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1st Annual Spokane Winter Training/Taikai

Hello to everyone out there reading this!  I have just enjoyed a weekend full of fun, camping, friends, and some very concentrated Kendo!  I feel so...inspired and like I was able to improve a bit with my own technique and style, and I love sitting here, re-living the moments so I can, figuratively, put pen to paper and record the great times I had.  I should warn you all now, I will try to keep it concise, but this might end up being a lengthy post (but there will be lots of pictures to make up for it).  Here we go!

The camp began Friday evening, and we a little over a dozen people that showed up that day and camped out the entire weekend.  It was a fun-filled weekend, with many, many foam noodle fights!  After setting up in our cabin we headed to training that night...

Friday night training
We did some modified warm-ups and then moved straight into our full bogu and a LOT of kirikaeshi and jigeiko.  Since we only had an hour that night most of the time was taken with jigeiko, I'm guessing to let everyone get a chance to warm-up for the taikai on Saturday.  I had many good matches that night, and worked on seme seeing the multiple openings, and "explosions" as I've talked about previously.  Ando Sensei gave me some good feedback, and said that my Men and Kote are very good and I should continue along the path that I've found with them, to keep improving them within my own style.

Ando Sensei
Being the first night, I was working into everything that would be going on that weekend, and it was really neat to see my own progression as we went through the weekend.  After a last round of drills which included kakarigeiko and kirikaeshi we bowed out and headed back to the cabin for the night for dinner and relaxation.  We all hung out well into the night, with random noodle and pillow fights breaking out, as well as some impromptu art from Billy (and a VERY long game of Uno!).  Around midnight we all wound down and went to bed for the night.

The next day was taikai day!  We had even more people come up to be with us that day and ended up with seventeen people that entered the taikai.  Since we had such a diverse group in terms of experience and rank, we decided to modify the rules a bit.  Here's what we went with:

  • All matches were 2 minute matches, since we had so many of them to do that day
  • Only one shinpan was overseeing the court, and we also only had one court
  • The court was smaller than a standard shiai court, and stepping out of bounds was glossed over to a certain degree.  Despite this, not many people stepped out at all, and I only remember two people receiving hansoku because they were very obviously "out of bounds."
  • There was a handicap in place for Yudansha vs. Mudansha and Ikkyu vs. Anyone lower.  If you were the higher rank, each of your points counted as 1/2 point, meaning you had to get 4 valid strikes to win.  The lower ranked person in the match only had to get 2 valid strikes.
  • 1st rounds were all round-robin, with 2 winners (3 for women) going into the elimination bracket (based on wins/points scored).
Taikai time!
Group photo


The first round up was the women's round, which included Wendy (2 Dan), Jessa (6 Kyu), Makayla (3 Kyu), Aika (1 Kyu) and Sayaka (2 Dan).  Many, many good matches and high energy which set the tone for everyone else to follow.  Among the most memorable moments for me were Aika beating out her sister to grab one of the elimination round spots, and Makayla grabbing up one of the elimination spots, as well.  It was great to see such high level Kendo to start us off!

Makayla (W) vs Wendy (R)
Makayla (W) vs Aika (R)

The next round included matches between Billy (2 Dan), Harvey (2 Dan), Dan (1 Dan), and Jordan (1 Dan).  Again, really good fights in that bracket, with Billy and Jordan emerging to go on to the elimination round (unfortunately I have no pics of these rounds).

Next up were Justin (1 Dan), Jeff (Ikkyu), Seth (Ikkyu), and Aaron (Ikkyu).  This had some of the best matches in it, since the younger guys are super speedy, and Jeff and Justin had two of the hardest-fought matches of the day.  I could swear that they were out for blood, and each was so full of energy with each strike that I would say their matches took the award for highest spirit (if we were giving out an award for that!).  The two winners from that round were Justin and Seth.

Aaron (W) vs Justin (R)
Jeff (W) vs Seth (R)

The final round-robin group consisted of Marek (1 Kyu), Andy (1 Kyu), Damon (3 Kyu), and myself (4 Kyu), and I definitely had a lot of fun in this round.  It was good to be able to rotate between everyone and test my skills against theirs.  My first match was with Andy, and our match ended in a tie, 1-1.  The second match I had was with Marek, and I think this was my hardest match of the day.  I ended up winning 2-1, but Marek definitely made me work for those two points.  Given that he had a handicap against me, as well, is even more amazing on his part (he had 3 valid strikes and only needed one more to win).  my final point on him came when he stepped in and I launched a Kote strike to finish the match near the ending seconds.  The last match I had in that round was against Damon, and even though I won the match 2-0 he definitely had a lot of good attacks and put the pressure on me.  I think I did a good job of using my distance in that match but looking back at the video I can see some things that I definitely need to work on.  So coming out of the bracket to go into the elimination rounds were Marek and myself.

My first opponent was Aika, and she gave me a run for my money.  The funny thing that I've noticed about Aika is that in regular practice she's very reserved and quiet, but when she is in taikai and the pressure is on she turns into a Kendo beast!  She beat me 1-0 (2 valid strikes on me), and I ran out of time before I could try to get a point to tie the match and for encho.  I distinctly remember one of the points she scored on me.  I thought she would go for Kote, since I thought she was too far out for Men, but she leaped forward for Men which took me totally by surprise.  I diverted my attack and went for Ai-Men, but I knew she had the point.  The flags went up and I couldn't help but laugh to myself for her awesome Men strike on me!

The trophies
So I was eliminated in the first round of the final bracket, but I definitely enjoyed my matches and the chance to do some very good Kendo with all of my friends.  The later matches were very intense, as well.  In the end Seth and Justin tied for third place, and Jordan barely beat out Aika in the final round, scoring a Men strike in encho to take 1st place.  Again, great spirit and great Kendo from everyone that participated, and I'm definitely looking forward to doing it again next year.  I'm going to take another shot at that monkey trophy!

After heading back and enjoying lunch and relaxing for the afternoon, we all decided to go up for another round of jigeiko and some free practice that evening, and I had a chance to do some great keiko with my fellow kenshi, including another round with Ando Sensei.  One of the highlights of the weekend for me was that I scored a real, legitimate strike on him, and from his manner afterward I knew that I earned it.  He pressured in on me and went for Men, and instead of flinching and backing down I stepped forward with Debana Kote, and caught him just as his hands started up.  These little victories are what give me energy and inspiration, and afterward he congratulated me on my Kote strike.  He also said that I should start thinking about my distancing, and varying them to keep others guessing.  He said that I should have three effective distances to attack from, and that I should look into using "tobikomi."  I asked around about this, and from what I understand it is a leaping step, longer than a regular fumikomi step.  I might ask someone to demonstrate this to me at practice tonight so I can see it with my own eyes.  Ando Sensei advised me that I should vary my distance and fight from closer in, and then unleash tobikomi on a partner/opponent when they least expect it, because they will be used to me fighting closer and won't know my true striking distance that way.

Yes, someone is under there!
Noodle Fight!

Dinner, movies, naps, Uno and more noodle fights rounded out our evening, and again everyone drifted off to bed around midnight.  The last day of camp was beginning...

After breakfast and getting ready we all headed back to the hall for our last training session around nine in the morning.  We suited up, did some warm-ups and kirikaeshi, and then moved into a lot of drills involving hiki waza.  We did some variations such as Men-Hiki Men-Men and Men-Hiki Do-Men individually, and then came together as a group and went through them again, with three receivers in the middle and everyone taking turns running through and striking them.  I concentrated on quick movements and only taking one step back on hiki waza before springing forward with my next strike.

During my last round of jigeiko I definitely noticed an improvement in myself, especially when fighting with Aaron.  He is becoming super fast and really aggressive, and on Friday night he was exploiting and striking all of my openings.  But on this last day I was able to keep up with him pretty well and was able to get in some really good strikes of my own.  I love being pushed by the upper Kyus and Yudansha, it always makes me elevate myself to their level and makes me feel so accomplished afterward.  I look forward to each of these opportunities.

The Red Team
Camp definitely wouldn't be complete without a game of War, and we ended the training and camp in a great way with our indoor game (it was definitely too cold and icy outside to do it there).  We separated out into teams of 5 vs. 5, with the Red team consisting of Seth, Billy, Aika, Dan and myself, and the Yellow team consisting of Aaron, Andy, Marek, Sayaka and Ando Sensei.  We each had 3 balloon targets: two on the Men and one of the right side of the Do.  If you've never played War, the rules are to pop the balloons using good Kendo (or as good as you can make it in that environment).  We got ready, suited up, and broke off into our groups to plan.

Squaring off with Ando Sensei
Our original plan was to have Billy and Dan double-team Ando Sensei, Aika would take on her sister, Sayaka, Seth would take on Aaron and I would try to handle Andy and Marek, but that soon fell apart in the chaos that is War!  I ran into Aaron right off the bat,and we were both able to pop a Men balloon on each other.  After that I found myself squaring off with Ando Sensei, with no backup at all.  I remember calling out "where are my strategy guys?!" because I was all alone with Ando Sensei, and he still had all of his balloons.  After trading a few blows I tried to get away, but he followed me, so I knew that I would have to stand my ground and fight him until one of us was out.  It cost me my other Men balloon, but I was, miraculously, able to defeat him and pop all three of his balloons!  Another small victory for me.  I was soon taken out myself, though, when my last balloon was popped by the Yellow team.

Our team fought brilliantly, and they were able to take out everyone and leave Aaron as the last standing Yellow, with only his Do balloon remaining and facing three of our guys: Dan, Billy, and Seth.  Aaron fought really well, though, and was able to take out Billy and Dan, and forced a Jodan showdown between himself and Seth, both with only their Do balloons remaining.  After a hard-fought battle, Seth ended up popping Aaron's last balloon, to take the individual title and the team title for Red!

Last Men Standing: Aaron & Seth
Fierce Bunnies!

After one last lunch, a few showers, and packing up we all said goodbye to Deer Lake and to camp, but I know that we are all looking forward to coming back this summer, and next Winter to do it all over again!


  1. Hahah. That is awesome Sounds like a great time. Good luck with that monkey trophy next time, too!


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