Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kent Taikai 2011

(All photos courtesy of T. Patana - Sno-King)

This past weekend our dojo made its way over the mountains and across the state to attend the 15th Annual Kent Taikai.  This time around we didn't train on Friday night, instead opting to have a relaxed trip over and an evening of hanging out at the hotel and relaxing so we were all fresh and ready for the tournament on Saturday.


Saturday arrived and I felt pretty good.  I tried to remember to have a relaxed, carefree attitude about the day's events, instead just focusing on doing my best throughout the day.  I was able to compete not only in the individual matches in the 1-3 Kyu division, but Sinclair Sensei also decided to put me on the Spokane A team for the Senior Team division.  That not only meant more matches for me, but also matches against people that could range from 0 Kyu up to 3 Dan (I believe 3 Dan was the highest we had people competing at that tournament).  The juniors and junior teams came and went and I got to see some amazing, spirited Kendo throughout the morning, and a few hours after the opening ceremony my division was ready to start.

My first match was against a kenshi from University of Washington named Tagami, whom I had fought before at the UW Taikai in March.  As I stepped out onto the court I felt good, ready for the day and when the match started I stood up and steppin in with confidence, and also patience.  Patience seemed to be an ongoing theme for me that day, and it all started here in the first match.  I waited and watched to try and find an opening or a weakness, and after a few exchanges I was able to land a Men strike after he barely missed my Kote.  We reset and started again, both pressuring each other and exchanging blows before I was finally able to land a Kote and take the match.

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)

I had won my first match and I felt good going into my second match, which was against another kenshi that I have fought before named Wilkins, from Everett Dojo.   He has solid Kendo so I knew I had quite a match ahead of me.  We started out and again I waited and watched and tried to find a good opening.  He attacked first, and we exchanged strikes for a while until I caught him with a Debana Kote as he moved in to strike.  After we reset and stepped in again a funny thing happened.  He attacked my Kote, and I countered with Nuki Men.  I didn't get the point, but when I pressed forward he lost control of his shinai and caught it by the blade and was now in tsubazeriai with me while holding the "blade" of his shinai.  I immediately struck Hiki-Men since I hadn't heard the judges call a stop to the match.  They stopped the match after I had struck, called a short conference (Gogi) and decided to give him a penalty for losing control of his shinai (I was unclear whether they gave him the penalty for "dropping his sword" or for touching the blade portion of it.).  We resumed the fight again and after a short while I launched a Men strike as he stepped back out of tsubazeriai to take the match.

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)

I had made it to the semi-finals once again.  Just a couple more matches until the end.  But my opponent in this match was another kenshi from UW named Christianson, who had won the PNKF Taikai just a couple weeks prior and who I knew to be really good.  I have never faced him, but I knew of him and I knew that he consistently placed in the top 3 of any tournament that he was at.  I think out of all the matches that match was the most exhausting.  We started out and I stepped in and immediately struck for Kote, which was blocked, but I tried to keep the pressure up from there.  He would step back and I would follow and strike and keep him tied up.  I was able to take the first point with a Nuki Men as we moved in to hit Kote.  We reset and after a while he got me with a Kote strike to tie up the match.  We reset for the final time and again I kept the pressure up but I felt myself wearing out fast.  I didn't give up, though, and I finally landed a Men strike as he backed up to take the match.  One more match would decide the outcome of our division.

Final Score: 2-1 (Ruiz)

Once again I found myself in the finals.  Once again I found myself fighting a fellow Spokane member.  And once again that member was my buddy Matt.  We had fought before, at Highline in the quarter-finals there, and I had come out victorious.  Could I pull off another win against him?  We were about to find out.  The match started and we both stepped in, each pressuring the other and trying to find or create that opening where we could attack without being countered.  I have to admit I could feel a ton of pressure in that match, and afterward I heard that he did, too.  It makes me think of that scene in Big Trouble in Little China when the old good guy and the main bad guy fight and they use their magic to clash with each other, neither of them able to come out the winner.  Yeah, that's exactly how it was for us!

Each strike was calculated, as was each counter.  Any time we found ourselves in tsubazeriai neither of us wanted to back out because we both knew the other would chase us down.  This went on for most of the match, until with about ten seconds left I pressured in and struck his Kote to take the first point.  We reset and I played it smart and safe, not rushing in for that last point.  Time was called, the match ended and I found myself victorious once again, taking first place in the 1-3 Kyu division!

Final Score: Ruiz (1-0)

It almost didn't seem real that I had won.  As I sat and ate my lunch I felt odd, a mixture of nerves and adrenaline that made me feel like I was floating and not entirely in control of myself.   I ate and focused, though, because I still had my team matches ahead of me.

The team matches were an entirely different feeling than individuals.  Now not only was I fighting for myself but I also had to take in the entirety of the team and what had happened before and after my match.  I was placed on the Spokane A team in the third position (Chuken), each match being 5 versus 5.  Even though I was facing tougher opponents (I fought against one Nidan and the rest were Sandan), I actually felt more focused, more relaxed than I had been in my individual matches.  I think that this helped a lot because I was able to go into each match with a good head on my shoulders and not get impatient and try to go for points when I didn't need to.  My first two matches I ended up tying, fighting opponents from Kent's B team and from Highline.  We were able to pull out wins there overall, with all of our members either tying or winning their matches.  In the semi-final match against Bellevue I actually won my match against the Sandan I faced with a Nuki Men (I won 1-0).  Our team went on to take that match and make it into the finals against Kent's A team.  Everything looked good at the beginning, with our first two members taking their matches 2-0, but during my match I gave up a point and was not able to get it back, losing the match 0-1.  We ended up losing that match 2 wins to 3 losses, taking second place in the Senior Team division.  In the end I can say that I gave it my all and put my best effort forward.  I stood against people with years and years more experience than me and was able to hold my own and for that I can be proud

The weekend, overall, was a huge success for our dojo.  A lot of my fellow teammates took home trophies, many of them taking first or second place in their divisions, and we all were able to participate in and watch some great Kendo throughout the day.  I know that I learned a lot from my experiences and I will work to improve on the areas that I need to and to strengthen the areas that are working well for me.  I'm happy that I won in my division, but above that I'm happy that I did my best and gave everything I had to each of my opponents, and I hope that we are all able to take that from each other and continue to improve our Kendo!

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