The annual Kent Taikai took place this past weekend, and I have so much that I could write about. For the sake of space and not boring anyone that might read this I'll try to keep it as concise as I can while still painting a picture of the events that took place on our trip.
We left Friday from Spokane to make the trip to Seattle for training in Federal Way that night. Of course along the way we busted into random games of tag, as is tradition. Training in Federal Way was enlightening, in that it showed me that I have a long, long road ahead of me. I knew this, and it's something I always consider in the back of my mind, but every once in a while I have a training session that reiterates that truth to me. Also, Marsten Sensei is pretty cool (Curtis, although I'm sure Jeff is just as cool). He's a great teacher, and I was grateful to be his punching bag during jigeiko. The night ended with everyone in the hotel sharing dinner and a few laughs.
Saturday was the day of the taikai. We cleaned up, ate breakfast, packed and headed to the taikai, which took place at the same venue as PNKF a couple weeks prior. After changing and warming up we were ready to start. The rules were about the same as PNKF, if I remember right. Three minute matches, two points to win. If the match ends in a tie there are two 1-minute sudden death rounds where first point wins, and judge's decision if there is still a tie after those rounds. Final matches and team matches had unlimited time for the sudden death round, as I remember.
I competed in the 0-4 Kyu division again, and as I was preparing for the match I was mentally preparing myself as well. I kept a positive attitude throughout the whole time, and I think this helped me immensely. I also watched the matches and watched everyone to try and get a feeling for what to expect if I had to fight them later.
Final Score: 2-1 (Ruiz)
Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)
Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)
My opponent had just finished winning his semi-final match, a guy by the name of Dominey from University of Washington. He opted to take his break before the final match. I used the time to watch, wait, and focus. I tried to empty my mind of everything around me. Winning, losing, everything. I focused on my soon-to-be opponent. He finally stepped to the line, we bowed in, and the match was under way.
He came out strong, with a quick Kote to take the first point. I have to admit, my focus was almost broken at that point, but as I walked back to my line I strengthened myself to try and take the two points that I needed to win.
As the shinpans dropped their flags to continue the match I stepped forward, toward my opponent. I was determined to do my best to gain back a point to tie, and a point after to win. Dominey and I both surged forward for Kote strikes, and I went on the offensive, striking forward and backward whenever I thought I had an opportunity. He did his best to tie me up in tsubazeriai, to which I responded with hiki waza. Everytime I backed up he followed and tried to finish the match with a quick Men or Kote strike, but I was able to hold him off fairly well while trying to set up my own strikes. Finally, about a minute and a half into the match, after striking Hiki Men and stepping back I sprang forward and was able to land a Men strike to tie the match. We reset ourselves back to our lines, and I began to think that I might be able to pull off a win. I just had to be smart about it and use everything I had.
Dominey tried to end the match with another Kote strike, but I was able to block it and follow him into tsubazeriai. After a moment we let each other out gracefully, back into Kamae, back to squaring off with each other. Dominey tried a couple of fakes, doing fumikomi in place to try and get me to move, but I was holding strong to my Kamae. He rushed in for another Kote, which is what I was looking for, and I countered with Nuki Men. I missed, but was quick to turn around and follow him. As he turned and began to settle back down to Kamae I launched Men strike at him again. This one found its mark. The flags went up. I had won the match.
Final Score: 2-1 (Ruiz)
When everything was all said and done, after the rest of the divisions were done and we lined up for the award ceremony I still couldn't believe that I had achieved victory. Sure, it was something I was aiming for. I knew that when I first signed up for the taikai. But it was taking a back seat to the chance to perform good Kendo; Kendo that would make my dojo proud. I believe that I also achieved that goal. They called out the winners for all of the divisions, and I ran up to receive my trophy and a new shinai from Maruyama Bogu, a prize graciously donated by the company for all of the first place kenshi. After they called all of those, they had another award to give out. An award that went to two kenshi, a junior and a senior, and was explained to me as awarded by all of the judges to two people that showed the most beautiful Kendo and the best spirit of Kendo at the taikai, with no regard to winning or losing. I was the recipient of that senior award, the Spirit of the Day Award.
I was shocked. For a moment I didn't realize what was going on. I couldn't believe that they had called me, out of everyone that competed that day. I saw some great Kendo and I didn't think my Kendo was anything too special. After a few moments of shock, and with everyone watching me, I ran up front to receive my award. I have to be honest, I was also having a hard time keeping my eyes from tearing up. I have to say that I played a small part in all of that. I learn from everyone around me, and anything special in my Kendo comes from all of the people at my dojo that helped me and taught me and gave me advice along the way. So in a way that award was a reflection on our whole dojo, I was just the humble recipient of it.
I hope to be able to use this experience to further myself and my Kendo, and to improve even more in the future. I'm hungry to get back to the dojo, and not to relax, but to train even harder and push myself even further. Sensei says that when you win you should put more effort into your training, as if you had lost every match, and I intend to do the best I can with that mentality.