Saturday, November 14, 2015

PNKF Taikai 2015

Photo Courtesy of T. Patana
This past weekend our dojo participated in the 41st Annual PNKF Taikai, the biggest tournament in our region.  We attracted competitors from all over our federation, Canada and Mexico.  And, due to exchange students being present, we also had a few Japanese students fighting with us.  Our Spokane team actually had a couple of our own, which helped fill out our ranks and add to our team for the team division.

We started out the day early, getting to the venue to help set up and make sure everything was ready to go.  Afterward I actually got to lead our dojo warm-up before the opening ceremonies.  This was something usually reserved for Billy, but unfortunately for us (and fortunately for him) he has since moved onto to hopefully greener pastures in Japan.  My division, 3 Dan, wasn't up until about midday, so I helped out on the court we were assigned to and tried to take in some of the shake-ups that were happening in the 4 Dan+ division, and also root on our own guys when their divisions came up.  Everyone was fighting extremely well that day and, win or lose, everyone gave it their all on the floor.

A few hours in and my division was finally ready to start.  I was the second match in, so I had one before to get my bearings and nerves in check and get ready to take the floor.  My first opponent was a guy that I've fought a few times, with our last meeting during the team finals at Kent last year ending in a draw.  Before our match I was talking and joking with him, both of us having a good laugh as friends before we faced each other as opponents.  Out on the floor for our match there would be no laughs, only fierce competition.  We stepped in and bowed to each other, awaiting that familiar "Hajime!" to start the match.  It came and I took my time to come to a good kamae and let my kiai out, letting my opponent know that I was ready for business.  I stepped in, keeping a comfortable distance where I felt like he couldn't reach me yet I could reach him if he happened to step in.  I subtly pressured in, with both sword, body and spirit, and brought my shinai tip down slightly so that it was moving just under his.  As I came in I tried to keep calm, until I was at JUST the right distance, when I suddenly exploded forward with a kote strike.  It landed and I took the first point.  We reset and again I came to a good distance for me, hopefully not good distance for him.  I pressured in again, much the same way, but as I brought my shinai down and pressed in I let it go wide so that he could see it.  He moved his shinai to cover his kote and that's when I struck again;  this time it was men for the second point.  The match was done in just a few seconds, a good start to my appearance at PNKF again (I'd missed last year).

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)

I waited for a while for my next match.  The sandan division was pretty big this year, so there were a lot of good matches that I was able to watch, including the one between my next opponent.  Just so happens that my next opponent would be a nito guy, who uses two swords to fight instead of one like I do.  I wasn't too worried because we have a couple of nito fighters at our dojo so I was used to fighting them and had a good idea what to expect, but even then I prepared myself for a good fight.  Our match came up, we stepped in and the match started.  I was a little more cautious with this one, since I've never fought him before, but I had the reach advantage and I felt like I also had a speed advantage, but I soon found out that my opponent was awfully fast to cover with his shoto (the short sword used in nito).  I was able to counter his strikes effectively, but I was unable to land a strike of my own before that shoto, almost magically sometimes, blocked my shinai.  This went one for at least half the match and even though I had a few close calls I wasn't able to land anything solid.  I finally found an opportunity when he went for a men strike, which I was able to block, and as we both turned to face each other I snuck in a hiki men, catching him right under his block on the left side of his head.  We restarted and after more of the stalemate we found ourselves in from the beginning, the match ended.  I'd taken it, barely.

Final Score: 1-0 (Ruiz)

as the division competitors decreased, the level of competition increased.  I found myself in the top 8 with only a few opponents left before I could possibly claim victory.  But it wasn't going to be easy.  My next opponent was J. Okada, who had actually previously trained and fought with one of our members when they both lived in Hawaii.  I knew about it, I'd seen his kendo and knew that he was a firecracker, always ready to counter and strike if I so much as thought of moving.  I'd have to be extra careful and on point if I wanted to take this match.  We stepped in and the match began, and immediately he was on me and striking for anything I happened to leave open.  He didn't land anything, but he was very close, and a few times I caught a flag flinch in his direction out of the corner of my eye.  I tried my best to keep up, and even had a few close calls of my own, but by the end of regular time neither of us were able to score anything.  We went into our first round of overtime, and then our second, again with no one able to capitalize on the other.  After 5 minutes of fighting, and no points scored, it was up to the judges to decide.  They called in his favor.  I'd lost the round, but I was happy I hadn't given up any points to him.  It was a good match, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed, despite the loss.  There were still teams to be had, though...

Final Score: 0-0 (Okada by Hantei)

I'd learned a lot in that match, and I felt that I'd improved a bit against people of his nature.  Small, fast guys that are able to strike when I wouldn't even think of it.  Even though he won I felt good.  Our team rounds were coming up soon, though, and it would be nice fighting as a team.  We had a couple of new guys on the team, as I mentioned earlier, a couple of exchange students that have been training at our dojo for a bit.  They were young, very fast, and we felt they'd do well with us.

Our first match was against University of British Columbia.  I wasn't too familiar with them, except for the name, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but we talked and everyone knew that they were going to do their best for the team.  I was picked to be first out (senpo).  It was my job to get out in front, hopefully take an early lead, and get the spirit for the team started on a high note.  I stepped out onto the court and commenced to try and do just that.  My opponent was young, fast, but I was able to keep a pretty good handle on the match, and after just a few seconds took the first point, kote.  We reset and fought again, and he actually got close to getting me a few times but I was able to pull out the win on a men strike that he was just a tad too slow to block.  I started us out with the lead, and my teammates were able to keep that going through the rest of the rounds, ending with us taking the match.  Onto the next one!

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

Our next match was against Seattle.  We've fought them before on a few occasions, with matches going back and forth fairly regularly.  This time would be a hard fight, though, as they clearly had the upper hand on experience.  But we were confident in our abilities, individually and as a team, and again vowed to do our best in what would be a tough team match.  I started out again, this time my opponent being Yen, another guy I'd seen and was semi-familiar with.  He always had good, solid kendo so I knew it would be a challenge to take the win.  We started and I noticed that this match was far different than my first team match.  Where that was one more physical, this one was definitely a bit more mental.  We both played at pressuring each other to see who would make a mistake.  He ended up striking first, a men strike, which I was able to block but unable to counter as he moved in too fast for me to strike.  He set up again, another men.  I threw out a kote of my own, but neither of our strikes were good enough for the point.  After a few more exchanges, I came in with harai kote, which didn't find its mark, but I used that as a springboard into my next strike. I once again pressured in, as if I were going to try harai kote again, but this time I slipped my shinai around as he blocked and came up for men.  He tried to meet my men with a strike of his own but I was already well into my strike when he started.  It found the mark and I was able to take the first point.  We reset and I decided to try and keep the pressure on and not let him have any breathing room.  I came in hot, striking men, retreating and then immediately going for kote.  We tangled like this for a few seconds before I came in with kote again, which gave me the second point and the win.  Again I was able to get us out to an early lead.  Unfortunately they tied it up again with their next match, their player taking it 2-0 against us.  We went back and forth like this through the rest of the matches, but ultimately Seattle sealed it towards the end with a men/kote split call that gave them the 1-0 win over us and into the next round.  Our guys fought extremely well, given the sometimes huge experience gaps against our Seattle counterparts, and I think all of us left that team match with our heads held high.

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)
Team Score: 2-1 (Seattle)

Seattle went on to fight Mexico in the next match, barely losing out in sudden death to them.  Mexico ultimately ended up taking third place, losing to Vancouver. Vancouver went to face Steveston in the finals, and another sudden death had to be fought there to determine the winner.  T. Yamada (Vancouver) fought N. Nakano (Steveston) in the sudden death match. Both of them fought well, Nakano had some close calls but the day would belong to Vancouver when Yamada struck hiki kote out of nowhere to take the match.

It was a great day of kendo, for me and my teammates.  I enjoyed some awesome matches, and enjoyed watching even more great matches.  I learned a lot, and made it to the top 8 without giving up any points, despite the loss by hantei. I felt really good, and I'm excited to take what I learned there to improve my kendo even more.  Also, the Kent Taikai is just around the corner!

Photo courtesy of W. Sinclair