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Americans in Hungary - Harris family abroad in Budapest

By Chad Harris, 01/12/16, 11:00AM EST


From central VA wrestling to Budapest, Hungary

Our friend Chad Harris (coach and co-founder of Hanover Hawkeye WC) and his family (wife Heather, sons Liam - 13 & Jude - 10 and daughter Isabella - 8) moved to Budapest, Hungary in August of 2015.  Chad and Liam have actively sought out different wrestling clubs in Budapest and were nice enough to share their experiences through these five months.  

Americans in Hungary

by Chad Harris

As some of you know, I took a leave of absence from Hanover Hawkeye and our family has moved to Budapest, Hungary for two years.  We've been here for 5 months now, and I have been involved with a Budapest Wrestling Club for 3 months.  It took some time to locate and visit local clubs, especially due to the language barrier.  Hungarian is a language that no one speaks expect Hungarians, and ranked one of the most difficult languages in the world.  Most adult Hungarians do not speak English, primarily since they were under Communist rule until 1989.    In our Hungarian club, UTE (Oota), there is 1 coach and 1 parent who speaks a little English.  Thank God for Google Translate, which is hit or miss on the translation.  For instance, last practice the coach pulled out translate and was trying to show my son some extra technique, but translate said that he wanted to take him to the museum to look at paintings.  That was a confusing conversation! 

Sports in general are huge in Hungary and Eastern Europe, not just wrestling.  All sports revolve around large Athletic clubs.  Our club, UTE, also has it's own soccer stadium, judo arena, kayak club, fencing, water polo, etc.  It appears that in Budapest (2.5 million people) there are quite a few big clubs, probably 10-15.   Our wrestling room is a normal old school room, just what you would imagine in Eastern Europe, but has 2 full mats, weights, treadmills, and locker rooms.  Membership costs about 4000 Hungarian Forint per month, which equates to $13 (this is in the city, in the country the clubs are about $1 or $2).  There are no sports in the schools other than clubs.  So, kids become involved in clubs at a young age and are often dedicated to one sport.  The Hungarian Wrestling Federation dictates how everyone operates in regards to tournaments and style of wrestling.  For instance they do Freestyle for 6 months and then Greco for 6 months.  Most youth kids practice 3 to 4 days a week and they have competitions about every other week.  They have 1 national championship for each style, which only Hungarians (not us) can participate in.  The youth clubs will jump borders and go to Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, etc. occasionally for tournaments, but those are rare.  The older kids travel often.  Each wrestler also has a “book” which has the kids picture and is much like a passport.  When they attend a tournament that passport book is stamped. 

The older kids (cadet and Juniors) train about 5 times per week.  The kids here rarely quit the sport and they even have 40+ year old men practicing as well.  It is encouraged that if your son/daughter is training, that you train as well.  I believe that since the kids cannot pursue a college program, that they continue wrestling later in life.  The cadets and juniors wrestle in their clubs, and they have competitions/duals with other clubs.  I believe this allows those wrestlers to mature, and doesn't establish a “stopping point” (ie, high school graduation) which is common in the U.S.  The average age of an Olympic wrestler is 26.  So that implies wrestlers peak around that age.  So how many good potential wrestlers is the U.S. losing at age 17 or 18?  A lot I think.  

Also, the female wrestling here is very good and all freestyle of course.  They mix with the boys at practice and typically there is no drop off in quality or toughness.  We’ve had the opportunity to wrestle with the Hungarian Women’s national cadet team and let say they are really good.  

The quality of Hungarian youth wrestling is very interesting. The American kids are slightly ahead in freestyle, which is definitely due to folkstyle similarities.  The Hungarians have always been a Greco powerhouse, and they pretty much dislike freestyle wrestling even though they have to do it.  Our leg attacks are more advanced than the Hungarians, in fact during freestyle season, the practices resemble Greco training.  So keep your distance and don't tie up or you go flying!  As far as Greco, they are legit.  The kids drill very few moves in a practice, but they will do it continuously for an extended period.  They focus on strength and athleticism in their practices.  They work on neck strength for what seems an eternity.  Gymnastics techniques, to include repeated back arches, are a routine part of warm up (front handspring to back arch to kick over, and repeat.)  Also, rope climbing is a core strengthening exercise. You finish every practice on the ropes and climb about 40 feet over and over.  

Hungary is very old school in many ways, not just wrestling (no lawsuits, no waivers, etc.).  They are very kind to the kids and there is never any yelling, cursing (actually I have not idea what they are saying), but it doesn't appear to be Hungarian profanity (see below about English cursing.)  Also, the wrestlers are respectful to each other on the mat whether it is drilling or live wrestling.  Practices last 1.5 hours and it is very regimented.  No parents speak to their kids during practice, you never see a tear shed (yet to see a youth kid get mad or cry), and also NO WATER!  They let the kids drink after practice, which I wouldn't recommend.  So hydrate before practice or it will be a long evening.  Every kid enters the wrestling room and leaves the room by shaking hands with every other kid, every parent, and every coach (Trainer).  We'll have the handshaking thing down pat when we return.  They aren't interested in having World Champion 10 year old kids, they want them to continue wrestling into their 20's and grow into Olympians!  So very little burnout.  In fact, it’s not uncommon for there to be world champions and olympic champions sitting on the sidelines watching practice.  They've had quite a few Olympic Champions, and Hungary is much smaller than the state of Virginia, so they are successful in their process!

Before coming to Hungary I was desperately trying to make connections and even try to figure out if we would be accepted in a club.  What we’ve found is that wrestling is a brotherhood no matter where you are.  The coaches have taken us under their wings and are learning English (faster than I’m learning Hungarian) just to help my sons and provide a good experience for us.  The kids all huddle around my sons at the end of the practice and ask normal kid questions about America and sometimes ask if they are pronouncing English curse works correctly, which is really funny and shocking to my boys. I really don’t think the kids know the serious nature of some of the words.

Overall, our time here has been a great wrestling and cultural experience so far.  I'm now an assistant coach (which is humorous at times).  We've learned to watch and not just listen, and when demonstrating you have to show perfect technique by breaking the move down step by step.  Looking forward to sharing more at another time if anyone is interested.

-Chad Harris 1/12/16