Thursday, December 5, 2013

Kent Taikai 2013 - Jazz Hands Everywhere!

Photo courtesy of W. Sinclair
A couple weekends ago our dojo traveled to Seattle to participate in the 17th Annual Kent Taikai, and there was definitely no shortage of great kendo to be had!  This tournament is interesting in that it's only for sandan and below, so to me it feels like the competition is a bit closer and heated amongst the participating individuals and dojos.  I say this because, in the team matches especially, there is no chance that I'll randomly be paired against a godan or rokudan, although on the other hand a lower kyu that gets paired against a sandan in a team match is probably feeling that sting that I'm talking about a bit more.  This time out I wasn't in charge of any of the courts so I had free reign to cheer on my friends and fellow dojo mates (and help out when necessary, of course!).  I was also able to visit with some of my kendo buddies, including my friend Mia.  She was the inspiration for the post title, because when I saw her she threw up her hands and waved them around.  Jazz hands!  I have to say that her match against Frank during teams was highly entertaining and I believe the whole room stopped to watch that one!

I watched great matches all day long, as our division (1-3 Dan) wasn't up until right near the very end.  Wendy and Jeff both had a strong showing in the Senior 1-3 Dan (45 years and up) division, both taking 3rd place finishes.  One of our newer, younger members also had a strong showing in his first tournament, and his team placed 3rd in the Junior Teams division.  As my time crept closer I warmed up and readied myself for my first match...

...Which turned out to be against none other than Janell, a member of our PNKF Women's team that competes at nationals.  I definitely had my work cut out for me.  The only obvious advantage I could see that I had over her was my reach, and I was going to try and use it as much as I could in our match.  We bowed in and began our match.  Many times I pressured in and got the response that I wanted, only to fail to capitalize on the openings or situations that were presented to me.  Over and over I did this, not knowing why I couldn't bring myself to follow-up like I knew I should.  We fought for about half the match and she finally took a well-deserved kote on me.  I fought to get it back but after a while time was called.  She took a well deserved victory over me and moved into the next round.  Well, so much for individuals this time around!

Final Score: 1-0 (Frazier-Day)

I might have been out of the individuals but I cheered on my fellow dojo mates as they fought their own matches.  Everyone had strong showings, and I was able to see some impressive kendo from the people in my division.  One thing that stuck in my mind was the devastating hiki-men that was delivered over and over by the eventual winner of our division, a kid named Ichikawa who fought for Bellevue Dojo.  I'd love to be able to strike hiki-men with such speed and explosive power, and seeing that has definitely inspired me to work on it myself.

The Senior Teams division started immediately after our division was finished, and we found ourselves in the first round of matches against Bellevue's B team.  They had a strong lineup, but unfortunately I believe that we had a big experience advantage on them.  Our strategy for this round was to finish them as best we could and not to underestimate any of them.  I was placed in the chuken (middle) position and barely had time to get my men tied and get ready before I had to step out onto the court for my own match.  Our first two members had won their matches 2-0 in mere seconds.  My opponent, Sipko, had taken second place in the 0-4 kyu division; a division that I had won at this taikai a few years' prior to this.  I stepped onto the court, bowed to my opponent, and the match began.  I immediately took control of the fight by strongly stepping in and going for a men-to-kote fake.  I hit a little deep so wasn't able to take that point, but my next kote a second later found its mark.  We reset and I flew in again with a men strike to take the next point and the match.  This sealed out victory, as we had taken the first three matches, but our last two members fought their opponents with as much energy as they had and gave their all to their opponents.  

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)
Team Score: 4-1 (Spokane)

Our second team match was against Seattle.  They always field strong teams, and this year was no different.  Our first two members, while not winning their matches as fast, were able to walk away with two solid wins for our team, displaying some very impressive kendo in the process.  My match was up and I was facing a very daunting sandan from Seattle, Phancenek.  He was a wall of an opponent, but I wasn't deterred.  I stepped in to start the match and immediately launched at his kote.  I wasn't able to hit it, but as he moved to push into me I side-stepped and threw his hands to the side, knocking him slightly off-balance.  The next few exchanges ended with a lot of shoving, a lot of dancing around taiatari by myself, and then me on the receiving end of a missed katate-tsuki which nearly sent my men flying off of my head.  The match was stopped temporarily while I sat and re-tied my men, simultaneously collecting my thoughts and my focus again.  I was definitely not going to lie down for that, but I was able to get myself back in check so that I could try and effectively take out my opponent.  I stepped back to the line and the match commenced.  I noticed that my opponent was a lot less forceful and physical this time around, and I was able to do my kendo without fear of being thrown around the court.  After a few exchanges I landed a men strike to take the first point, and shortly after restarting I landed one of the many kote that I had peppered him with to take the match.  Our last two members fought just as well as in the last round, both taking well-deserved victories to solidify our win.  We were on our way up again!

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)
Team Score: 5-0 (Spokane)

We were in the semi-final match, and our opponents this time were the members of the Kent Dojo.  We'd fought them many times before, and I was ready for a good match with good opponents and friends.  The match started and our first two members won their matches at 1-0 and 2-0, respectively.  My match was next and my opponent was my friend Ian, whom I've fought a couple of times in the past.  He is currently sandan, and a strong one at that, so I knew I had my hands full.  We started out pressuring each other, checking for weaknesses.  I honestly wasn't sure if I could win a match against him or not, but I was going to try and at least not lose.  I did this not by trying to stall and tie him up, but by doing good kendo.  I used everything I had and made clear, calculated attacks to try and score while also keeping him from landing anything on me.  There were a couple of close calls on both sides, and at one point I even had a flag in my favor here and there but nothing that stuck.  At the end of the match we came to a tie, although talking with Ian afterward we both felt that we wanted to keep on fighting, simply for the joy of fighting a good match against a tough opponent.  Our last two members fought beautifully, again, and Wendy was able to hold her opponent to one point in a nail-biting final match to keep us alive and in the lead.  

Final Score: 0-0
Team Score: 2-2 (Spokane by 1 point)

We made it to the finals!  One more round of matches would decide if we were going to stand tall as champions or if we would stand tall as almost-champions.  Either way, we had all fought hard, fought well, and deserved our place in the finals.  Our last opponents were the members of Highline Dojo.  I've always admired Highline, and they consistently produce kenshi with very impressive form and technique.  The matches started and our first two members found themselves in the toughest team matches of the day, each barely losing to their opponents.  My match came up and I found myself face-to-face with a guy named Chikuma, whom I'd just met that day in the lunchroom.  A little background on this mach-up; Chikuma is a friend of one of my friends, an exchange student that we had at our dojo from Japan.  He trained with us for a few months and even fought at the Obukan Taikai back in June on our team, doing exceptionally well and helping us take first place in teams.  I knew my friend to be very good and very fast, so I expected no less from his friend that now stood before me.  The match started and he immediately launched at my men.  I was ready and threw a kote of my own, but hit slightly high and was unable to take the point.  We exchanged blows for about half the match before he finally came in with another fast men that landed successfully.  We restarted and, try as I might, I was unable to take the point back.  Lots of close calls but no points for me.  The match ended when Chikuma landed a kote on me.  Our final members fought bravely, but unfortunately the round was already sealed.  Highline emerged victorious, and we took a well-deserved second place finish.  

Final Score: 2-0 (Maekawa)
Team Score: 4-0 (Highline)

Again, great kendo and great fellowship throughout the day.  I felt pretty good about my turnaround in the team matches, and I'll be working on taking advantage of those openings, whether I create them or they are presented to me.  Everyone on our team and from our dojo did extremely well, and I don't think any of us gave less than 100% of themselves.  I'll definitely be working hard to improve for next year, and I can't wait to return and see how things have changed between now and then.

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