This past weekend our dojo attended the 36th annual invitation taikai at the University of Washington. We had a small group this time; only six of us went to compete. We were also all in the same division, competing in the 1-2 Dan category, so the taikai was already shaping up to be an interesting one. We decided to not train the Friday night prior to the taikai, as we usually do, and instead opted for a more leisurely trip to Seattle and a bit of relaxation at the hotel that evening. After a night of fellowship and rest we were ready for the taikai on Saturday morning.
We arrived, warmed up...and then waited until after lunch. The way they had the schedule set up our group was not fighting until around 1pm (the tournament started at 10a.m.) so we all had a few hours to prepare and I took the opportunity to take some pictures of the yondan and up matches. Looking over the brackets I noticed that our category was the biggest one of the day, taking up all three courts and hosting dozens of competitors. We had people from all around our federation and also visitors from Canada that came to compete. This would also be my first time fighting in the yudansha ranks so I was curious to see how I would do.
My first match finally arrived and I was against a guy from Steveston. As I've found out before, Canada has a lot of strong kenshi, and this one was no different. He had really strong kendo, very solid with no apparent weaknesses (at least to me). I tried my best and performed my best but was not able to land a single strike. The match lasted quite a while but in the end I lost to a kote and a men strike. I don't feel too bad, though, because he had really good kendo and I did my best. I'll definitely take the experience and use it to improve myself.
Final Score: 2-0 (O'Sullivan)
After watching my teammates fight their own battles, and after a few more divisions finished up, we headed into the team matches. One of our teammates had to step out due to an injury he got in one of his matches, but luckily we were able to substitute in the extra guy that we had. Our first match was going to be a tough one, too; it was against Steveston B. and being in the chuken position my fight was against N. Nakano who was very fast, very strong and very aggressive. He is also ranked a lot higher than me, as he competed in the yondan and up category earlier in the day. I knew I had quite the fight ahead of me.
The matches started and Jordan set the pace early, winning his match 2-0. In the next match Aaron did an amazing job and was able to hold off the Women's Open winner, forcing a tie of 0-0. My match was next and since I was facing such a tough opponent we decided that I should try and go for a tie to keep things in our favor. As I stepped up to the line I started flushing all thoughts of doubt and fear out of my mind so that I could face him with a clear head. We stepped in, bowed, and then match began. We both pressured in and fought for the center for what seemed like forever before anything happened. Nakano finally exploded at me with a kote, but I was able to counter with a nuki men of my own. Unfortunately he was WAY faster than me and able to block it with ease. We went back and forth for almost the entire match in this way, with me playing it smart and trying not to give him anything to work with. At what seemed like seconds before the end he stepped in and I went for a men strike, which he was expecting. He punished me with a debana kote, which found its mark to give him the first point. At this point in the match I should have backed off and kept it at a 1-point lead, but impulses took over and he was able to nail my kote again to give him the win. Seth was up next and after a tense exchange of points he was able to pull out a win against his opponent, 2-1. Matt, our final member, was up and he fought beautifully, getting a textbook debana kote to take the match 1-0. We took the overall win and moved on to the next round. Even though I lost my match I feel like I did a great job of playing smart against a much tougher opponent, right up until the end. Lesson learned.
Our next match was against Highline, and the odds were against us again. They fielded a team of three godans, a yondan, and a newly-minted Shodan...and my match was not against the shodan. Nope, I drew Elizabeth Marsten, who is, in my opinion, one of the best women in kendo in the nation. Once again I had a chance to play smart against a much tougher opponent, and this time I was going to keep myself in check so I wouldn't end up in the same position as the last match. Our first two matches ended up against us, both of our guys fighting bravely but losing 1-0 in each match, so it was up to me to either force a tie or get the win to keep us alive. We decided to go with the tie and let Seth and Matt try to take the wins and keep us going. I stepped in, bowed, and we were under way.
The match was such a blur of strikes that I hardly remember exactly what happened. I would attack, she would counter. She would attack, I would counter. At one point she faked me out of my hakama and very nearly took my kote for a point, but two of the judges waved the point off. I came back later on and almost scored debana kote. The timing was there but high, landing on her fist instead of on her kote. I also actively kept myself a bit more reseved than the last time, and fought against my own impulse and impatience. It paid off at the end, when time ran out and walked away with a tie, keeping our hopes alive a little bit longer. Seth and Matt both fought bravely, but unfortunately our team was not able to pull off the victory this time around and we bowed out for the remainder of the matches.
As a team it seems that we did a good job. For the most part we all played our parts very well. A hiccup from me in the first match but we were able to recover beautifully at the end, and against Highline we managed to hold our own but ultimately lost to a better team. I believe that we were all able to walk out of those matches with our heads held high, though, because we all did our absolute best during each of our matches. It was very inspiring to watch and cheer on my team mates and I'm glad I was able to be a part of the team this time around.
The Canadian Women's team ended up beating Steveston A in the final match, bringing it all the way down to the final match and winning by one point there (what a nail-biter!). From our dojo, Jordan and Dan took third place in the 1-2 Dan category so we were all happy for them. Personally I had a good experience to take home with me, and I will definitely be stepping up my own training from here on out so that I can do better next time around, but I do think I did a great job. I didn't come home with any medals or trophies, but I did my best and was able to fight against some great opponents as well as gain valuable experience that I will be able to use to improve myself. I'm definitely looking forward to getting back to the dojo now!