Japan first 6 months – a coaches perspective part2
In my last post (can we link) I’d quickly concluded I loved my new professional coaching role with Kyoto Sangyo University in Japan! But I also mentioned there were already some very real challenges like my poor language skills, isolation from family and friends, and just the way Japan rugby works.
What’s happened since?
The whirlwind has continued as we dived into our competitive season in the Kansai University League. Thanks to some close wins we’ve been successful in our Kansai League having won 6 from 7, so finished second to last years national semi finalists Tenri University. That qualifies us as one of the Top 16 university teams into the 54th All Japan University Championships, sudden death playoffs which takes place from mid-December to early-January. I get the impression the Kanto League, comprising Tokyo clubs, is generally a tougher competition so I look forward to testing ourselves against the top qualifiers from the other regions.
Our in season routine has settled into morning gym sessions (1.5hrs) and then evening training sessions (usually 2.5hrs plus). That happens every day of the week except game day or our one day off a week! As coaches we’re also reviewing and scouting, and completing 1:1s with players as required, so there’s no shagging about.
How about those challenges?
Coaching to an audience who speak another language continues to be a huge challenge. To help I’ve dived into learning ‘Nihongo’ (Japanese language) through self study on pod casts and twice weekly classes at the University. I’ve really enjoyed the mental stimulation of studying a new language, though realistically I haven’t yet progressed past the 101s such as greetings and ordering food (‘hanbaaga, kudasai!’).
But through a mix of mime, the patience of multilingual staff like our physio Awaji Yasuhiro, and key rugby phrases (totemo yoi – very good, zenzen dame – not good at all, hikui mama – stay low) we seem to get through. The lows have been when I’ve made sessions overly complex leading to confused stares and inactive participants. A recent high was when I got to run a full training of the freshman teams (49 players) without the other coaches or an interpreter; you can bet we went shorter and more games that day!
Another challenge has simply been isolation from family and friends. It was a long 3 months before my wife Tania was able to visit in October, but great to share tourist adventures when she did get here. Of course technology helps, making video call catch ups with friends and family easy. I’ve also been lucky to have connections in the rugby community who understand this isolation and reach out to support; quick chats or the occasional facebook from ‘been there done that’ guys who are naturally positive blokes like Filo Tiatia or Afa Hanipale make a big difference to your day.
The other big challenge is that things just work differently in Japanese rugby. Talking to other rugby folk some of the differences sound common – preference for long trainings with high contact and high repetition – while some differences probably depend on the particular club situation.
I’ve been lucky to be guided in this by our head coach Yukio Motoki, a Brave Blossoms and Kobe Steel legend at centre, with 79 caps and 4 World Cups on his resume. Despite his capability most decisions at our club require sign off by our Director of Rugby, Onishi sensei.
Onishi sensei with 42 years in the role can rightly claim to be the driving force at this club. He’s very clear on his priorities for play and unlikely to be swayed from them, preferring a simple direct approach where good performance comes from players trying as hard as they can.
As a result we are famous for driving every lineout (!) and physical repetitive scrum trainings focussed on controlled driving. Suggestions to make significant changes are unlikely to be persuasive.
In practice this can be frustrating; can’t they see the opportunity if we did it this way instead?
What I’ve realised is that some in Japanese culture can have a different view of what constitutes a good opportunity. They seem to question whether it really is an opportunity worth pursuing if it might not be a longterm solution (i.e. won’t we soon change again)? And even if it is, what’s the rush, wouldn’t it be better to chip away at it?
Overlay this with the need to prioritise respect for those older or in authority, who may already have their preferred methods, and it can seem closed minded or intractable to a newbie like me trying to influence certain changes.
This has required me to work differently; be patient, look to plant seeds not chop trees. To always be ready with good supporting information if ever I did want to push an issue. To show respect by finding ways to let them front any initiatives. Once I focussed on these approaches I’d often see our Sensei come back a couple days later and implement an idea he may have initially appeared to disagree with.
The other part of influencing change here seems to be to take care with relationships. Filipe Rayasi, the ex-Fiji Rugby and Japanese top league star, made a throw away comment to me at just the right time “hey, over there make sure you turn up every day with a smile on your face”.
So Filipe! But actually a perfect reminder for a time when I was tired and frustrated and it was probably showing. The simple change of making sure I appeared cheerful and engaged visibly led to me being sought out on issues and more actively involved. Probably I just appeared more approachable and supportive!
Our focus now is preparing for the All Japan University Championship this month. I’m pleased Ritzumeikan University has made it through as well with their coach staff including my friends Katsu Takeuchi and Daisuke Akai who have both featured in Wellington rugby. Add Tania’s next visit, my first Christmas here, and further learnings about University rugby in Japan and I expect an exciting month!
I’ll let you all know how that goes in the New Year – Toki up!!
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“Spectemur Agendo” is the schools motto in Latin which means “let us be judged by our actions” which is is important not only for the SACS boys only, but for all of us.
Thank you for your on-going support Andrew, and thank you for ensuring the next generation of front rowers at SACS are well prepared for the future of the game.
The coaching staff are a tight-knit group across all age groups who work together and support each other 100%.
Gone are the days where SACS rugby teams would be a pushover, the respect is back and the boys are proud to be SACS rugby players.
Its really rewarding seeing the boys grow and develop into fine young men.
“Spectemur Agendo” is the schools motto in Latin which means “let us be judged by our actions” which is is important not only for the SACS boys only, but for all of us.
Learning and sharing information on rugby like TOKI Services does is fantastic.
I believe in sharing and learning from one another enables one to grow yourself even further. We really look forward to the season ahead and putting all the pre season scrumming TOKI drills into real use.
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Japan – a coaches perspective
How did I get here?
Having coached in NZ at Heartland and provincial age group level, and even getting to work with the Toki guys through my Coach Educator qualifications, I’d been chasing making rugby development more of my working week.
Eventually that means finding someone to pay you for it and those roles can be hard to come by with the rugby talent in NZ hence the shift to coach off-shore.
On reflection, the key to breaking through to a full-time rugby role for me has been
(1) maintaining good relationships so contacts were willing to network me into opportunities, and
(2) a patient and understanding wife bless you Tania!
When I was appointed to coach a D1 Mens club in the USA it was initially through my club connection to Eric Fry who had in turn linked me to Mike Tolkin the USA coach.
Similarly, this opportunity has come about through my club connection to Ross Kennedy now an academy coach with Canterbury schools linked to Kyoto Sangyo University.
Once your linked in I think it’s on us as coaches to be credible and make the most of the opportunity.
As we say at home – do the mahi, get the treats!
What’s happened so far?
I’m one month in and its been a whirlwind.
Our facility is across the road from the University campus, and they’ve housed me nearby in the International Student dormitory. The initial focus was tripping around Kyoto getting life set up –acquiring a gaijin or foreigner card (carry at all times), a bank account (should have got Visa, not a cashcard, to make better use of the eftpos here), a local sim card, internet access, university access cards, etc.
Fortunately, the University as my employer had assigned somebody specifically to help me through these tasks and he’s worth his weight in gold.
I’m only now really starting to find my way around the sprawling but scenic suburbs that are Kyoto, with each ‘first time’ to use the bus or the subway or a taxi a new adventure.
Fortunately, locals are always patient and ready to help and once you’ve got a sim card Google can be a trusted advisor!
Amongst all that a first months rugby coaching has flown by. We’re still in pre-season until October so our usual routine is 2 sessions a day, conditioning in the morning then field training in the afternoon to work around the students schedules. They go hard and long with most trainings a minimum of 2 hours and a scary number of repetitions. Kyoto’s temperature has been around 30 degrees since I got here so the occasional cooling typhoon has been welcome!
The middle of the month saw us take all 4 squads to Sugadaira for 2 weeks, a rural ski resort town near Nagano. Called ‘Summer Camp’ most of the Japanese universities turn up and train / play against each other across sports like rugby, soccer, cycling and track.
What an amazing set up with sports fields everywhere – spotted among market gardens – our field was number 34 and I don’t feel like I saw them all. Apparently, some of the 2019 RWC teams will play there.
What has stood out so far?
The first thing that has stood our for me? The tangata, it is the people!
My early impressions are that Japanese people are thoughtful, generous, and incredibly hard working.
The perception that Japan is steeped in the deepest of traditions plays out most visibly in the way those who are older or in more senior roles are deferred to. In my rugby environment, this is reflected in the absolute authority toward the wishes of Onishi-sensei, our Director of Rugby with 42 years tenure. Even as a new and gaijin coach the same protocols extend to me. Any effort to lay out training cones or bags quickly leads to a flurry of young players keen to explain they must do it for me!
On the other hand it is obvious there is a state of change and a relaxing of tradition amongst some of the younger people in Japan. When I observe the players away from the authority figures they are relaxed, teasing each other and everyone else – acting much like student players in NZ! From the language (‘ohayo gozaimasu’ or good morning quickly becomes ‘mas’ or even ‘sss’) to the clothing brands (anything Under Armour rules in these parts) there’s a much less formal side to Japanese university rugby that is great fun when it pops to the surface.
I’m loving it and can’t wait for season to start but there are some real challenges brought about by my poor language skills, isolation from family and friends, and just the way Japan rugby works.
I’m up for those though and will keep you posted on progress!
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“Rugby fans on that side of the world aren’t bringing him down, they aren’t calling him names, they’re not criticising his nature, they celebrate Sonnys attitude towards those less fortunate, they praise Sonnys generosity to help others, they idolise the man that gives his time to give.”
Last week I travelled to Argentina, Buenos Aires for meetings with clubs and coaches we will be working with for rugby clinics and tours over the next 12 to 18 months.
I was lucky enough in brief visit to get down to the Los Pumas vs All Blacks match on Saturday too, what an awesome experience it was to see the passionate Argentinian supporters get behind their team and witness their respect for the
After the match Juan Toconas pictured with me below asked if I was Samoan (I had to get it translated from Spanish), he said he was from Villa 31 Hockey Rugby Club in Buenos Aires, it is one of the poorest areas in the city.
All Black, Sonny Bill Williams, went to visit his club during the week and gifted him and a friend tickets to the game, he had been sitting in his seat the entire match.
Juan was so grateful to have had the opportunity to see the game with his All Blacks cap (also gifted to him by SBW), he was buzzing. He held Sonny in the highest regard and said he loved New Zealanders (and Samoans) for their kindness and he’d previously heard even before meeting Sonny that the New Zealanders were the most generous people in world, always caring for others, with the All Blacks being the main ambassadors & symbolism of that good nature.
Throughout my meetings with rugby clubs, it was echoed throughout Argentinian rugby circles that they had a huge level of respect for New Zealand.
One official I met with from Hindhu Rugby Club, one of the most successful clubs in Buenos Aires had mentioned on his recent trip to New Zealand this year his tour group had met the great Sir Michael Jones, and he was astounded that Michael Jones made time to meet with them – they were in awe to be in the presence of a living rugby legend.
Rugby jounros and coaches couldn’t speak highly enough about the All Blacks, and having them play against their beloved Pumas was an honour in itself. They did believe that they had a chance to beat the All Blacks but it would have to be the “perfect match” to beat the worlds best.
I had the chance to meet former Los Pumas halfback, Fabio Gomez, who played during the 80s and played most of his career in Italy, he had said in Spanish, “New Zealanders are so respectful and nice.”
Pictured at the top of the blog is a shot of Kane Hames who with SBW were the only 2 players to stay behind after the game to shake hands with fans and kids who travelled from across Argentina and South America to be at the game and have their dreams fulfilled to watch the All Blacks.
Santiago (Chile), Mendoza, Catamarca, Corodoba, Rosario and Punta del Este (Uruguay) fans from all over these regions are only a few I saw pack the 50,000 seats in the stadium.
For me, it was a massive buzz to hear all of this great feedback about my beloved country, and hear rugby fans and non-rugby fans who’d heard about the All Blacks that they held our national team in such high regard.
It did get me thinking however, do we in New Zealand take our All Blacks for granted?
Do we respect one another in New Zealand as much people overseas believe we do?
I started thinking about THAT GAME this year, 2nd Test of the ABs vs LIONS series, SBW and the red card…. the reaction afterwards…. the media reaction….. the comments from everyone across social media…..
Now don’t get me wrong, everyone is entitled to their own opinion on matters and this blog isn’t about that incident, or what you think about players in the All Blacks.
I do want to highlight that right now in this point of time we have something so special and to be proud of right now, and that is our All Blacks and people like Sonny Bill Williams who ambassadors of the team.
With Sonny, we have a person that is having an effect on the world of rugby that we haven’t seen since Jonah Lomu burst onto the scene. Rugby fans on that side of the world aren’t bringing him down, they aren’t calling him names, they’re not criticising his nature, they celebrate Sonnys attitude towards those less fortunate, they praise Sonnys generosity to help others, they idolise the man that gives his time to give.
For a rugby fan like me and a proud kiwi I truly believe that as a nation need to have a good hard look at the humans wearing that black jersey, not just on the field. They put their bodies on the line week in, week out, and are changing peoples lives all over the world.
To the All Blacks, keep up the great work. I sure am proud to have you as ambassadors of Aotearoa.
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“Surrounded by gentle giants all over the island, whether you’re at your hotel, walking the streets of Suva or Nadi, the people of Fiji are one of the most genuinely happy people you’ll ever meet”
A few weeks ago I was very blessed to have the opportunity to spend a whirlwind 3 days in Fiji.
The purpose? Well isn’t it obvious? Work in a high of 10 degrees in New Zealand, or the warm sunny skies of 25 degrees in Fiji 🙂 Too easy!
But the main aim is to use the resources we have, and give back to the poorer Fijian communities all around the islands to help promote the game, but most importantly help the kids and coaches in these communities that may not have much else in life but the joy of throwing the oval shaped ball around with friends and family.
New Zealand and Australia have been very blessed to have Fijian players from the islands over to play for sports teams, clubs at a college level, club level and of course at the high performance level. There is so much talent in Fiji (and across all of the islands) that for whatever reason don’t get attention or a look in.
Luckily Toki Services is in a position where we can connect in a small way, we hope someday we can keep growing across the islands. Watch this space!
One thing I noticed in Fiji is mostly everyone seems to be so kind and inviting. The people are happy to have you in their region and want to make you feel so welcome.
Surrounded by gentle giants all over the island, whether you’re at your hotel, walking the streets of Suva or Nadi, the people of Fiji are one of the most genuinely happy people you’ll ever meet.
I happened to drive past the legendary Marika Vunibakas old club in Suva and there were a group of boys (pictured below and featured pic) throwing the pill around in the pouring rain, laughing, joking and just having a great time diving around in the puddles, kicking goals, stepping one another and giving on another a bit of stick.
It made me think this is what rugby is all about, the grassroots, the mudball in the rain, the times where you don’t care about systems, patterns of play, defensive or attack structures, you just get out there and enjoy being around your mates.
I think it’s something we may have overlooked which is the pure enjoyment of social rugby – or getting out there and throwing the ball around.
I also had the chance to pop into the Fijian High Performance unit in Suva, what a great venue and I even bumped into the new Fijian Drua side who are the newly formed team in the Australian NRC team – massive units those boys.
The final stop before leaving Suva for Denarau was to visit the village of Suvavou, this village like many others have 1 rugby ball, a paddock, and a makeshift rugby post in the entire village. They use the the same ball for training, their games and when they play around in the paddock in their free time like when I saw them.
It was great to see their natural skills and flair, they evaded one another on attack with ease, and they could find the space with ease.
Seeing them also brought me back down to earth, damn I’m lucky and blessed to be able to have access to balls, cones, hit shields, boots, jerseys, a proper field! Whereas these kids don’t have the same luxuries, I take a lot for granted in my life and want to make a conscious effort not to, the same lessons I want to pass onto my son too. He’s a very blessed boy and he should always look to help others when he can in life.
One thing I want to make note of – these kids were happy. They love getting out there and playing rugby. None of the kids were dwelling on their living situations, they found happiness with the oval shaped ball instead.
Below is the Nadi Police team training – passing drills.
Vinaka Fiji, I am very thankful for my brief visit and I cannot wait to come back and hopefully share with you all.
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Maori Bay Boy in Japan – Part 2
In New Zealand, it is illegal to consume alcohol in public however in most places in Japan, it isn’t. It’s common to see people on their way home from work having a quiet drink on the train, or at the park or beach having a BBQ and beer. There is however, a zero tolerance towards drink driving and you can’t have a single drop of alcohol if you are going to drive.
The Japanese people are some of the most polite people you will ever come across. At restaurants, they leave you be until you call out “sumimasen” (excuse me) at which point they are at your table, attentive and smiling, ready to take your order. As soon as you walk into a store, you will be greeted by nearly every member of staff with a warm welcome (“Irasshaimase”). Also, if you ever as someone to point you in the right direction, be prepared to have them walk you through town until you find where you are going.
Onsen (hot springs)
Bathing naked in a beautiful natural setting next to a bunch of other men isn’t as bad as it sounds. It is surprisingly freeing and good for the wairua.
The manicured trees and gardens are a sight to see, especially in spring for cherry blossom season. There are also beautiful golden sand beaches to swim and surf which was something I certainly didn’t picture.
For the number of people living in the large cities in Japan, the streets are surprisingly clean. Rather than throwing trash on the ground or looking for a bin, most people just take their rubbish home and recycle it.
When biking in Japan, cars are respectful towards you and you are not bound to stick to the same rules that we have in place in New Zealand. Most people don’t wear helmets and will bike in designated lanes on the footpath. You can also almost be sure that your bike will never get stolen even if it is left unlocked.
Nomihoudai / Tabehoudai
This translates to ‘all you can drink/eat’ and is a concept that is very common over here. 1hr of all you can drink for $10 is pretty cheap if you ask me, or you will find all you can eat restaurants for $20.
It is not uncommon to hear stories of people losing their wallet or phone, only to find it has been handed over to the police station the next day with all the cash and belongings still inside. I have even left my phone outside on a bench seat overnight and it was still sitting in the same spot the next day!
As you have read, there are some rather unique things that I have encountered in my time spent over here. With all of my travels and places I have lived, Japan is an experience and culture like no other. I would highly recommend adding Japan to your bucket list destination and getting amongst it.
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Maori Bay Boy in Japan – PART 1
Living in Japan is an experience that is hard to appreciate until you have done it for yourself. It’s difficult to explain to people back home just some of the crazy, bizarre, exciting and fantastic things this country has to offer. There is so much going on over here that everywhere you go there is something new or different to experience.
I am heading into my fourth season of rugby in Japan so I thought I would share with you some of the things that I have come to love about this country.
Japan has the most vending machines per capita in the world, somewhere around one machine for every 23 people. This is both crazy and convenient, with machines being stocked with cold drinks in the summer and warm drinks in the winter. Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a bush walk and thought “I wish there were a nice cold coke around the corner”? Well someone has, because in Japan that’s exactly what you get as you near the top of Mount Fuji. Who the lucky person is that has to stock the machine is another matter altogether.
Vending machines are on nearly every corner block, down alley ways, at parks, in front of shops and residential areas. They also stock anything from food, drinks, toys and even cigarettes.
The public transport system over here is so reliable and convenient that there is no need for me to own a car. I’m able to get around easily enough relying on buses, trains and even a good ol’ push bike. Travelling to Tokyo central city from my local stop, there is a train departing every ten minutes and you can bet your bottom dollar it is running on time.
If you are travelling further within Japan, there are bullet trains called Shinkansen. These bullet trains have maximum operating speeds of 320 km/h and you can almost guarantee they also run spot on to the timetable.
The only thing to be aware of if travelling on trains in Japan in peak hour is that you will need to be prepared to be jammed in by a professional ‘pusher’!
“Konbini” – Convenience store
The corner dairy back home just doesn’t cut the mustard after a few years of going to the convenient local store in Japan. When ever I ask Japanese “where can I get this or do that?” the answer is often “Konbini.” You can pay your bills (TV, internet, power, gas etc.), buy fresh meals, get most of your groceries, purchase concert tickets, pick up online orders and also buy alcohol. In the city, Konbini’s are basically on every corner and in the countryside, you don’t have to travel too far to find one.
Toilets and technology = genius!
Toilet talk is usually frowned upon in general conversation; however you can’t avoid loving some good Japanese toilet chat.
In winter, you don’t have to fear the chilly feeling of a cold toilet seat as most of them are HEATED by a flick of the switch! If you are worried that people will hear the effects of last nights curry, why not play some music simply by pressing a button on the side? If your toilet paper just isn’t cutting it, you can use the water spray option followed by a quick blow dry.
You can even wash your hands at the back of the toilet to save water waste (below).
Food, food, and more food
I could go on forever about the many different and amazing foods in Japan. Ramen, Sushi, Udon, Soba, Yakiniku, Yakitori, Kare, Karage, Okonomiyaki.. the list goes on.
My favourite food here is Japan would have to be Ramen; a wheat noodle soup usually in a meat or fish-based broth. Ramen can be found all over Japan and has various styles (with Tonkotsu being my favourite). Although it is considered to be fast food, it takes chefs around 12 hours to make and the depth of flavour that is packed into the one bowl is incredible. If you’re ever here in Japan, put ramen near the top of your to-do list and go more than once as if just continues to grow on you.
PART 2 TO BE SHARED NEXT THURSDAY 31st AUGUST – #TOKITALKS
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“Keep your spine in-line – it will keep your body in check.” – Jacob Ellison
This weeks #TOKITALKS blog Toki Scrum Coaches, Former Manu Samoa Prop Kas Lealamanua and Former Maori All Black Jacob Ellison share some great knowledge on scrum training in the gym – and how that transfers to the rugby field.
Key tips when training:
- Tight-head props – keep your neck short.
- Important when we work in the gym that we don’t try to compensate our bodies to what doesn’t hurt – get comfortable being uncomfortable.
- Keep your spine in-line – it will keep your body in check.
- As soon as you move your hips, your whole body moves and becomes out of line we then become compromised.
- Practice your bind high – Keep your elbow pointed to the sky. It will encourage your body to stay strong and keep your chest wide, broad and strong.
Spanish translation/Traducción Española:
- Pilares de lado derecho – mantener cuello corto.
- Es muy importante cuando estemos entrenando en el gimnasio, de no compensar nuestro cuerpo para evitar el trabajo duro. Hay que acostumbrarse a estar incomodo para obtener resultados.
- Mantén la espalda recta para mantener el cuerpo y cuello en posicion.
- Cuando las caderas se desalinean, todo tu cuerpo se mueve y se expone a una posicion para tu oponente aprovechar la oportunidad de ganar.
- Practica el “tomar” de tu brazo alto en el scrum, con tu codo mirando hacia el cielo. Esto hará que tu cuerpo se mantenga fuerte y mantenga tu pecho ancho y fuerte.
Toki Scrum Coaches, Former Manu Samoa Prop Kas Lealamanua and Former Maori All Black Jacob Ellison. Both coaches sharing some great content and advice here for props and hookers training for the front row."Keep your spine in-line"Jacob EllisonPractice like you'll play ?Kas LealamanuaJacob Ellison#tokiscrumsessions#rugby?#scrums #scrumporn #core #spin #strong #lospumas #allblacks #learning #coaching #coaching #tokicoaching #wallabies #englandrugby #share #TOKI
Posted by Toki Services – TOKI on Wednesday, August 16, 2017
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Kas Lealamanua playing history:
– Manu Samoa Test Prop
– Wellington Lions NPC
– Hawkes Bay NPC
Current role: Toki Services Head Scrum Coach
Jacob Ellison playing history:
– Wellington Lions NPC
– Sanix Blues Top League
– Kurita Water Industires
– Maori All Blacks
Current role: Toki Services Director, Toki Scrum Coach
#ManuSamoa #MaoriAllBlacks #AllBlacks #Hurricanes #SuperRugby #lospumas #englandrugby #rugbychampionship #scrums #teaching #blog #share #bloggers #japan #japanrugby #france #frenchrugby #learning #coaching #props #scrumporn #scrumgimp
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“My passion rugby really grew the more I played, but the real catalyst was Sonny Bill Williams, being a famous rugby player as well as being Muslim. He became such a role for me growing up and even to this day.” – Hamza Dean