|Photo courtesy of T. Patana|
That being said, I do have an update! Our Spokane Kendo Club participated in the 2014 Highline Taikai this past weekend. I've always enjoyed this tournament for it's friendly atmosphere and small dojo. It always makes me feel like I'm reconnecting with old friends for a weekend of fun. This is second year that they have included a 1-2 Dan division, as well, so it was fun to compete and rub elbows with some old and new friends.
The day started off well, with a couple of our mudansha competing in their division. One of them had his very first taikai experience, and was able to get his feet wet with some real live competition. I think he learned a lot and will hopefully use that experience to the best of his abilities. Our other competitor in the mudansha division did really well and displayed great technique and basics and was able to make it to the quarter finals before his run ended. Both of them did extremely well under the tournament pressure and it was nice to see good quality kendo from both of them.
The 1-2 Dan division began around noon, and we had, as is typical for this tournament, a round-robin grouping wherein we were placed in groups of 3-4 and would fight amongst all the other people in our group until two winners were determined. The top two competitors would move on to the medal rounds. My first opponent was a guy that I was somewhat familiar with but never had the pleasure of fighting until that day. Lui from OSU. We started the match and I began a bit cautiously, as I knew he was very good. I pressed in a bit to see what reactions I could get, and then struck when I thought I had the opening. Turns out I didn't get the kote but I was able to move in fast enough to avoid a counter. We fought back and forth a bit before I was finally able to take the one and only point in the match; suriage men. I'd been working on that technique for quite a while, and was happy to be able to pull it out in the heat of the match. We reset and both fought well, but even though my opponent landed a few strikes that I thought were good and should have scored, the match ended with me still having the advantage.
Final Score: 1-0 (Ruiz)
My next opponent was from Bellevue, C Kim. I had caught glimpses of him from the Friday practice with Bellevue so I had a good idea of what to expect. We bowed in and started the match, and I immediately noticed an opening and went for it. I was able to land a quick men strike from the start to take the first point and the lead. After resetting we fought a bit and I tried to take my time and not do anything to give him an opening, while also trying to find or create another opening of my own. We fought for a good while, back and forth, before I was able to open up his men for another point and the match.
Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)
I had made it out of our group, sitting in the first spot. My next opponent was Bogucharov, from Bellevue. I had fought him and barely pulled out a win last year, so I was curious to see how things would play out this time with us both having more time and experience under our belts. We bowed in and the match started. I pressed in early, and went for his kote. He was ready for it and countered with men, but I moved in quick enough to avoid giving him the opening. We both stepped back and I pressured in again. This time he went for my kote. I launched a quick nuki men that found its mark and gave me the first point. We reset and fought back and forth again. I ended up stepping out at one point during hiki do. I didn't hear the call so I thought I had gotten the point and when he rushed in I quickly stepped to the side and landed a nice hiki men that popped its target. Too bad it was all in vain because they had already called me out of bounds seconds before that! We reset again and after a flurry of debana kotes (none of which found their mark) I was able to pressure in and hit men again for the final point and the match.
Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)
I'd made it to the quarter finals. Just a few more matches and victory would be mine! Standing in my way, though, was a petite Japanese girl by the name of Oya. I'd watched her match with one of my friends right before mine and saw that she was very quick, very good and would take me out in a heartbeat if I let her. We bowed in and started the match, and she immediately sprang up and came at me. I stepped back a couple of times and barely had time to block her initial men strike. Again I realized that this was not going to be an easy match at all. I fought back and kept her at bay as best I could, and for a while neither of us could land a good attack on the other. That changed when I pressured in and launched a men strike against her, which she was ready for. She countered with debana kote to take the first point. We reset and I fought hard, trying to win back the point. It looked like I was going to lose it, until second before time was called I snuck under her shinai and landed a kote to tie things up. Shortly after we reset again, time was called. We were going into overtime! We started again and both fought hard for a few seconds, but she side-stepped me and launched another quick men that connected, giving her the point and the win.
Final Score: 2-1 (Oya in encho)
Oya went on to win our division, defeating her opponent in the finals by 2-0. I didn't place in that tournament, but I didn't feel bad, either. I demonstrated my best kendo and I felt that I kept the quality high all throughout my matches. I genuinely felt, at the end of the day, that the kendo I brought outshined any wins or losses that I had that day. I have been putting in a lot of extra training these past couple months and I feel that it showed. I had better footwork, better body posture and movement, and a much improved men strike. I hope to keep up this tempo and improvement, branching out to fix some other issues that I noticed during the weekend and previously in my training. For the day, though, I felt like I might not have won the tournament, but I definitely won in kendo.