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UW Taikai 2018

Last weekend was the 42nd Annual UW Taikai, held each year in Seattle, WA.  Thinking back, I believe this is just one of two taikai that I've competed at every year since I started at it, with the Kent Taikai in December being the other one.  This year was a bit special for me, as it was my first  time in the 4Dan+ division.  I'd be fighting the top-ranked people around, including many regional and national team members.  It made me both excited and anxious to think about it, as the level of competition for me was about to jump drastically from what I'd been used to before.

Our trip started on Friday, as we took our trip across the mountains and the state to Seattle.  We had our usual fun along the way, including celebrating our sensei's 70th birthday.  J Marsten Sensei was hosting a special kodachi kata seminar that evening, though, so we hurried to try and make it to that.  We pulled up to the dojo with just enough time to get dressed and out on the floor to go over the kodachi kata.  Marsten Sensei had a few good pieces of advice for us on all of the kata, which I'll definitely be looking at and using in my own practice now.  Afterward we moved into regular practice.  It was a surreal feeling to be moved over to their teacher's side, as I'd been attending their practices from out of town since I was a beginner years and years ago.  We had the usual practice run with everyone before breaking up for a bit of shiai/shinpan practice for the Bellevue members and then open floor for everyone else.  I was able to grab one of the fellow yudansha for a round of jigeiko before I was pulled away to practice with another member.  A line quickly formed in front of me, so I gladly practice with each person that came to me for the rest of the evening.

Saturday was tournament day.  We piled in the van bright and early and headed over to the venue at the University of Washington.  I led our team through warm-ups before everything started, and did my best to help get the spirits up.  I was only able to watch a couple of matches and cheer on my friends and dojo mates before I was moved to my court for shinpan duties.  I felt really good about all of the matches I was involved in that day, though.  I tried to keep a cool and confident  head, and to do everything with authority.  A few odd situations came up, but nothing terribly crazy, and I was able to get a lot of valuable shinpan experience and advice from some of the various senseis on the court.

A while after lunch my division finally started.  My first match was with S Day, whom I've fought quite a bit in past tournaments.  I was glad to have a familiar face for my first match, but I knew it wouldn't be an easy match.  He has a lot of experience and a  lot of skill.  The match started and we squared off with each other.  I took my time, trying to feel him out a bit and see how he was going to move and attack that day.  We each moved in and out of distance, trying to create and take advantage of openings, but for a while no one scored.  About a minute in, though, I saw him move for my men, and I made a bad decision.  I've been working on kaeshi do at the dojo and went for it, instead of my go-to kote.  Unfortunately my technique still needs some work, as he was able to catch my men a split second before I blocked and delivered the counter.  We restarted and I tried to find an opening without giving up another point, but he was too good at fending me off and holding that point.  The match went on until time finally ran out. I got close a couple times, but unfortunately was not able to turn the match around that time.  We stepped off the court and I congratulated him on a solid win, although he did comment that I put up a good fight.  There's always next time, right?

Final Score: 1-0 (Day)

After watching the rest of my division finish up, with a final match between brother and sister, both of whom are Canadian national team members, it was on to the team matches.  Our first match was against Renfrew, a team from Canada that has a lot of strong players.  I was chosen to be taisho (captain) for our matches this time around, and we talked a bit of strategy before the matches.  Our members went out and did extremely well against their opponents, although there was a bit of back and forth before my match, but I went into my match with a 2-1 lead over their team.  All I needed was a win or a tie to keep them from progressing.  My opponent was W Blades, though.  I hadn't ever fought him personally, but I had seen him at other tournaments and just that day watched him fight very well in individuals. I had my work cut out for me. The match started and I pushed in immediately, looking for any opening I could find, or any reaction I could take advantage of.  He attacked a few times, and we went back and forth a bit before I finally found it.  He pushed in and went for kote, and I was ready with a nuki men to counter.  I found my mark and was able to take the first point.  We restarted and after a few seconds he caught me sleeping and took a  men point of his own.  I really don't have any excuse for that one, he just stepped in and hit me.  I'll have to work on that.  The match restarted again, and I tried to keep from giving away any more points.  We fought for a bit and I stepped forward, motioning at his men a bit.  As I did I noticed he was not only backing up, but not giving much in the way of a counter, so I went for it.  I caught his men as he came up to try and block for kaeshi do and took the final point and the win.  We would move on to the next round.

Final Score: 2-1 (Ruiz)
Team Score 3-1 (Spokane)

The next round saw us up against Bellevue A.  This was made up of mostly the girl's team that just won nationals a week prior, plus one of the boy's team members, as well as a very experienced godan who has fought for the PNKF men's team before.  We had our work cut out for us.  They were young, fast, and skilled.  Our best best was to try and play smart and try not to force a win or a point and put ourselves in a bad situation.  Unfortunately, as the matches played out, they were able to take advantage of that and beat us with that speed.  When my match came up, we were down three losses already, so there was no way for us to win at that point.  I wasn't fighting for the team win at that point, just for some pride and a little fun.  My opponent was L Tsybert, who had quite a bit of experience and reach on me.  The match started and I tried to play it safe, as I like to do, to see if I could read him.  I knew from past experience with him that he came in at angles, and liked the kote-men strikes, so I readied myself for those.  I was not disappointed.  I tried moving in and out of distance to keep from getting struck, although a few times he came close to landing and getting a point.  About halfway through the match I came off of a failed hiki do, moved back in quickly and was able to find his kote to take the first point.  We restarted and a few seconds later I was able to take another kote point to take the match.

Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)
Team Score: 3-1 (Bellevue A)

Our time at the tournament was over, but we all enjoyed good matches and learned some new things.  Personally I was happy for the chance to fight some new people, some higher ranked people, and get into a new division.  I may not be placing for a while, but the experience I gained at that taikai is invaluable.  I found a lot to work on and am excited to get back to the dojo to work on improving my own kendo.  And I look forward to coming back next year and seeing how I do!

Photo courtesy of W. Sinclair


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