|Photo courtesy of T. Patana|
Our trip was a bit different this year. Most of the six people that we took to compete had engagements that needed to be worked around, so we all opted to leave later in the day which meant we missed out on practice at Bellevue Dojo that night. We arrived to the hotel pretty late, had a quick bite to eat and then headed to bed. The next day came early, not only due to the late night but also due to us helping set up the courts this year. We arrived bright and early and got to work helping set everything up. I also had a new responsibility this year as I volunteered to be a court coordinator. Basically I had to supervise one of the four courts and make sure that each job had a body to fill it, and to get people changed out when needed, etc. It was definitely a bigger job than I first thought and it kept me busy on my court most of the day. I was still free to watch a lot of the matches but I ended up hovering around my court most of the day to make sure that people were taken care of.
The afternoon brought the beginning of my division, which I would be sharing with four other Spokane members. The 1-2 Dan division was made up of many competitors and spread across two courts. My first match was actually well into the second round, and my opponent was a member of the Tozenji Dojo. I'd never seen him before so I wasn't sure what to expect, but I knew that Tozenji had good, strong kendo so I readied myself for that. I stepped onto the court bowed in, and started the match. I tried to take some time and see what to expect from my opponent. He was strong, and fast, like I had imagined he would be, but he was also very good at fending off my own attacks. He was the first to score, with a men strike that found its mark. We reset and after a few more exchanges I was able to tie up the match with a debana kote. We fought and fought for a bit, and ended up running out of time. First encho. Again we exchanged blows but neither of us were able to gain the upper hand. We went into a second encho, well on our way to forcing a judge's decision in hantei. I, however, was able to take the match with a big swing to kote.
Final Score: 2-1 (Ruiz in encho)
I sat back, watched, and awaited my next match. I ended up stepping onto the court with a member of the Vancouver Dojo this time. Again, I found my opponent to be strong and fast, and possessing good technique. We fought through about half the match when I had a moment of hesitation. This moment cost me the first point, as my opponent quickly took my men. We battled through the rest of the match but I was unable to take the point back. He took the much-deserved win.
Final Score: 1-0 (A. Lee)
My opponent went on to fight solidly and take first place in our division. With the team matches coming up shortly I wanted to try and be ready for them, despite my loss. We ended up matched with Tozenji in our first match. First match in individuals, first match in teams. I watched my dojo mates go and perform solidly against their opponents, drawing a tie and a close loss, before taking the court myself. I was in the chuken position on my team and was up against another opponent I'd never seen. Ishikawa, from Tozenji. He proved to be the death of me. The match started and from the get go he faked me out with a men-to-kote. Fortunately he hit a little high and did not get the point, although my resolve was already shaken. We fought for a short time before he unleashed a hiki kote out of nowhere to take the first point. We reset and I tried my best to fend him off while also trying to take my own point for a tie, but I was unable to do either. He stepped in near the end of the match and struck my men to take the second point and end the match. The rest of the team fought well, taking their matches by one point each, but unfortunately it wasn't enough to overcome Tozenji's point advantage. We fought hard, and we fought well, but the match belonged to Tozenji.
Final Score: 2-0 (Ishikawa)
Team Score: 2-2 (Tozenji by 1 point)
Our team was out, but we still got to witness some amazing kendo. I especially enjoyed watching the Mexican team, who ended up taking third place. They were all so strong and sure with their kendo. I saw a lot that I liked and a lot that I would love to bring to my own technique. The last match of the day, Youshinkan vs. Hawaii, ended in another win for Hawaii's team. This is the second year in a row they've taken first place in the team division. They all fought well, and it was fun to see not just one, but two nito players on their team.
I fought as well as I could on that day, but I did feel that something was lacking. I actually had a talk with Sinclair Sensei about this the other day, and he gave me some really good advice that I took to heart and already put into practice. I definitely liked the change in attitude that I saw in myself and I'm going to try and continue to focus on what he gave me to focus on. We don't have long until the Kent Taikai, only a few weeks, but I am confident that I can boost my mental technique and confidence before then so I can continue to do the best kendo that I'm capable of, while also raising the bar for myself and those around me.