Friday, March 1, 2019

Victory At Last (Jessup 2019)

All journeys start from somewhere.

Our victory started from failure. Our happiness started from suffering.

My journey to Jessup started in late September 2016. Since then, all I ever encountered was tragedy and misery every step of the way.

Until now.

2019: National Champion

* * *

I still remembered Jessup 2017 as if it happened yesterday.

Our journey was off a rocky start. Not many students signed up for the auditions. Even after the team was formed, doubts remain on our capabilities, inside and outside - with good reason.

University of Malaya (UM) won the Malaysian National Rounds for 3 consecutive times from 2014 to 2016. There were big shoes to fill. The pressure to extend our winning streak scared many seasoned seniors away. As such, the mooters were all virgin Jessupers. And I was coaching Jessup for the very first time.

True enough, we tripped over rocky patches all along the way, at times threatening to derail the entire mission. Emotional breakdowns, confidence loss, trust issues - just when we thought we had turned a corner, a new trap would spring up. Still, we kept it together, and stayed the course.

At the competition, we smashed past our strongest rivals. We won all 4 matches in the Preliminary Rounds. We marched into the Finals, brimming with confidence. And in the Finals, we produced yet another masterful performance. Sure, we made some slips here and there, but those of our opponents were far more glaring.

Then, came the announcement of the results. The conclusion seemed inevitable. But to our horror and disbelief, the words of the President stunned the audience for a good few seconds: "The case goes to the Respondent."

We were the Applicant.

2018: National Runners-Up

* * *

Jessup 2018 was a chance of redemption. To right the wrongs of the previous year. To reclaim our rightful place on the throne.

We had a brand new team, with one returning member from 2017. The team was more evenly balanced, with all five members vying for an oralist spot.

Also, I was older and wiser. I knew now, with deeper clarity, of the challenges that lay ahead of us, and what needed to be done to overcome them.

Preparation went rather smoothly. No drama, no distractions. All was calm.

More teams joined the fray, raising the competitive level. We were well aware of the strengths of our formidable opponents. We knew the fight would be long and hard.

And our worst fears were realised. Right from the start of the Preliminary Rounds, we got battered and bruised. We lost our very first match, by a whisker of 1 point. More worryingly, we lost crucial matches to our close rivals. Confidence shaken, we staggered into the Semi-Final.

We lost - and deservedly so, to the eventual deserving champion.

Two Jessups, two losses - things not looking so great for my coaching credentials...

* * *

Two years is a long time. Two years gave me a lot of time to reflect on my failures.

Why did we fail? What went wrong? Who messed up?

And slowly, after long periods of soul-searching, the truth reared its ugly head. 

Maybe we didn't deserve to win. And maybe we didn't deserve to win because of me. I wasn't good enough of a coach. I wasn't doing enough of the right things. I wasn't cut out for Jessup.

Till today, I'm still haunted by the ghosts of those painful defeats.

I wasn't brave enough to take control, make tough decisions, and above all, trust my instincts.

And yet, I kept faith that we were on the right track. The National Rounds is just the battle. The International Rounds is the real war. Unlike some other teams, being the National Champion of Jessup isn't good enough. We have our eyes fixed on the bigger prize.

We want to win the war.

Yes, winning the battle is the mandatory first step, but there's no point winning a battle only to get massacred later in the war.

The tricky part about moot competitions with qualifying rounds is that different stages pose different challenges requiring different preparation.

The tricky part is building a team that can both win the battle and the war.

2018: Semi-Finalist

* * *

So what changed this year?

We were flexible in adjusting our methods, and our mindset.

We were not afraid of overturning long-held conventions and reinvent a better wheel.

We were humble enough to acknowledge the superior traits of our opponents and adopt them as our own.

We were able to shut out noise from busybodies, doubters and haters.

We were fully focused on our mission - and our mission was to win.

Ultimately, the end result says it all.

The biggest change this year is that UM is the Malaysian Champion of Jessup 2019.

Best of all, we won in style, and in dominating fashion. We won against all our 4 opponents in the Preliminary Rounds by unanimous vote, and clinched 36 out of 36 Round Points. And in the finals, we triumphed unanimously as well.


* * *

This victory was 3 years in the making.

This victory was the harvest of seeds planted by our fallen comrades.

This victory was theirs to savour as well.

Of course, it's easy for me to say all that because my journey continued all these years, whilst the journey of the mooters entrusted under my care in 2017 and 2018 were cruelly cut short. Some of them may still feel bitter, or even betrayed - and who can blame them?

After all, I failed them as a teacher and leader. Victory today does not remove my failings of yesterday.

To claim that such victory offers anything more than scant consolation is to make light of their sacrifices. Nevertheless, I hope that it now comforts them to know that their suffering and sacrifices have not gone to waste.

Hence, this victory is dedicated to the UM Jessup Team of 2017 and 2018: Alyson, Amanda, Chun Yuan, Hanan, Joseph, Michelle, Saresh, Sheng Wei, Tasha.

UM Boleh! Malaysia Boleh!

* * *

Our journey hasn't ended yet. Instead, the war has only just begun. The International Rounds at Washington DC await in a month's time.

It took longer than expected to get back here again. But while we've been away, we've been busy watching, learning, and rebuilding from the shadows. Calculating every move, from opening to end-game. Envisioning the myriad of future possibilities. In short, plotting for world domination.

And now that we're back, we're ready for the end-game. We moot to win. We've come to kick names and take ass... I beg your indulgence, let's try that again...

Hello, world! We are Team UM from Malaysia. And we've come to kick ass and take names!

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