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PNKF Taikai 2012

Photo by. T. Patana
This past weekend our dojo participated in the 38th annual Pacific Northwest Kendo Federation Taikai.  This year we had over 200 competitors from all over North America.  Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Calfiornia, Hawaii, even Texas and Alaska were represented there, as well as Canada and Mexico.  We had twelve competitors ourselves, Ranging in ages from 16-40+, and all yudansha.  What took place over the weekend was one of the best taikai and kendo trips that I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

We headed out on Friday, as per our usual routine, so that we could make practice at Bellevue that night.  One big difference we had on this trip was the absence of Sinclair Sensei.  He had been in Hawaii all weekend for Doshinkan Karate training (lucky!).  He was definitely with us in spirit, though, and we were able to talk to him a bit that night at the hotel.  He told a fun kendo story and then wished us all well the next day.  I was actually surprised that night to hear that I would not only be competing in individuals, but also in the team matches as part of the Spokane team (we're only allowed one team at this taikai).  That just turned a big day into an even bigger day for me.

Saturday came and I felt as ready as I was going to be.  Our division (1-2 dan) wasn't up until that afternoon, and we had the unfortunate luck of having all of our dojo members competing at the same time.  Five other members were competing in my same division with me, and we had five other in the high school boys division and one in the 3 dan division.  I tried to catch as many of the matches as I could in between mine, but I missed them for the most part.

My first match finally came and I was against a nidan from Kent named Duong.  I gave myself a little pep talk before the match and then stepped out to begin.  I immediately locked in on my opponent and did my best to figure him out.  After a few exchanges I was able to score a men strike as he backed up out of tsubazeriai to take the first point.  We reset and began again, and a few moments later I pulled the same tactic and scored with a men strike after striking down his hiki waza.  I was onto the next round, which is as far as I've ever made it at a PNKF taikai before.

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)

My next match was against Tagami, from UW.  I had faced him before so I kind of knew what to expect, but at the same time it had been about a year.  From the moment the match started I could tell that he had improved a ton since the last time I fought him.  His attacks were quick and his timing was great, and I had a hard time retaliating with anything.  I couldn't land men or kote to save my life!  I even tried gyaku-do at one point, which fell far from hitting its mark.  About halfway through the match I pressured in and connected with a harai kote to take the first, and only, point of the match.  Neither of us were able to score after that point, but it was enough to bump me up to the next round.

Final Score: 1-0 (Ruiz)

Third round..the furthest I've ever made it.  I had surpassed my past PNKF showings, and anything above and beyond this point was rewarding to me.  My next opponent was another UW guy, Christianson.  I had faced him last year at the Kent Taikai and just barely grabbed the win that time, so I was anticipating a tough match.  I was ready to give it my all when I stepped out on the court.  The match began and we sized each other up a bit, and I honestly don't remember who launched the first attack.  We exchanged blows a bit, neither of us landing anything, when I was finally able to take the first point with a (rather shaky in my opinion) nuki men.  We restarted and he launched off the line with a men strike, but I was ready with debana kote, which found its mark to end the match.  I was onto the semi-finals, and one of the scariest matches I've ever had...

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)

Wow...semi-finals at PNKF!  I never actually thought I'd make it that far, but I wasn't about to settle for third place.  I wanted the top spot, and only a couple of people were left to face.  Unfortunately one of them was, in my opinion, one of the best in our division.  R. Murao, from Steveston, a guy that I knew was fast as lightning and skilled enough to mop the floor with any of us that day.  Many, many times in the past I've watched his matches because I admire his kendo a lot.  It's fast, strong, and "deadly."  And now I had the pleasure of facing him personally.  The match started after a short break, and we both took our time.  I'd never faced him before, and he'd never faced me, so this was new for both of us.  His attacks came quick, but somehow I was able to fend him off, although I couldn't put together an attack or counter that found its mark.  This seemed to be an issue for both of us, as none of his attacks were landing, either.  We went like this for the full three minutes and the match ended in a tie.  We reset and went into the first encho round (first point wins).  There wasn't going to be another round.  I pressured in, fully focused on my opponent, and launched the best attack I could muster.  a straight, small men.  He countered with kote.  Both attacks found their targets, but only the red flags went up.  My flags.  My attack had landed a split-second before his.  We bowed out and I have to admit that I was in total shock for a few seconds.  From some of the looks of awe and disbelief I think most of the people watching the match were in shock, too!   I had made it to the finals of the biggest tournament in our federation, and I was well on my way to winning it all.  I just had more more opponent.

Final Score: 1-0 (Ruiz)

My last opponent turned out to be one of my own dojo mates.  Seth, a young, fast, very good nidan.  I'd fought him many many times before at the dojo and a few times at taikai.  I had beaten him last year at Obukan, but lost to him at this year's Obukan in a rematch in the semi-finals.  We constantly go back-and-forth in shiai-geiko at our own dojo, and now we were going to face each other to see who would win at PNKF.  I was ready as I stepped out on the court to begin the match.  We took our time, trying to find an opening to exploit, but we each knew how we fought so well that it was hard.  After exchanging a few attacks I stepped in and launched at his men, and he countered with kote.  Again, both of our attacks landed and the shinpan split their decisions on who took the point.  One flag was up for me.  Two for my opponent.  He took the first, and only, point of the match.  I tried my hardest to regain that point, but was unable to.  On the other hand he was unable to take the final point to end the match.  Time ran out, and we both bowed out and then hugged each other after the match.

Final Score: 0-1 (DeNardi)

Even though I lost that final match, I was not ashamed.  I did my absolute best and I totally outdid myself in terms of the goals I set for that taikai.  The loss didn't even matter to me.  We had both fought magnificently and were both able to stand tall afterward.  But the day wasn't over.  We still had the team matches to look forward to.  Our first match was against Portland, and we came out swinging.  Andy and Aaron both won their matches 2-0 and brought the advantage to our team as I stepped out for the chuken match.  My opponent was Kato, who was shodan like me.  I was definitely out to win the match, and I did so with a well-placed debana kote and men.  Seth finished out his match 2-0, and Billy held up Portland's taisho to a tie, giving us the win and moving us into the next round

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)
Team Score: 4-0 (Spokane)

Our next match was going to be tough.  We faced Youshinkan, which housed not only strong, good kendo but a couple of previous Canadian national team members!!  We were going to have to try and win the first three matches if we wanted to have a chance at moving on.  Andy and Aaron did their very best out there, and were able to pull through with ties in each  match (Aaron was even able to take back a point that his opponent had scored early on to tie it up 1-1).  My match was up next, against a sandan named Chien. Billy's parting words were "Do what you need to do."  I went out to begin and fought well, taking an early point with a men strike, but was unable to take any other points.  My opponent's suriage men counter was getting dangerously close to scoring so I decided not to try and risk it too mcuh and ended the match with the 1-0 win in our favor.  Seth and Billy went out to fight the Asaoka brothers, and fought well, but were unable to pull out a win.  We might have lost the match, but we did our very best and I think we can all be proud of that.

Final Score: 1-0 (Ruiz)
Team Score: 1-2 (Youshinkan)

Our day was over, but the memories will definitely live on.  I was glad that all of the little things I'd been working on recently came together so perfectly this weekend, and I don't think could have dreamed I would do so well at such a big tournament.  One big thing I learned this weekend is that I seriously underestimate myself.  I try to be humble, but sometimes I think I go too far with that and it ends up being detrimental.  I don't need to be cocky, but I do need to have more confidence in my kendo and my abilities.  I'll be sure to work on this as I train this next month in preparation for the Kent Taikai in December.

Photo by T. Patana


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