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Highline Kendo Kai Taikai 2011

This past weekend Highline Kendo Kai in Seattle, WA held its 35th Annual Mudansha Taikai, and we had six people going to compete (plus one for moral support).  We headed out of town with a mix of experienced kenshi and some that were going for the first or second taikai experience.  As you can imagine, the excitement level was very high throughout the whole trip.

Friday night we trained with Curtis Marsten Sensei and our friends at Federal Way, and had an intense (although cramped) session that evening.  I was able to do jigeiko with almost everyone, including Marsten Sensei, who once again used me as a human piƱata.  I gave it my all, though, with him and with everyone else, and had a lot of fun seeing some old friends and training with them.  We packed up and headed back to the hotel for some dinner and relaxation that night, in anticipation of the next day.

Saturday came, and with it the taikai.  We got together, as a team, and had breakfast, got ready and packed, and headed out to the taikai.  We arrived around 9a.m., changed, and warmed up a bit before the opening ceremony.  There were over fifty competitors, and the taikai ran VERY smoothly overall, as we were able to get through all of the matches and the closing ceremony in under three hours.

The taikai started off round-robin style, in which we were put into groups of 3-4 people and would have matches with everyone in the group, before moving onto the elimination rounds.  My group wasn't starting until later, so I had time to watch some of my teammates.  Marek and Billy Joe both started our team off strong, with matches ending in 2-0 wins for them.  Besides the normal taikai placings, there was also a team point competition going on, in which all of the points scored for each team were tallied and an overall winner determined at the end of the taikai.  So every point we scored, win or lose, was counted towards our team's total points for the day.

I suited up for my matches, and after a while stepped onto the court for my first match.  My opponent was Park, from Bellevue (I believe).  I started off with a big Men strike right from the start for the first point, and after trading blows for a while, ended up scoring another Men strike to win.  I was off to a good start!

Final Score:  2-0 (Ruiz)

My next match was immediately following my first, and was against Kim, from UW, whom I had fought previously at the Kent Taikai.  The first thing I noticed was that he had improved a lot since I last faced him, so I was preparing myself for a tough match.  We sized each other up a bit, went back and forth, and I ended up scoring the first point of the match, with a Men strike when he backed out of tsubazeriai.  We took our spots again and began our match after the shinpan called "Nihonme!"  A very interesting thing happend at this point in the match.  I was trying to play it safe and protect my point, as Sinclair Sensei always advises us to do, so I was waiting for an opening or a mistake that my opponent might make.  I think he was doing the same thing, as well, because we ended up circling each other for a LONG time.  The shinpan stopped the match, and after a short meeting, gave us both a hansoku (penalty).  The reasoning was that we were both stalling the match and needed to be more active.  They started the match over, and after a while Kim ended up scoring a beautiful Kote strike on me to tie the match.  We lined back up, and started the match for the final point.  The final point came when Kim went for Hiki Do (which I thought was a very good attempt) and I launched a Men strike as he backed up.  Fortunately for me, the judges gave me the Men strike, and I took the match.

Final Score: 2-1 (Ruiz)

We finished up the round-robin matches and moved into the elimination rounds.  These were done a bit differently this year, as everyone from the round-robin matches were seeded in the elimination rounds.  My first opponent, for a reason unknown to me, ended up having to drop out of the taikai, so I automatically moved onto the next round.  After a few matches, I was up again.

My first opponent in the elimination rounds was McManus, from Kent.  This was about the first time I'd fought anyone around the same height and size as myself, but I did my best.  Early on in the match he drove me to the edge of the court, and with a good taiatari knocked me out of bounds.  After giving me a penalty, the match restarted, and a few seconds later I landed a Men strike as he backed away from me to score the first point.  We restarted the match, and a few seconds later it was over.  He came in for Men, but I countered with Debana Kote to take the match.

Final Score:  2-0 (Ruiz)

Next up was a guy by the name of Wilkins.  Again, he was about the same height and build as me.  He rattled me towards the beginning, as he very nearly caught me on a turn.  I had hit Kaeshi Do and when I turned I was completely open.  I think the only reason he didn't get the point was because he hit a bit too deep.  But still, that will definitely teach me to keep my guard up when turning.  He fought well, with no perceivable advantage going to either of us.  About halfway through the match I launched a Men strike as he stepped in.  he tried to counter with his own Men strike, but mine was already heading toward its target, and I ended up getting the point.  The next point came when I went for Kote and missed.  He tried to hit Men as I went by, but I was a bit too fast getting past him.  I saw that neither of us got the point, so I switched directions, followed him, and landed a Men strike as he turned to win the match.

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)

 I had made it into the quarter-finals, and it was a stroke of coincidence that my opponent ended up being my buddy Matt, also from Spokane.  He had taken about three months off, and had only had one practice with us before coming on the trip.  We had joked about fighting each other the entire weekend, too, and when I saw that I would face him for real I had to laugh.  I'm sure he was laughing, too.  We entered the court, bowed to each other, came to kamae, and the match started.  The first point came after just a few seconds.  Matt stepped in to strike Kote, and I countered with Nuki Men to take the first point.  We restarted and fought each other pretty intensely for the next few seconds.  I don't think, from watching that match, that you could tell we're good friends.  We were both putting our all into the match, and I think it helped build up both of us.  Matt took the next point, with a beautiful Hiki Men from tsubazeriai.  I was not expecting it at all, as Matt is not usually known for doing Hki Waza.  I laughed to myself as I jogged back to my spot in the court.  The match restarted again, and we resumed our fight for the last point.  After a while (and a gravity-defying backwards slide), I ended up getting the last point with a Kote strike.  I was happy that I won, but mostly relieved that Matt didn't waste me out on the floor, as well.

Final Scored: 2-1 (Ruiz)

The semi-finals.  A couple more matches and I would be able to claim victory.  But my opponent in this match was Cheng, from UW, and I quickly found out that he was a very strong kenshi.  All eyes were on us, as well, as they had set up the semi-final and final matches on one court.  After bowing in and coming to kamae, the match started.  I could feel the intensity in the air between us, and after a few tense moments we moved in on each other.  After feeling out the situation in tsubazeriai, we backed out back to kamae.  My first mistake came when in tsubazeriai for a second time, I backed out, thinking that he was backing out, as well.  Instead he sprang forward with Kote-Men to take the first point.  We restarted, and I stepped in again.  After watching the video of the match, I realize that my Kote strike at this point was VERY half-hearted.  I had succumbed to defeat before Cheng scored the last point, which ended up being a nice Do strike as I lifted my hands up.  We bowed out, and I congratulated him on a job well done.

Final Score:  2-0 (Cheng)

Cheng went on to take 1st place in the taikai, and I definitely learned a lot about what to improve from that match, and the previous matches.  Next time I will put forth my best effort to the very end, and not pull and strikes, as I did during the last match.  Still, I feel that I did extremely well, as I took 3rd place overall.  Our team ended up taking 2nd place in points.  The amazing this is that we only had six people competing, compared to some others that had twice as many as us or more.  And all of the first-timers did extremely well in their matches.  Their basics didn't falter and they were able to get some good strikes in.

I'm not sure that I'll compete in this taikai next year, as I will (hopefully) be Shodan this time next year, but for my first showing at this taikai I am happy with how I did, and I'm looking forward to learning more and testing myself again at the next taikai!

Front (L to R): Seth, Matt, Me, Mick.

Back (L to R): Billy Joe, Nathan, Marek, Wendy, Sinclair Sensei, Loren

Here are a few more pictures that were taken by James O'Donnell of Bellevue Dojo:


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