This weekend we had our annual PNKF Taikai in Seattle, WA. For us Spokane member is meant not only the tournament itself, but a full weekend of travel and Kendo. We left Friday afternoon from Spokane and arrived in time for practice with our friends at the Bellevue dojo. Jeff Marsten Sensei gave us the time for open floor that night and I was able to do jigeiko with some old friends as well as some new friends. We also had a special treat; the Hawaiian team joined us all at Bellevue, as well. They were impressive, to say the least, and all had very fast, very strong Kendo. Seeing skill like that in person is always inspiring and gives me goals to shoot for in my own development. Afterward we all headed back to our hotel for a night of rest and relaxation (and dinner!).
The next day was tournament time. We headed out and arrived early to the site so that we could change and warm-up before everything started. This year was my first time in the 3-1 Kyu division at this taikai, but I had been training a lot and was hoping for some good results and good Kendo. My first match was against a gentleman named Kuniyasu, from Cascade. I'm not sure what had happened previously, but when they called his name for the match he was still putting on his Men. My guess is that he might have misread the match line-up, which also happened to one of our teammates earlier. In any case I had a few moments to focus and prepare myself. We finally stepped onto the court and started the match. I started out nice and slow, sizing him up and changing the distance to see how he would react. I finally pressured in and exploded forward for a Men strike, which connected to give me the first point. After resetting our positions I stepped in for a Kote, which missed, and then stepped back out to get back to my distance. After a few more moments, and tapping his shinai out of center a few times, I shot forward for another attempt at Kote, which landed. We bowed out and stepped off the court to thank each other.
Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)
My next match was against a fellow named Richards, from Simon Fraser University in Canada. This is what I had been training for. I knew that the Canadians had good Kendo and were very aggressive, and I wanted to see if I could overcome that this year. Last year I had lost in the second round to a kenshi from Steveston dojo, and I was itching to try my hand at fighting another Canadian opponent. The match started and he immediately sprang forward at my Kote, which missed. Unfortunately this set the tone for the entire match, and he was able to control the match and the distance almost the entire time. After a few exchanges he landed a solid Debana Kote as I stepped in for Men to take the first point. Things went pretty downhill from there, as after a couple of Hiki Kote attempts he finally landed one to take the point and the match. I will admit, I was a little disappointed in the match, but not against my opponent. He fought well and it was a pleasure to face him. But I know that I could have done better and I succumbed to my nervousness and doubt. But the best thing I can do, and what I AM doing, is analyzing what happened and using it to improve myself. There's not use dwelling on it in a negative way, and I will use that defeat to improve my own Kendo and come back stronger next time.
Final Score: 2-0 (Richards)
The rest of the day I was free to watch my teammates' matches and take plenty of video for them. There were some outstanding matches, and I think the ones that stood out in my mind most were my buddy Billy's matches. He was fighting in the 1-2 Dan division and was also fighting in Jodan. He was one of the few at the taikai fighting in Jodan and I'm pretty sure that he was the lowest ranked person doing it. Anyway, most of his matches ended up going into Encho (overtime; first point wins) but each time he was able to pull off the win with his skills and determination. He ended up making it to the final round where he was beat in Encho by a kenshi from Oakland, CA. It was a very exciting match, though, and he definitely gave it his all.
Another match that was the highlight of the day was the final team match between Hawaii and Vancouver. Each side fought well and in the end it came down to a tie-breaker match between Fujimoto Sensei (Hawaii) and Yamada Sensei (Vancouver). I'm not sure how long that match was, I would guess around thirty minutes. They each fought with everything they had and pulled out some very interesting combinations of moves and techniques. In the end Yamada finally took the match, and first place for his team, with a Kote strike.
I not only witnessed but took part in some awesome Kendo this weekend, and I know that the experience and lessons that I learned will stay with me and help shape my Kendo future. Even as I write this I'm itching to get back to the dojo so I can continue to grow and improve and refine my own Kendo.