Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Japan Week 2013

Photo provided by J. Fugitt
 Japan Week is a yearly even that goes on in our little town; a celebration of Japanese culture throughout the city.  Naturally our dojo is a big part of this event, and the past couple of years we've organized a dinner to celebrate and introduce people to a bit of the culture first-hand.  We used last year as a template and set out to improve upon that dinner, and I'd say that we succeeded.  I hope that our guests felt the same way!

The Wave, a local Japanese restaurant/sushi bar catered the event again, and once again the food was outstanding.  This year we decided to get some servers to help with the food, which made a huge difference. Everyone got their fill, even their seconds and thirds, and we still had plenty of food left over.  During the dinner Spokane Taiko performed and they sounded amazing.  I also think they picked up a few new recruits.  The iaido group also put on a demo, showing the crowd the elegance and grace of drawing, cutting, and sheathing a sword.

After about an hour it was our turn to go.  We started with kata, and since we had very little room we presented them as a single pair at a time.  I was partnered with Seth for the duration of the demo, and we decided on sanbonme, with me as shidachi.  I have to say, in my opinion, we did a great job with it. The distancing all throughout was spot on, as well as the movements themselves.  I really focused on blocking out the crowd and treating it like I was performing kata for a shinsa, which helped put me in a great mindset to showcase the best I had.  After the other groups went we put on our men and kote and went into some uchikomi drills to show them the various tragets, a bit of kirikaeshi, and then a few matches.  Once again I was paired with Seth, with Billy calling points.  I scored first, after knocking down Seth's attempt to strike my kote and delivering a men that found its mark. He retaliated with a hiki men and then a regular men to take the match 2-1.  We put on a good show for the crowd all throughout.

The next day we performed another demo, as part of the opening ceremony at the downtown mall.  Once again I was paired with Seth for kata and everything else.  We decided on yonhonme this time, and once again I was shidachi.  We moved fluidly through the whole thing again, minding our timing and distance with each other and the crowd.  We moved into uchikomi drills again, and this time I used a combination of big strikes and small strikes to demonstrate the various attacks.  I don't know if anyone in the crowd noticed what I was doing but it made me feel good :-).

Seth and I were paired up for the final match of the demo, with Billy emphasizing "young, fast people that are fun to watch" before we stepped out.  We traded blows a bit and I was able to catch Seth with a debana kote, and then a bit later with a hiki men to take the match 2-0.  Once again I feel that we gave the crowd a good show, although at one point I did slip on the mall floor while trying to launch an attack.  I stayed on my feet, but the attack was definitely nothing to write home about!

I love these demos.  It's fun to be able to show people what kendo is, and let them see various levels of experience and age ranges performing, both male and female.  We had kids fighting with each other.  We had giant men fighting less-than-giant females.  And, as Billy said, we showed a bit of the "young, fast guys" that are just fun to watch.  Although I wouldn't exactly call myself young or fast!  Maybe younger than some, and maybe faster than some is more appropriate.  I'm definitely looking forward to the next demo, when we can come together again as a dojo and show the town this martial art that we love so much.

And now for some pictures!  All pictures were graciously provided by J. Fugitt of Spokane Taiko.


Monday, April 15, 2013

UW Invitational Taikai 2013

Photo courtesy of T. Patana
The 37th Annual UW Invitational Taikai was held this past weekend, and what a memorable event it was.  Not only for the taikai itself, which brought together kenshi from all over the Pacific Northwest and Canada (even a couple of competitors from Hawaii), but also for some of the "natural disasters" that occurred during the tournament.  I'll get to those later.

We headed over on Friday and the first noticeable thing to me was the absence of Sinclair Sensei.  He was in Boise for karate training and unfortunately could not be with us at this tournament.  But Wendy Sinclair Sensei did a great job of taking care of us and making sure everything was taken care of before, during, and after the trip.  Ten of us headed over to compete, and we spanned the 1-3 kyu, 1-2 dan, and 3 dan divisions.  We were also able to field two teams for the team division.  I found myself on the A team, and was placed as sempo (1st position).  While not a normal position for me I was ready to take up the new challenge and set the pace for the rest of my team.

After a great training on Friday night with our Bellevue friends, we made our way to the taikai on Saturday morning (after some batter problems).  We all had some time to kill after the opening ceremony, and I used that time to check out some great action in the women's open and 3 dan divisions, as well as scoping out my first opponent.  After a couple of hours my division, 1-2 dan, began and I started to prepare for my first match.

My first opponent was a woman from the Steveston Kendo Club, in Canada.  I've fought many of their members before and I know that they all have strong kendo.  I was also able to watch her matches in the women's open.  I was sad to see one of my friends lose to her in their first match, but I gained some valuable insight on her kendo and was able to put that to good use in our match.  We started off and I tried to use my height and reach advantage to keep her at a distance.  She was quick and was able to shut down most everything I tried, but I was able to neutralize her as well.  After about a minute I launched for another men strike, but quickly pulled back when she went to block and hit her kote to take the first point.  We reset and not long after I was able to catch her with a men strike as she turned to face me.  First match of the day down, and I was happy to not only win against a strong opponent but also avenge my friend.  That one was for you, Mia! :)

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)

My next match was with not only another woman, but one of my friends from Bellevue.  I couldn't let that get in the way, though, because Bernice was also on the junior national PNKF team a couple of years ago and I knew I couldn't give her any advantage or else she would take me out.  Again I found myself with a reach and height advantage, but I had to be very careful because I also had quite a big weight advantage on her and didn't want to win with "big guy" kendo.  The match started and we exchanged blows for a while, both of us getting some close calls and some flags that were waved off by the other judges.  After the full three minutes we found ourselves at a standstill and had to settle it in encho (overtime).  After exchanging blows again we found ourselves in close with each other.  I stepped back and pulled out a hiki-kote, which I never do, which caught her unaware.  I took the point and the match.

Final Score: 1-0 (Ruiz in encho)

I had a bye in my next match and found myself in the quarter-finals.  My next opponent was none other than one of our sensei's sons and my friend, Andy.  We train together a lot and he is very good so I knew I was going to have a good, and challenging, match ahead of me.  We stepped in, bowed, and began the match.  He was very quick, throwing men and kote at me which I was, fortunately, able to block or counter.  I was unable to land anything of my own, though.  Sometimes because I was off-target, sometimes because I would hit and stop (a bad habit I will be correcting soon).  We were both at a standstill with each other for almost the entire match, until Andy landed a nice men strike on me in the last few seconds of the match.  We reset and I immediately rushed him, trying to get him to go for my kote.  It worked perfectly, and I wound up for nuki men and...he blocked it.  I was just a little too slow on the counter.  Time was called immediately after and we bowed out.  I had lost, but it was a great match nonetheless.

Final Score: 1-0 (A. Sinclair)

My time in individuals was done, but I felt good about how I did.  I think that my footwork was a lot better than it has been, and I'll continue to work on it to make it even snappier and more efficient.  I also noticed that I was a bit too nice in my matches and wasn't taking advantage of a lot of the openings that I saw.  I was too concerned with playing it safe, I think, instead of letting my body do what it does.  This is almost why I like losing more than winning; I can see where my faults are and I have a clear idea of what to improve on for next time.

I watched the rest of the matches and saw some great kendo, both from our members and other members.  One thing that really impressed me was Mr. Mabale, a yondan from Seattle Kendo Kai, who executed a, in my opinion, perfectly set up debana kote.  I was also able to witness S. Asaoka Sensei, from Youshinkan, fighting from jodan.  I had not seen this side of him before and it was really fun to watch.  After the 4 dan+ division we readied ourselves for the team matches.  Fortunately our two teams had been split up enough that we would not face each other until the finals.

Our first match was against Tozenji, from Canada.  We all knew we had a tough match ahead of us, and it was up to me to set the level for the rest of our team.  My opponent, Takahashi, and I stepped up to the line for our match.  He was quite fast, but a little hesitant with me, it seems, and I was able to finally take advantage of that and score a hiki-kote about halfway through our match.  We reset and we both fought our best but I was able to hold him off and take the first match for our team.  My teammates did well in all of their matches, and we were able to take our first team match and move on to the next round.

Final Score: 1-0 (Ruiz)
Team Score: 3-1 (Spokane A)

We sat on the sidelines and watched the match between Bellevue and Steveston A develop, as one of them would be our next opponents.  They were tied after their final match, which forced an encho round.  After a grueling match Steveston A took the win and would move on to face us in round two.  We were once again faced with a tough match.  We all bowed in and I stepped up to face my opponent, P. Lee.  He was a big guy and had a reach advantage on me so I naturally thought he would try to go for my men.  I found out how wrong I was when he popped my kote right from the start to take the first point.  We reset and I tried my best to at least take the point back and possibly win, but my efforts were shut down each time.  We fought for a while longer and he scored another kote on me to end the match.  My dojo mates fought hard and were able to pull out some surprising results in their matches, but in the end Steveston A outplayed us and took the win.

Final Score: 0-2 (P. Lee)
Team Score: 0-2 (Steveston A)

Steveston A eventually went on to win the division, taking out their own Steveston B in the final match.  Speaking of the final match, we had not one but two power outages!  The first came immediately after the chuken match and lasted for about 10 minutes.  The second came right in the middle of the taisho match.  The competitors actually fought for a few seconds in pitch-black darkness before the judges called a stop to the match and declared it a draw.  Kudos to them for not stopping until the judges told them to, even in the midst of a power outage.

The way home was paved with a bit of difficulty, as well.  On top of having battery issues, we found out that the pass had been closed!  Luckily for us we have some very good friends in Seattle, and I'd like to thank Miss Shinoda for giving us emergency housing for the night.  Nothing like a hot shower and a comfy place to sleep after some bad luck like that!  We were able to venture over the pass the next day and arrive home safely.

I love these trips, so much.  I was able to witness some great kendo and a lot of inspiration for my own training.  I fought a bunch of new people and made some new friends and caught up with old ones, and I found some new things to work on and improve.  I'm looking forward to getting back to the dojo so I can continue to improve myself and my kendo!

Thursday, April 4, 2013


I heard a saying a while ago, and I've talked about it here before, but it's something that deserves bringing up every now and again.  "Kendo is eighty percent footwork, and twenty percent swordwork."  Along with basics, this has always been a key focus for me and even though I don't have the prettiest footwork or body carriage right now I do my best to work on it and make it the best that I can.  I hold onto the belief that you can have the most beautiful and effective sword strikes in the world, but if you don't have the footwork to get you to the target then it won't mean a thing.

We've been focusing a lot on footwork lately, doing some old and new drills and even doing some ladder drills, which have proven to be interesting and very entertaining.  The main focus has been on short, quick steps.  We're not trying to cover a long distance with each step and getting from one end of the dojo to the other the fastest isn't the point.  Each step should be smooth, quick and snappy, and there should be a lot of small steps instead of a few large steps, if that makes sense.  While these have been a killer on my hips, I can see progress being made and improvement when I'm doing other drills.  Also, the hips don't seem to be keeping me out for long these days.  I do have to step out every once in a while to stretch them, especially after our intense footwork drills lately, but I'm usually ready to go again a rotation or two later.  As long as I keep on top of them at the dojo and at home I hope to get rid of all the pain and soreness one of these days, just like I did with my shins.

Technique-wise, I'm still ironing out my kote, as well as working on some new oji waza.  I'd like to take some of those techniques that I'm not good at and shy away from and turn them into strengths.  I definitely don't have a shortage of techniques to work on, either!  Along with the footwork and techniques, I've also been working on being more explosive, especially when I strike and move past my partners.  I was recently given a bit of insight by one of my dojo mates, and have been using it to give my follow-through a completely different feel.  It's hard work, but it will be worth it when I can start doing it without even thinking.

I was able to talk to my sensei a couple weeks ago about what it means to be nidan in our dojo, and some ideas on where to take my kendo at this point.  One of the points that came up again was my endurance and conditioning, especially my joint health (see hips, above).  While still a weak point for me, I've been working to improve it by running and exercising outside of the dojo, as well as changing my eating habits a few months ago (still hit or miss on that one, but it's better these days).  I was also given some suggestions on how to help my breathing in practice, because I have noticed for a while now that my breathing is very inefficient and definitely detracts from my performance at practice.  It's nice to have all these things to work on and keep me busy!

Our next tournament, the UW Taikai, is just over a week away.  I don't know if I'll have anything shocking and head-turning under my belt by that time, but I can feel the improvements in myself.  Little by little, step by step, that's how this lifelong journey will go, and someday I'll look back and realize that I just climbed a mountain with all those little steps.