This weekend our dojo traveled down to Portland to the Rose City Taikai, and if I had one word to describe the trip I would say it was awesome. Not just the taikai itself, but the whole trip. We had a good trip down and back, and were able to do some fun things, see some fun things, and generally spend time bonding as a team.
This taikai was my first one ever last year, and I did fairly well for being new to it last year, so this year I was really excited to see how well I would do after a year of practice and taikai experience under my belt, and I feel that I improved a hundred times over from last year. I came into the tournament last year as a 7 Kyu in the 0-3 Kyu division, and this year I was a 2 Kyu fighting in the 2 Kyu - 1 Dan division. Quite a step up and I knew I had to bring out my best Kendo for the day.
My first match was against a Shodan from OSU by the name of Burns. The match started off and after a few seconds I came in with a big Men strike to take the first point. I was actually going for Nuki-Men, thinking he was swinging for Kote, but hey it worked in the end and I got the point. We reset and traded blows for what seemed like an eternity after that. Neither of us were able to land a good strike, and we were both being really aggressive about it. In the end I chased him down and landed a Kote-Men strike to take the final point.
Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)
My next match was an interesting one. My opponent was a fellow Nikyu named Wes Horn, from Idaho. He has been a reader of my blog for a while now, and came to introduce himself to me before the taikai began. It was really fun to meet a reader in person, and I wanted to honor him by putting forth my best effort in our match together. The match started out and I was able to land a Debana Kote fairly early into the match to take the first point. We reset and I tried to remember to not be carefree with my strikes, so I held back a bit from how I fought in the last match and tried to pick and choose the moments when I went in to strike, and also tried to create an opening. I finally saw one and stepped in to strike Kote, taking the final point to end the match. I was amazed out how fast he was, and how good his timing was with his strikes, and I look forward to facing him more in the future!
Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)
I had made it into the semi-finals, and my opponent was none other than a fellow Spokane member, my buddy Seth. He is Shodan, and I've mentioned before that I really admire his Kendo. His basics are absolutely amazing and he is very fast and accurate with his strikes. I knew that I had quite a fight ahead of me. We bowed in and the match started, and for a while we circled each other, each looking for or trying to create an opening. Things finally kicked off and we both rushed in to trade blows. I tried to watch out for his Kaeshi-Do, because he has caught me with it more than once in practice and I know that he's very good with it, so each of my strikes I tried to close the distance between us as fast as possible. Seth ended up getting the first point after he stepped back for Hiki-Men and I chased him. I went for Men, but he was too fast and landed Debana Kote. We reset and after a short exchange I landed a Men strike as Seth turned to tie the match. Everything came down to this final point, and at one point I actually ended up stepping out of bounds after going for a Men strike, receiving a hansoku for it. As Seth stepped back after hiki waza again I launched forward for a Men strike, and stretched far for it. I ended up striking his Men with the very tip of my shinai to take the final point and the match.
Final Score: 2-1 (Ruiz)
I had made it to the finals. Only one more opponent to face and then I could claim victory in my division. Easy, right? Well, not so much when that opponent happens to be Jordan, another Shodan from Spokane. We've fought many times in jigeiko, and I knew that I would be in for a huge challenge. He's very fast and very powerful for his size, and many times throughout the match I was caught unaware because of his speed and power. We exchanged blows, each trying to find an opening, and a few times he came into taiatari so hard and at such an angle that it knocked my men loose. The second time I had to stop and re-tie it to make sure it stayed on. Jordan ended up taking the first point with a quick Men strike. We reset and started off again, and I fought desperately to get that point back to at least force a tie and encho, but in the end he sealed the match with a Kote strike that snuck right up on me, as he hit and maneuvered around me. We both fought with a lot of ferocity, but that day Jordan was the better man. I couldn't have lost to a more deserving opponent, I think, and I was very happy with how I did overall.
Final Score: 2-0 (Duplain)
After our division, I was able to watch some great Kendo matches in the 2 Dan+ category, and also participate in the team division with our B team, which consisted of myself, Billy Joe, Sayaka, Wendy, and Harvey. We lost our first match to Obukan A, but it was still fun and a good learning experience. I think that the most intense matches of the day involved our Spokane A team, though, and their (close) victories over the PNKF Women and Seattle. Each match was suspenseful to watch, each point taken and lost had us on pins and needles. Our guys fought great, against some of the best people and teams in our region, and ended up taking second place, losing to Obukan A (the team that beat us in the first round).
I'm definitely looking forward to this trip and this taikai again next year, to take another measure of how far I've come. Before my matches I was really feeling like I didn't belong in that division, because everyone else was so strong and fast with their Kendo. But through my wins and losses that day I really felt that I did, in fact, belong there. I could stand toe-to-toe with people of that level and hold my own, and it was due to the work I've done since last year and the excellent training I've received at my dojo. And it was also due to the strong bonds I've formed with my dojo mates. I see a lot of good things happening in this year to come, and I hope to continue improving myself and my Kendo as much as possible.
And now a few pictures from our trip and the taikai! (click for larger images)