Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Highline Taikai 2013 - Introspection

Photo courtesy of W. Sinclair
This weekend our dojo sent five competitors to the 36th Annual Highline Taikai in Seattle, WA.  The trip over was awesome, as always, and the training the night before was both information and fun, as we were able to take part in the shinpan seminar that Jeff Marsten Sensei was holding at his Bellevue dojo.  Afterward he invited us to open floor to practice with whomever we wished.  I got to do jigeiko with my friend James, and after a good few minutes of sparring with him I was instantly approached by another Bellevue kenshi to have another round of jigeiko.  After we were done I looked back and noticed that a queue had formed up for me, which remained 4-5 deep the whole night.  Long story short, I was able to fight with a lot of people that night!  Pizza and fellowship followed at the hotel before we all got some rest for the next day.

This year they added a new division to the tournament.  In years prior it had always been a mudansha tournament (below black belt), but this year they added in a 1-2 dan division.  Four of the five members that we brought, including myself, were fighting in this new division.  After a strong showing by our sole mudansha member they started our divisions.  The first round of matches were round-robin style, with the top two competitors in each group moving on to the elimination rounds. I suited up, grabbed my shinai and awaited my first match.

My first match was with a nidan from Bellevue that I had never faced before.  The match started and I took some time to kind of feel out the situation before launching my first attack, which my opponent blocked.  I found out very quickly that he was very good at neutralizing my attacks.  On the other hand, I was also able to negate most of his attacks while trying to deliver a counter of my own.  This went on for some time before I was finally able to score a men strike, taking the first point of the match.  My opponent answered back almost immediately, getting a men strike of his own to tie.  The final point was up for grabs, and after a few more tense moments I was able to pressure in and get another men strike to take the match.

Final Score: 2-1 (Ruiz)

I was immediately up to fight again, and my next opponent was another guy I had never fought before.  He was an older gentleman from Highline.  The match began and I immediately flew in to hit doUnfortunately only one flag went up, and I went out of bounds for a penalty.  We restarted and after trading a few blows I was able to score hiki men for the first point.  We reset and started again, and after a few more blows I launched a kote, which found its mark.

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)

I took the first spot coming out of my group and waited for my next match.  My opponent was a guy from UW that I had never fought before.  I thought it funny because I think I've fought almost everyone from the UW team at some point in my kendo life.  I had seen him before and knew that he was fast and very good, so I was in for a good match.  I was not disappointed.  The match started and after few seconds the sparks started to fly.  Attacks were launched, counters were made, but neither of us were able to land a solid hit.  Halfway through the match I launched a men that finally found its mark, giving me the first point of the match.  We restarted and my opponent tried his hardest to get the point back, while I tried my best to neutralize him and land my own strike to finish the match.  Neither of us were successful, but at the very last second he landed a kote, which found its mark.  The judges called in favor of time, though, and waved off the last point.  I felt kinda bad for him, as I would have welcomed encho to settle it, but it was something out of my control.  I fought my best and ended up taking the match in the end.

Final Score: 1-0 (Ruiz)

Quarter finals were up, and my opponent was Christianson, from UW.  I had fought him on a couple of other occasions and knew he was a strong opponent.  I readied myself and stepped in to begin.  We started and circled each other for a while.  We both knew what the other were capable of, and didn't want to give up an easy point.  We both tried pressuring in to see what the other would do, and after a while we both launched our first attacks, which were both kote.  I was unable to find many openings at all, and I noticed that when I did find them I was either too slow to capitalize, or didn't have the right distance.  This went on for almost the entire match, the back and forth between us, but he was finally able to score a hiki men on me when I left myself open.  We restarted but, unfortunately for me, I was unable to regain the point or the upper hand.  Time was called and we both bowed out and thanked each other for the match.

Final Score: 1-0 (Christianson)

I realized where I went wrong in that match, which is good for me.  I talked with my sensei a bit about it and I'm already working on improving it.  He pointed out to me at practice last night that we learn a lot more from our losses than our wins, which is so true.  I will definitely take that experience to heart and use it to improve my own kendo and technique, both physical and mental.  I was able to enjoy the last few matches, which included a showdown in the finals between two of my friends and fellow Spokane members.  During the awards ceremony we also found out that we had taken second place in overall points, taking 28 points throughout the tournament with our five competitors.  It was a great day for all of us, and I hope that my new found experiences and lessons, as well as those that the others learned, will help all of us to improve the overall quality of our kendo and our dojo.  I can't wait for the next tournament!

Photo courtesy of W. Sinclair

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

PNKF Winter Shinsa 2013 - Nidan

Photo courtesy of D. Pan
This weekend I headed to Seattle with four of my dojo mates and our sensei to participate in the PNKF Winter shinsa.  I was testing for the highest this rank this time around, shooting for nidan.  What happened over the weekend amounted to a lot of good fellowship with my friends, laughing and joking with my Seattle friends that I don't see too often, and a lot of good kendo.

Since I was the highest ranked person on the trip, I felt a little sense of responsibility for our group so I did my best to make sure that everyone had their stuff in order (bogu, uniforms, etc) and that everyone was ready to go when we needed to, and to offer encouragement and advice when needed.  I jokingly wrote to someone that I was handing out pep talks like they were candy over the weekend :).  We all arrived on Saturday morning with plenty of time to get ready and get situated before the test started.  My group wasn't going to be up for a couple of hours so I enjoyed watching my dojo mates during their tests, as well as watching some of my other friends from around the region.  I wasn't feeling nervous at all, but calm and collected.  I was definitely ready to face the judging panel and show them that I was ready for a new rank.

My turn was finally up.  For nidan I had to go through two sparring matches and then kata (nihon kata 1-7).  I stepped in for my first match, bowed in, and once things started I focused solely on my partner.  I wanted to not only get good strikes in, but do so with beautiful technique and work on not only responding to openings but creating my own.  I think I did a great job in the first match, and an even better job in the second.  I have seen many things I still need to work on, but for the most part I think I accomplished what I set out to do during the jigeiko portion of my test.

After all of the ranks (1 dan through 4 dan) finished their jigeiko we moved on to kata.  My partner for kata was a guy that I had tested with last year for shodan, and whom I had fought many times at tournaments.  I was shidachi (student side) for kata, as I have always been, and we ran through each one in succession.  I did my best to keep a connection with my partner, and focus not just on the steps themselves but on the overall feel, keeping in mind distancing and timing and being a shadow to my partner, who was leading the kata.  Again I was calm and collected throughout, which showed.  We bowed out and I was finally able to relax a bit, as my test was officially over.

After all of the various ranks had finished, we waited for the results.  I went to look up my number, 63, and was very pleased to see that I had a perfect score of five out of five on both keiko and kata.  Each judge at the panel believed I was ready for nidan.  I had done it!  I was also pleased to see and hear that my dojo mates had all passed their tests with flying colors, as well, although I was not surprised to see that they had done so well.  They were all ready, that's for sure.

For me, this marks the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new one.  As the sun sets, so too does it rise, and the future looks bright indeed! 

Photo courtesy of W. Sinclair