“History has just been made; there will always and only be one inaugural team,” commented Coach Yabui as Seisen International School (all girls school) high school introduced a new sport for the winter season: Wrestling. “I am thankful for the St. Mary’s and Seisen leadership team for making this happen and I am sure the girls will be thankful later on in their life as well.”
As an all girls Catholic international school established in 1962, Seisen International School has been one of the leading IB (International Baccalaureate) international schools in Japan. They were the third school in Japan to be authorized to offer the IB Diploma program. The Phoenix athletic programs have been just as competitive with multiple Far East championship banners hang in their gymnasium. And, now, for the first time in school history, they have a girls wrestling team. This also could be the first ever “girls wrestling” team in the history of Far East. On his 11th year as head coach for the Titans, Coach Yabui, was appointed to lead the Phoenix wrestling team.
“I pitched the idea, I offered to assist, I didn’t think I would be the head coach,” responded Coach Yabui, “but it is a great honor to be appointed and kind of cool to be the ‘first’ coach for any program.” Coach Yabui will continue to serve as the head wrestling coach for St. Mary’s. To assist Coach Yabui, Seisen faculty, Yuri Sato was appointed to be their faculty chaperone. Coach Yabui explained that Mrs. Sato isn’t just a “chaperone” referring to the fact that she is a Seisen graduate, highly accomplished athlete, a certified athletic trainer, and a nutritionist. “She’s not going to just sit and watch; I can see she will catch on with the sport very quickly and assist the girls like any other wrestling coach would,” added Coach Yabui.
The conversation for a girls wrestling league began to evolve during the COVID era. In the last 10-15 years, Far East wrestling has been experiencing a decline in teams and boys participation. Teams from the Philippines and Guam no longer participate. Most teams cannot fill a full line up. Some teams have a hard time getting enough interest and a chaperone or coach to get a program going. As fewer boys wrestle today, there has been an uprising of female wrestlers. Far East and KPASS (Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools) currently do not have girls wrestling as a sport. But, female wrestlers have existed for a while with their numbers picking up overall during COVID times. In the 2023 Far East wrestling tournament, there were 6 female wrestlers participating with the boys, breaking the previous record of 3 girls in 2006. Kubasaki’s 101lb girl placed 3rd; highest a female wrestler has ever placed. So, the natural flow of the conversation was to start a girls league. High school girls wrestling against boys raises numerous issues. Many Far East coaches felt strongly about supporting the girls but couldn’t retain or recruit girls when they had to compete against boys. But, the coaches also agreed that the number of girls on each team was still hard to justify a school to begin a girls division. That is when Coach Yabui pitched the idea for Seisen to start up a girls wrestling team in hopes that it would help the other female wrestlers on other teams to have more female competitors as well as push Far East and KPASS to start up a girls league.
“It’s not really about boys or girls; if there are kids that want to wrestle but don’t have a fair opportunity to do so, I want to help,” explained Coach Yabui of his decision, “we all know the life changing positive impact wrestling has on youths; boys and girls should both benefit.” He also added that Seisen had less sports offerings in the winter season compared to the fall and spring and he hoped Seisen would add another sport. Girls wrestling is the fastest growing sport in the United States as well as growing fast globally since its inception as an Olympic sport in 2004.
With numerous communications back and forth with the St. Mary’s and Seisen’s leadership team and Athletic Directors, Seisen finally approved of their inaugural program in October, just in time for the 2023-24 season. They introduced the new sport at their high school assembly with a promotional video of girls wrestling and their Athletic Director, Rachel Grantham, worked diligently to recruit girls. The result was above anyone’s expectation with 12 girls signed as “interested”. On November 13, 2024, history was made as 9 Seisen high school girls stepped on the Titans wrestling mat for their first “trial” practice. St. Mary’s will assist their program with facility and coaching staff.
“You are making a new legacy,” commended Rachel Grantham to the girls last Monday.
“As with the St. Mary’s boys, the Seisen girls are in good coaching hands,” said Coach Yabui about his coaching staff for the season: assistant coach, Moshe Grimberg (former Israeli national team member/world bronze medalist), and volunteer coaches, Bryan Koslow (father of 3 Far East champions), Tatsu Matsumoto (St. Mary’s alumnus, Kanto Plain & Beast of the East champion, 3-time Far East silver medalist), and Brady Richardson (former NCAA D1 wrestler for Indiana University, a State freestyle and Greco champion).
St. Mary’s headmaster and former St. Mary’s wrestler, Saburo Kagei, came to visit the two teams for their first practice of the season, along with St. Mary’s Athletic Director, Ioki Ichikawa, and Athletic Trainer, Osamu Moro. The Titans and Phoenix wrestlers went through basis warm up routines for the first day and finished off with some fun wrestling games. “Hopefully this will strengthen the bond between us [St. Mary’s] and Seisen as the two schools have collaborated and worked together for so many years and we are almost like sister schools,” commented Ioki Ichikawa, a graduate of St. Mary’s as well.
The next big goal would be for KPASS to approved formally of a girls wrestling league, which means they would be separated from the boys and have their own championships. Ultimate goal is for DoDDs to also approve of girls wrestling as a sport in the Far East. As for Seisen, Coach Yabui would like to see them run the program independently, with their own mats and coaches in the future.
But, for now, obstacles still remain. After the trial practice, it is uncertain how many girls would stay with the program. The girls are not yet ready for a full commitment as they have other activities and obligations at the same time as wrestling. Seisen still has to sort out many things such as getting a budget for the program, commute of the girls to St. Mary’s, getting singlets and head gears, and etc… It is a slow start, as any inaugural program would be, but gradually moving forward. Can Seisen wrestling grow in the future? Can Seisen become the first Kanto girls wrestling champions and the first Far East girls wrestling champions? Can Seisen wrestling build a legacy like St. Mary’s wrestling? Their story has just begun.