This last weekend we held our 2nd intra-dojo taikai here at our dojo. Last year we opted to have a winter camp/taikai up at Deer Lake Resort, but this year we just had the taikai here in town. The good thing, though, is that we had a lot more people that came to watch and to participate. We had about 10-12 people in each category (Beginners, Mudansha, Yudansha) and overall things went smoothly and we were all able to see and participate in some great Kendo!
The beginners started first, which included anyone that was in the intermediate or pre-bogu class, and they had three categories that they were competing in: Kata, Kirikaeshi, and Uchikomi. Each pair would go together, and three judges would decide to outcome using hantei-like rules (each would raise the flag of whomever they thought did the best job out of the pair). I was very impressed with everyone and the effort that they put into each category. Each person showed strong basics and grasp of the teaching that had been given to them in all their classes lead up to that day, and I was very impressed by each person out there. Even those that were on the fence about jumping in and competing ended up showing really strong basics and technique. At the end of the competition my friend Evan ended up winning the Kata division, and a fairly newcomer in our pre-bogu class, Kieran, took the Kirikaeshi and Uchikomi divisions. But again, great showing by all and I look forward to seeing that level from them in the future!
My division, the Mudansha group, was up next, and we did your basic shiai-style. For most of the competitors they had normal rules, which were 3-minute matches with the winner being the first to two points or the winner with a one-point lead at the end. We had a single encho rule in place but none of the matches went that long. There were three of us Ikkyu fighting that day, and we had a slight penalty against everyone else. When we fought any of the lower ranks each of our scores only counted as a half point. So we had to score four times to get the full two points to win. I wasn't too worried about the handicap, though, and took it as a chance to really focus in and see what I could do in a match. Mine ended up being the first match of the day, and my opponent was none other than my buddy and fellow Ikkyu, Matt.
Matt and I have fought twice before and each time I was barely able to pull out a win against him, so I definitely had to be focused from the very beginning. We stepped up to start the match and immediately both pressured in, looking for the opening. I wasn't able to find anything on him; it seemed like every opening I thought was there was taken away as I struck, and when I would back up I had to really be careful because he would chase me down with his "machine-gun" style that he's known for. I barely escaped a few strikes that he threw my way, but after a while I was finally able to land a Hiki-Men on him. We reset and I did my best to be smart and hold onto my point so I could at least take the win by running the clock down. At one point, though, he went to strike Hiki-Men and as he backed up I saw my chance. I launched a Kote strike against his raised Kote, which connected and gave me the win.
Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)
After watching a few more matches I was up again. This time my opponent was a guy named Jacob, and I honestly don't know what rank he is. I heard that he'd been in Kendo for a few years before I started up and then left on a break for a while. He recently started up again, though, and has been a welcome addition to the dojo again. I had a penalty in this match so would have to fight a little harder and smarter if I wanted to advance. We started off and immediately I pressured in, trying to take a little time to figure him out and see what I could and couldn't do. I baited a bit with my Kote, which he went for, and I was able to take the first score with a Nuki Men. We reset and started and again I pressured in. This time I didn't feel the same yearning from him to strike, so after a few exchanges I launched forward with a Kote, which landed, giving me the second score (and a full point). We reset again and he almost immediately launched forward for my Kote, which I countered with another Nuki Men to take the third score. One last one and I would be able to take the match. It came after a few seconds. I pressured forward and slightly to the side, exposing my Men, and then launched a Do strike as he sprang forward to strike. My Do strike connected, giving me the last point and the win. I was in the finals!
Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)
I watched the other semi-final match and quickly saw who I'd be facing. Andy, a fellow Ikkyu and our sensei's son. He had been taking people out with his wickedly fast Men strike all day and I was going to try and not let that pattern continue. After a short break we both stepped up, bowed, and started the match. I could tell that he was taking his time, trying to find the perfect opening. Made sense, because I was doing the same thing. I knew better than to take Andy lightly. He was younger than me, faster than me, and had way more experience, so I knew I had to fight carefully. We exchanged blows here and there and I did a great job of avoiding or neutralizing his Men strike but was unable to bring a counter of my own back. It stayed this way for what felt like forever, until finally I let him sneak in a bit too close and he landed a Men strike on me to take the first point. We reset and I fought hard to try and take the point back. Kote, Men, Do, I tried everything but was unable to land anything. After a while I pressured towards his Men and then launched a Do strike, which connected! I heard the judges say something when it happened, and as I turned to face Andy I heard them repeat it. "Time!" Time had run out a split second before I connected with my Do strike, and unfortunately it did not count. We went back to the starting line and bowed out. Andy had won.
Final Score: 1-0 (A. Sinclair)
I did my best, but in the end I was beat by a better person. I wasn't disappointed or anything because I think I did a great job, and I definitely learned a lot from all my matches. Andy had the well-deserved win and I had pushed him hard to get it, so I feel good that I gave it my all and came out in second place. I spent the rest of the time watching the Yudansha division with my mom, explaining the basics of a Kendo match to her and trying to point out why this and that happened. I think she caught on a bit by the end. The Yudansha matches were super intense to watch, as they are all really fast and really good. I think my favorite match out of that group was Jordan's (Nidan) match against Shu (Nidan). Shu is an exchange student from Japan and he is very fast and very powerful. I knew that match was going to be a drag-out fistfight, and I was not disappointed. They flew at each other every which way they could and in the end Jordan was able to take the match. Jordan eventually went on to take first place, fighting my buddy Billy in the final match.
We closed with the trophy ceremony and I received a pretty awesome handmade dragon trophy for my second place win. I think it's my favorite trophy now! I'm definitely looking forward to next year's Spokane Taikai, and any others we might decide to run between now and then!