Saturday. Taikai Day. Go Time!
We arrived at the taikai around 9am, and after getting checked in and dressed and ready we did some team warmup and practice. Then it was time for opening ceremonies. From here on out I'll document my own accounts of the day and my own matches and feelings and what not. A lot happened that day, and everyone has their own spin and own exciting stories to tell!
I was placed into the 0-3 Kyu division, and had the first match on our court. My opponent was a fellow from the University of Oregon by the name of Nagamatsu. I stepped onto the floor after hearing our names called out, and found that I was surprisingly calm. Ever since I put in my name for the taikai, I had these overwhelming feelings that I would freeze up from being so nervous in my first match, but I quickly realized that this wasn't the case. My biggest worry for the past few months had disappeared in an instant, and when the shimpan called "Hajime!" I stepped up out of Sonkyo and forward to my opponent. I took my time, trying to see openings and set up hits, and after exchanging a few blows I scored first with a Kote strike. My first real point in a taikai! I was happy enough that my nerves didn't take over and make me freeze up, but this was over the top of my expectations for the day! I was so very excited when I saw the flags go up, but I knew that I had to remain calm and collected and finish the match.
After resetting to our spots on the court, the match started again. We both exchanged a few hits and misses again, and after a few moments I scored a Men strike to finish the match.
Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)
I almost couldn't believe it! Not only had I scored my first taikai point, but I won my first match, all in the same day! We bowed out and I walked around to thank my opponent for a good match. He definitely fought well.
My next match was against a kenshi from Obukan named Neilson. He had very, very strong Kendo, was constantly moving his kensen around during the match, and kept me on my toes. He scored first point with a beautiful Men strike. I came back a little while later with a Kote of my own to tie the match. This is about where things went downhill for me...
After fighting for a while, I hit Men and pushed through to find Neilson right on top of me, I went to Taiatari but was a bit high and when I brought my hands down he brought his up, which popped my hands back up and my sword right out of my hand. I received a Hansoku for this (1/2 point penalty). We reset and went back to the match again. It finally ended when I struck Hiki waza (not sure if it was Kote or Men), and stepped out of bounds, giving myself another Hansoku and giving Neilson the win.
Final Score: 2-1 (Neilson)
After watching some amazing matches throughout the rest of the day, I was able to take part in team matches. We had a B team consisting of (in order): Taryn Imanishi, Tom Antush, myself, Courtney, and Mark. Taryn and Tom were very welcome additions to the team. Our first (and only) match was against Bellevue, who had a very strong team. We all did our best, and only lost by 2 points. For the level of kenshi that we were facing, I think that we did pretty good.
My match was against Scherer Sensei, from Highline. He is not only Yondan, but has a TON more experience than I do, and was fighting in Jodan (upper guard; the shinai is held above the head in a ready position). I saw some of his earlier matches and watched him destroy a few people in a matter of seconds, so I knew that I was up against a super tough opponent.
After talking with Sinclair Sensei and my teammates and getting some encouragement and advice, I stepped onto the court with him. After bowing in he went straight up to Jodan and I made sure to switch to Seigan Kamae, which is a guard position where you point the kensen up at the Jodan player's left wrist. This helped me to keep my Kote covered a bit. From Jodan he simply needed to drop his shinai to hit me, so I knew I had to be fast to block and counter. I constantly circled to my right to try and expose his Kote a bit more, as well as to be able to move out of the way for that Men strike that he was inevitably going to throw my way.
Scherer Sensei was a very tough opponent. It seemed no matter what I did I couldn't hit him, or if I hit him I didn't have everything together for a proper point, but I didn't give up. I was tired and showing it, but still I kept on him and tried to not let him set me up too much. About halfway through the match he finally scored a point on me, I believe it was Kote. We set back to our places to continue the match, and at one point he went to hit Men, which I blocked and came down to do Taiatari with him. I don't know what happened after that, except that I saw his shinai go flying up and behind him, and he was in my face in an instant, to keep me from scoring a point in that split second before the judges stopped the match and gave him Hansoku. I, myself, was a bit too amazed that it happened to hit him, and I'm hoping that if I'm ever in that situation again I will have the mindset to take that opportunity to get a point.
We both threw everything we had at each other for the remainder of the match, but I was unable to score at all by the end. But on the other hand I kept him from scoring another point and finishing me off. We bowed out and came around the court to congratulate one another, and walked back to our place with our teams. Even though I lost the match, I felt that I had gained a personal victory. I not only faced someone who had a higher rank and much, much more experience than me, I gave them a run and a hard time, and was able to last the entire match time going toe-to-toe with them. It was a great feeling, and I hope I can use it to better myself in the future!
Final Score: 1-0 (Scherer Sensei)
Team Score: 3-1 (Bellevue)
The rest of the taikai passed, and I was able to see some amazing matches and Kendo skill, as well as meet some great new people. I was very inspired by it, and loved being in that atmosphere all weekend, and I hope to be that good and even better one of these days. We returned to the hotel and had dinner around 8 that night. Sensei talked with us about our trips and how we really have an advantage because we form such a strong team bond while on the trips, and it shines through in the taikai that we attend. Swimming, hot tub, beers with Sensei, and relaxation rounded out the rest of my night. A lot of the younger guys stayed up all night and played a serious game of Blackjack, but I was WAY too tired from the day to join in so I went to bed around midnight. One more night of sleep and then we would be heading back home...