Friday, June 21, 2013

Small Class, Big Spirit

Wednesday night an odd thing happened.  Due to various circumstances (injuries, plans, etc) I found myself as the only yudansha at training, among a class of about 10 people.  Wendy Sinclair Sensei was there, but she was busy teaching class and making sure we were all doing what we were supposed to so she didn't have an opportunity to jump in with us.  Even though we didn't have that many people, we more than made up for it with the amount of spirit and energy we had.  I felt a duty to lead by example, and so with each and every person I gave 100%, even while nursing a couple of injuries of my own.  That didn't slow m down or stop me, although at one point at the end of class it did make me do fumikomi in place when I would strike.

We took a bit of time during class to work on how to properly perform taiatari.  "Taiatari" translates to "body crash" and is a technique that is usually performed after a strike.  The two kenshi will literally crash into each other, usually in the hopes of unsettling the other person to create an opening for a follow-up attack.  Wendy emphasized using the whole body to crash, not just the arms, and I tried to reinforce this with each of my partners.  I always imagine bringing my hands and arms down to my center and curving them to create a circle between my arms and my body, and using this "circle" as a kind of spring or shock absorber depending on if I'm performing or receiving taiatari.  Also, I try to imagine all the energy from my center moving through that circle and into my hands when I crash into someone.  A lot of imagination going on!

The class size really made me think, and I realized that we don't need a huge class to have a successful practice.  Even though we were short on numbers, the spirit and intensity of everyone, and the hunger to improve, really made the difference.  I would definitely prefer a small class of really dedicated and energetic people than a whole room full of people that were just going through the motions, if given the choice.

Lately I've been working a lot on seme and pressure, and trying to have a purpose to my attacks.  I don't like blindly throwing attacks at my opponents and hoping that something lands.  Instead I want to create openings, or take advantage of an opening that is presented.  I had a good talk with my sensei about this today, actually, and will be putting some of his advice and suggestions to use for me over the next couple of weeks.  The lack of mobility, due to some injuries, has also helped me focus on this aspect of my kendo.  When I can't move myself effectively I'm left to the mercy of their movements in some cases, but that doesn't mean that I can't still control the engagement with pressure and timing.  I'll continue to work on this and incorporate it more and more into my practices.

I'm looking forward to more practices like Wednesday night, and I hope that the others that were present felt the intensity and will use that for their own gain in the future!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Rose City Taikai 2013

Photo courtesy of W. Sinclair
This past weekend was the Rose City Taikai in Portland, OR, hosted by the Obukan Kendo Club.  We took thirteen people down in the kendo van, with 12 of us competing across all divisions.  Once again the bulk of our competitors were entered into the 1-2 Dan division, my division, so I knew it would be a tough fight to the top.  Our weekend of kendo actually started that Friday because after a nine hour road trip we went straight to two hours of training with Obukan.  I was definitely feeling the exhaustion of the day and hoped that it wouldn't leak over into the tournament the next day.

Saturday arrived and we packed, ate and then headed out.  My division wasn't until right before the team matches, later in the day, so I had time to prepare and watch my teammates do their best.  My friend and dojo mate Yarrow pulled out a spectular win in the 1-2 Kyu division to take 1st place, and I got to see a lot of good matches from our people in the 3 Kyu and Below and Women's Open divisions, too, as well as strong showings from our two sandan that went and competed in the 3 Dan and Up division.  They took 3rd and 2nd place, both narrowly losing to Atagi Sensei from Idaho.  I even had an old high school friend show up to watch the tournament and cheer me on!

1-2 Dan finally arrived, and my first match ended up being a bye because my opponent did not show up that day.  This left a hollow feeling inside me.  I had come to fight!  I stepped in, bowed, and waited for them to declare me the winner before bowing and stepping out.  I visited with my friend a bit and cheered on my dojo mates before going out for my next match.

My next match was none other than Christianson, from UW.  I've fought him before and every time I've given him a good fight even if I ended up winning or losing.  Unfortunately that was not the case on Saturday.  I don't know what happened on my end.  Christianson fought very well and took me out quick with two great debana kote strikes.  With me, though, I don't know why I fell apart.  I came off the court and asked myself, as well as had others ask me, what happened and I didn't really have an answer for them.  I hear that this type of situation happens to everyone and this was the first time having it happen to me.  I've thought about it a lot since that day and the only thing I can think of is to try and improve to the point that I minimize or eliminate that kind of situation in the future.  My opponent took a well-deserved win against me and I'm only upset that I wasn't able to give him a worthy fight.

Final Score: 2-0 (Christianson)

So my time in individuals ended early.  I was able to watch my dojo mates go on to take 1st and 3rd place in that division and I just hoped that I could pull it together for teams.  I was placed on our A team as sempo, so it was my job to go out and set the tone and pace of the matches.  We had a bye in the first round (seemed to be a trend with me that day), so we moved straight into the second round and a match against Seattle.  I had my first opportunity to fight a nito player from outside of our dojo as I was set to fight against Walker.  The match started and I tried to catch him off guard, but he was already ready.  I lunged toward his kote but wasn't quick enough and hung out a bit too close for too long.  He nailed my men and took the first point.  We reset and I played a bit more conservatively, although aggressively.  I was able to fend off the rest of his attacks and about halfway through the match landed a kote to tie the match.  We ended in a tie but my teammates were able to win a few of their matches to give us the overall win.

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

We watched the matches between UW and Obukan to see who would be our opponents in the semi-finals.  Obukan pulled out a slim victory to move on.  After the matches my friend Mia came up to me and said, "We were so close to fighting each other!" I replied, "I know!  So close I could see your glasses!"  We had a good laugh.  One of these days we'll enjoy a match, either in taikai or in jigeiko, but today was not to be the day.  After the second round matches were over we started the semi-final round against Obukan.  My match was against a guy I've never fought before; a sandan named Holtorf.  I'd seen him before and had jigeiko with him a time or two in the past but this would be our first meeting in a taikai.  We started off and I immediately noticed that he had a strong center and kamae, and also did not give at all when we would taiatari.  I was unable to open him up to take a point, even though I was close a few times, and he eventually landed a hiki men to take the one and only point in our match.  I fought to get the point back and possibly take the match, but he neutralized me well and ended the match in his favor.  We started with a setback, but the other members were able to win a few matches to put us up and over the top and into the finals.

Final Score - 1-0 (Holtorf)
Team Score: 2-2 (Spokane A by 2 points)

We'd made it to the final round, and watched in anticipation as Kent battled our Spokane B team to see who would be joining us there.  The B team fought really, really well but barely lost out in the end and took 3rd place.  It would have been fun to have an all-Spokane final round!  Kent had a good team, and we knew this wouldn't be an easy fight.  Especially not easy for me as my opponent was a sandan named Morgan.  Off the court he's a great friend, but on the court he's a beast and I was honestly a bit nervous to fight him again.  Last time we met he beat me 1-0, in a team final match no less.  I stepped out for my match and when it began I decided to play it a little on the safe side so I wouldn't get taken out and put my team at a 2-0 disadvantage from the beginning.  I kept my distance and tried to pressure in to see if I could force a reaction, or to see if he would let down his guard.  He never did.  We ended up clashing and blocking and countering for the whole three-minute match but neither of us were able to land anything that was worthy of a point and so when it was all done we stepped off the court with a 0-0 tie on our hands.  I watched my teammates fight and noticed that our teams were very evenly matched.  Everyone ended up in a tie...everyone except one guy.  Our jiho match, Takahashi, pulled out a 2-0 win to give us the lead.  A lead we held until the end.  We stepped off the court as victors for the day, in a well-fought match against our friends from Kent.

This tournament was bittersweet for me.  It started out at a very low point.  A point that I will work hard to not repeat.  But I was able to pick it up a bit in teams and even though I didn't score many points there I feel like I held my own against some guys that have far more experience than me and I can claim a small victory in that.  I was also happy to see our dojo field two strong teams this year and I look forward to the time that we can create a Spokane A vs. Spokane B final team match.  That will be one for the history books!
Photo courtesy of M. Nelson
The first picture is Bob, my lizard friend for life.  I caught him just outside of the Stonehenge monument and he posed for some pictures with us.  The others are just a couple of shots from our hike up above Multnomah Falls, just outside of Portland:
Photo courtesy of W. Sinclair