run. It’s all about the spirit of the game and making sure everyone feels valued. Normally I would be okay with it – it’s what I do. But this time, I wasn’t mentally prepared for it. I both wanted to and didn’t want to sacrifice, but I did it anyway because that’s who I am. Once again, the team had a great time around me and enjoyed decent success, winning two of the three games that we played in and generally keeping spirits high in the process.

I guess the biggest impact that LASEK has had on my Ultimate game is not anything physical. I can see well enough to play at a decent level. My fitness (whatever small level I had to begin with) will return. The most significant hit I’ve taken appears to be mental. With a big weekend of important games this weekend, I need to take time to work through the mental obstacles preventing me from performing and enjoying the game I love. I need to stop thinking about dozens of different things and just get out there and have fun throwing a piece of plastic with my friends.

A Good Few Days

I have neglected you, dear readers, and for that I apologize. I bring much news! The time between my last post and this has been filled with positive events for Kris and I. I have covered my first Esports event, successfully applied for a Dota 2 magazine, played some Ultimate, and taken another step towards that opaque concept known as adulthood.

The news of which I am arguably most proud is my coverage of the recent HearthStone Seoul Cup World Invitational. The tournament hosted 8 of the top HearthStone players from around the world in two days of single-elimination competition. A few days before the tournament, an expansion was released for HearthStone, resulting in some crazy, fresh strategies to be showcased at the tournament.

While I did enjoy watching the games immensely, my most significant moments lay just outside of the arena. I managed to secure interviews with StrifeCro and Reynad, two prominent personalities in the HearthStone scene. Reynad is a name that I have known for a while, but never explored deeply enough to have a personal opinion on. He deeply impressed me with his knowledge of the game, and love for both HearthStone and Esports in general. I gained immense respect for him in our short conversation. I have long been a fan of StrifeCro, and he lived up to my every expectation as a kind, soft-spoken gentleman. I even managed to get his signature and a picture with him. My inner fanboy was bursting with glee.

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I transcribed these interviews and turned them into features for GosuGamers. The StrifeCro interview even managed to reach the front page of the HearthStone subreddit! I was happy that my hard work and overcoming my shy nature paid off. I believe that my interview with Reynad will be even more popular, but it has yet to be released.

Front Page baby

My other major Esports-related success came from the Dota 2 sphere. A few weeks ago, I responded to a post on reddit calling for Dota 2 writers to put together a magazine about Dota 2. There were apparently over 240 applicants. I was one of the 6% who were judged as worthy. I am working on my first piece for the first issue, and I hope to live up to the faith that has been placed in me.

After a busy few days of writing and teaching, I was happy to enjoy a long weekend. Kris and I spent most of Thursday and Friday relaxing, catching up with friends, and doing some Ultimate practice. It felt good to throw a disc again, and the practice would prove necessary. On Saturday, we had a chilled picnic for a friend’s birthday. Nothing went too out of hand, because we all had Ultimate the next day.

Sunday came around, and with it our first games of Ultimate for several weeks. We played three games, and had played some of the best Ultimate that we have all season. However, our team’s play was let down by small mistakes being punished by the opponents, and we lost all three of the games. Our team was a little downhearted, but we all enjoyed the day despite the losses.

This morning, I received word that I have been accepted for a credit card. Whilst this might not seem like that big of a deal, I was genuinely worried that I would be rejected due to the part-time nature of my job. I am glad Korea thinks me responsible enough for a credit card. I’m not sure I would trust me. When the card arrives, I will be finally be able to book plane tickets to Seattle for the holiday that Kris and I plan to take in August. As August is drawing ever closer, every day that we can have to complete the American visa application process may prove to be necessary.

So, all told, a good few days indeed. I am making my way in Esports slowly but surely, I am making sure I don’t turn into a pudgey doughball, and things are coming together for the big trip in August. I will strive to blog more regularly, and let you all know how things are going as they happen, and not all in one go like this. Here’s hoping that the majority of my updates are as positive as this one!

 

One Month in Wonju: Achievements and Goals

Kris and I have now spent one entire month living in the lovely, pokey town of Wonju. In our time here, we’ve done a bunch of stuff that I am proud of. On the other side of the coin, there are a whole lot of things that I would like to get done in the remainder of our time here, however long or short that may be. Here are five goals that I feel are most necessary to aim for in the coming months, and five achievements that Kris and I have made, in no particular order.

Goals

1.) I need to be far more pro-active in the mornings. Now that I have a more flexible job (see the achievements below), I need to make more effective use of my time. Whilst playing games is great and all, I need to start doing it on stream and creating content.

2.) I want to be able to play one more point of Ultimate Frisbee between each rest point. Currently I feel that my fitness levels are limiting my play, and I am sick and tired of feeling this way.

.3.) I should probably wear pants more around the house in the mornings.

4.) I want to find at least one paying Esports writing job, be it a once-off article or a recurring contract, in the next 4 months. Gotta start somewhere.

5.) I want to keep enjoying life as much as I have in the last month!

Achievements

1.) Kris and I (almost entirely Kris) organised an Ultimate Frisbee team in Wonju, and successfully got most of the team to our first week of games.

2.) Kris and I both managed to renew our ARCs, so we can legally stay in Korea for another year. The details may be written in permanent marker, but apparently they’re legit!

3.) I managed to secure myself a great, flexible part-time job. It gives me time to write, and lessens my time with kindergarten children. My sanity is closer to normal levels than it was last year.

4.) Kris and I have extensively cut down on the amount of cold drink (soda for my American readers) that we drink. It was largely an unconscious decision, as buying soda just never settled into our Wonju shopping routine. However, when we noticed this, we decided that this is a good thing and haven’t bought cold drink for our house since. We might have a can or two when out and about though, but nowhere near the three 1.5-litre bottles that we were drinking every week.

5.) I have begun writing for GosuGamers.net with regularity again. During the move, I wasn’t able to write a piece for them for weeks. Now, I’ve done two this week already. I want to write more in order to get more exposure, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Overall, it’s been a stellar month. Whether it’s because we’re not nearly as overwhelmed by the newness that governed our teaching experiences last year, whether we’re part of a better community, or maybe because we’re honestly just enjoying ourselves more readily, Kris and I have had a good time of it in our first month in Wonju. Here’s to many more!

‘Twas the Night Before ROK-U

Tomorrow is the start of the ROK-U Spring season. It will mark a bunch of firsts for Kris and I. Our team, the Wonju Knights, will be playing our first games together. It will be our first set of games as captain and assistant captain. It will be my first true trial as a handler. How do I feel. PUMPED!

Over the past few days, however, I have been feeling less than enthused for the weekend’s festivities. This may strike you, the reader, as odd. Regular readers will know that Ultimate is one of the things that has kept me going in Korea. I enjoy almost every aspect of it, from the challenge of competition to, sometimes, talking to other human beings about mutual interests (gasp).

Despite the many draws that I have to Ultimate, I always feel profoundly disinterested and disheartened in the days leading up to any major event. I feel useless at the game when I think about the people that I will be playing with and against. I perpetually bring myself down by how bad at the game I perceive myself to be. At many points, I flat out consider not going, so my team will be better off without me.

In my heart, I know that these thoughts are largely unfounded. Sure, I’m not the most experienced, skilled, fastest, fittest, or smartest player on the field. Sure, I might make a play that might cost my team the game. I may also be hit in the temple with a small stone flung from a fellow player’s foot and die.

Before every major sporting or competitive event, I travel down the roads of ‘What If?’ and ‘I’m Not Worthy’. These treks to Downertown are bad habits that I haven’t quite been able to shake.

What Ultimate has allowed me to do is grapple with and fight off these thoughts on a more regular basis. By no means do I avoid them completely. I still make myself feel like I have less aptitude for my pursuits than a slug has for playing the guitar. But I am also doing it for far less time than I used to. The self-shaming used to last several days, sometimes longer than a week. I would just feel like dirt, and I used to associate this with things that I love. This, of course, is less than optimal use of my emotional resources.

Over the past year and a bit, I have become far more self-aware, particularly of my negative habits. I still tend to gloss over my positive character traits. Nevertheless, I am working on it, and Ultimate has helped me do so. By dealing with this problem more often, I have been able to detach the negative emotions from the activity itself. I now know that it is just maladaptive behaviour that I need to rectify.

What this dissociation has helped me to do is get over it far more rapidly, and get back on the hype train more readily. A year ago, the night before an Ultimate weekend, I would be running through the possible illnesses I could fake in order to get out of it without losing face with my friends. Now, while the negative thoughts still linger, I try and focus on the positive. I try to see more angels, and fewer demons.

Apart from the more frequent resolution of my inner conflict, the other major help in this regard has been Kris. She has gotten my lazy, self-hating butt out of bed more times than I can count. Previously, when my activities weren’t ones I shared with Kris, it was far easier to skip. Now, she holds me accountable. And it has helped me climb the mountain of self-positivity.

So, here I sit, feeling not-so-down and amped for tomorrow’s play. We may win, we may lose. We will finally get our swag kit that we have been waiting for for weeks. Most importantly, I will have fun with people I enjoy spending time with, playing the sport we all love. I may be average at best at it, but that won’t stop me having a great weekend.

Brisk Disk on Busan’s Beach

My body is aching. Kristen has trouble walking on one of her calves. Our weekend passed by in a blur of sand, disks, and a couple of drinks at The Wolfhound. The culprit? Our first Ultimate event of the new year – the small-in-size-yet-large-in-fun Angel Hat tournament.

When we signed up for the tournament in the first few weeks of winter, we were afraid that it would be plagued by cold so severe that our muscles would seize up. Or worse, fall off of our bodies, frostbitten. Upon our arrival in Busan, our fears proved to be founded on a grain of truth. It was freezing. But we were still incredibly excited to play Ultimate again. For myself, it had been many months since I had stepped onto an actual Ultimate field and thrown the disk towards an end zone. Kris had gone to some training in Daejon in January, but I was too lazy. This laziness came back to bite me over the weekend, as I saw how unfit I had become through months of sloth and good eating.

The eighteen or so people who participated all had a wonderful time. The majority of the games were played 4v4 or 5v5 on small fields. It was a good way to practice our short game and ruin several socks by running in them on the sand. After the first day’s play, my team, Iris, emerged undefeated, defeating all of the other three teams in the competition.

Some say we were stacked with skilled players. No inquests were launched into the truth of this, however.

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Following the day’s play, we spread out and searched for our lodgings. We freshened up and headed to The Wolfhound, a favourite haunt for Ultimate players in Busan. We ate nachos, drank beer (and South African wine to Kris’ extreme joy and eventual detriment), and were rather merry. At one point, one of our number disappeared. We found him later, but he didn’t quite make it back to our accommodation.

The next morning, play was distinctly more sober than the majority of us had been the previous evening. What would have been a layout on the first day was a ‘yeah, no, that can just hit the ground’ on the second day. When the tournament was all said and done, myself and the rest of Iris emerged as the only undefeated team.

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However, the goal of Angel Hat was not victory, but pure, unbridled fun playing the game that we love. In this respect, everyone who participated was a winner. Each team had at least one player who had played little or no Ultimate beforehand (except for Iris. We weren’t stacked, we swear!). The game is always growing, always pulling more in. It may be a cult, but it’s a fun one.

When we rode the two subways, KTX, and bus home, we slept and smiled at the merriment we had enjoyed. With the practice of playing on the beach, we will be more than ready for the next season of ROK-U and all of the other exciting tournaments coming up. Here’s to another year of Ultimate!