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Rose City Taikai 2015

Last weekend our dojo participated in the 2015 Rose City Taikai, hosted by our friends at the Obukan Kendo Club in Portland.  We had eight members, competing across five different individual divisions and the team division.  All in all, we did really well, and I was happy to see that our newer members were able to fight well while also keeping the excellent basics that they've been working on.  I also had my first chance to be an official shinpan.  I didn't get to do many matches, as we had a lot of the higher-ranks on our court and they kept changing me out for 4 Dan or up, but it was fun nonetheless.  This year I was also in the big boys' division - 3 Dan & Up.  It was quite the experience, and one that I'm about to share with anyone that wants to read it...

Our division started after lunch, so I was able to watch some amazing kendo before my matches.  I was quite a ways in, too, and saw some surprises within our division.  My match was up at the end of the second round, as I had a bye.  My opponent was a kenshi I've fought before, at this very tournament.  B. Choi, from Kogakukan.  He is tall, quick, and fights from jodan, so I had quite the fight on my hand.  The match started and I stood up, too my kamae and exerted my spirit by way of kiai. I tried to focus on distance and keeping control of the match, and not letting my opponent get me out of my "zone".  While I looked fairly calm and collected throughout the match, I honestly felt that he was getting his strikes in better than me.  He had a lot of almost moments, where a flag would go up and be waved off.  I didn't let that bother me, though, and kept pressuring, attacking, and countering where I saw opportunities to do so, or where I happened to create opportunities to do so.  The match went through this deadlock, into first encho.  He started with kote, which he had done at the beginning of the match, and I countered with nuki men.  While it found its mark, the hit was way too deep so we continued on.  Again, neither of us were able to get the advantage so we went into second encho.  I decided to press the attack early, and came flying off the line with a kote that nearly landed. I got one flag, at least.  I stood my ground, keeping calm and looking for anything I could use to take the advantage.  About halfway through he went for another kote, and that was it.  I let it come, reeled back and let loose with another nuki men.  Three flags went up.  We bowed out and I found myself moving into the next round.

Final Score: 1-0 (Ruiz in encho)

My next opponent was S. Day, from Kent.  I'd fought him multiple times.  His size and reach are very intimidating, and he had taken out two good opponents already that day, so I had to do my best if I wanted a chance of reaching the next round.  We stepped in, bowed, and began.  Things started off fairly slow, as we both felt each other out.  I knew that he would jump on any opportunity I gave him to score, and I believe he felt the same about me, so we both worked to probe around and see what we could find.  attacks came and went, counters were attempted, and we were at a virtual standstill for most of the match.  I felt that he was the aggressor in the match, as he was attacking quite a bit more than I was, but that was ok with me.  I was looking for just the right opportunity and found it about 2/3 of the way in.  All the fighting that he'd done had started to wear him out, and I was able to get in a hiki men to take the first point.  We rest and after a few short seconds time expired.  I'd made it through to the next round.

Final Score: 1-0 (Ruiz)

Semi-finals.  Time to shine.  My opponent was none other than Choi Sensei, from Portland Kendo Club.  He is a strong 5 Dan so I knew I had an uphill battle from the beginning.  We stepped in and the match started.  Immediately I felt the pressure.  He inched in closer and closer, and try as I might I felt I couldn't gain any ground with him.  I'd pressure in, he'd pressure back even more.  I'd step to the side or adjust distance, he'd immediately take that from me and keep coming.  I wonder if people ever feel like than when they fight me?  The match was almost entirely seme and pressure between us, but I knew I was losing.  The first exchange of attacks didn't come until over a minute into the match.  Choi stepped in for kote, which I neutralized with my own kote.  We move in tsubazeriai a bit before regaining our distance and resumed the seme face-off.  The next attack came almost two minutes in.  I stepped in and feinted to men, and he responded with a quick men-kote to close the distance.  As we backed up and regained our positions again, I thought I could get him to "flinch" again, so I stepped in, raised my sword high and went for men.  Joke was on me, though, as he kept an unflinching kamae and I semi-impaled myself on it as I came in to strike.  Oops.  The match reset and after a few more seconds of seme and pressure and backing me up, he stepped in and went for kote again.  Unfortunately for me my kote was a hair slower this time, and he took the first point on me.  The match reset once again and I did my best to regain even footing with him, while also being careful not to get taken out for being too reckless with my attacks.  We squared off again, back and forth a bit, and at one point I thought I might have had him.  I broke distance way back, and as I stepped in I quickly attacked his men.  He was ready for it, and answered with kaeshi-dou, but my attack was quick and got in before his block.  But, I found out later, that the mechanics were all slightly off, so no point was given.  The match ended soon after.  I lost the match, but I felt I was close. I definitely learned a lot and have a lot to work on from here on out.  Third place, though, that's commendable and something I'm proud of achieving.

Final Score: 1-0 (Choi)

I was proud that I'd made it so far and placed in a division that had so many skilled people in it, and I was happy to see that one of my fellow dojo mates also took third place.  But we would need to save our celebrations because we still had the team division.  This year we were able to field two teams, and I was placed on our A team.  Our first match was against Portland B.  I was chosen to be senpo for this taikai, so I was first up.  My opponent was a kyu named Vielhaber.  I'd never seen him before, and as always I readied myself to do my best and hopefully take an early victory for our team.  The match started and I flew off the line at his kote, although wasn't able to connect properly.  He fought back, darting in and out as best he could, but I was focused and calm throughout the match. I pressured in and struck men from the right side (ura) of his shinai to take the first point.  We restarted and I was able to take a second point quickly after catching him while he backed out of tsubazeriai.  The first match was done, and I was happy to see the rest of my teammates do as well, taking three more wins and a tie. 

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

Our next match was against the team from Northwest.  They had a lot of good players so we knew it would be a hard fight, but we had one distinct advantage in the fact that they were only able to bring four people into the match.  That gave us an automatic 2-point victory to start with.  I wanted to keep this advantage as best I could, and I knew it would be no easy task.  My opponent was Hashimoto, a young, fast shodan from Japan.  I knew about him because I heard that he is actually going to be training with us through the summer, and possibly beyond, so I was looking forward to seeing him in action.  The match started and I can say that I wasn't disappointed.  He was very fast, and I had to do my best to try and control the distance.  Any time I got anywhere near his striking distance, he came at me like a snake.  I fought back as best I could, but he was able to take the first point with a hiki men that caught me completely by surprise.  The match started again, and I turned up the pressure while also trying to keep control of the distance. I was able to take back the point when I pressure in for kote and caught him backing up.  The kote didn't connect, but with a quick step and another attack I took his men.  We fought out the rest of the match to end in a tie.  It was a great match, and I was very happy that I had been able to counter his speed as best I could.  I'm looking forward to training with him and gaining some of the speed for myself.  The rest of our matches were very close, with our taisho pulling out a 2-1 victory at the end to seal the match for us.

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

We made it to the semi finals.  Only a couple more matches and we could claim victory.  Sounds easy, but we had some tough opponents ahead of us.  Obukan A stood in our way, and they proved to be quite the challenge this year.  I was ready to fight.  My opponent in this match would be Nakayama.  He had a very quiet style, but very deceptive.  He is very good, and I knew I'd have to watch out and do my absolute best to walk away from the match with a victory.   Things started and we felt each other out a bit, both of us trying to get a read on the other person.  This was the first time we'd fought, so I only knew what to expect based on what I'd seen of him in other matches.  After a few exchanges with no points, he pressured in and...I froze.  I completely froze up.  He went for kote-men and took the first point easily.  I remember thinking to myself that I was going to attack, then he stepped in and I thought "What is he doing?" right before he got me.  We restarted the match and I tried to step it up a bit, being more active.  He put me away, though, as I stepped in for men and he countered with kaeshi-dou.  Hmmm, back to the drawing board for me.  It was a good match, and he definitely outclassed me that day.  The rest of our matches went back and forth, with us taking a 1-0 win in the second match, a couple ties, and another 1-0 loss.  We fought well, but unfortunately we weren't able to take back the advantage. 

Final Score: 2-0 (Nakayama)
Team Score: 2-1 (Obukan A)

It was a good match, we all fought well, but in the end we weren't able to claim victory.  Third place isn't bad, though, and we all fought well and should all be proud of how we did.  Obukan A faced off against Highline in the final match,with Highline narrowly taking the win and first place this year.  I, for one, learned a lot from my time there.  I had a lot of good matches, close calls, and learned a lot and came out of it with a lot of advice and ideas for improvement.  I'm excited to train through this next year and come back in 2016, better than ever.

Photo courtesy of W. Sinclair


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