|Photo courtesy of T. Patana, Kendo Photography|
Last weekend a few of my dojo mates and I loaded up and headed to Seattle for the 44th Annual PNKF Taikai. This is the biggest tournament in our region and sees many, many people from not only around our federation but also from Canada, Hawaii and beyond. This year I heard we had around 300 participants and welcomed a couple of new participating dojos, including a new dojo from Canada and from as far away as New Jersey.
Our trip to the tournament began the day before. Friday three of us headed over for training at Bellevue Kendo Club. J Marsten Sensei welcomed us with greetings and a good, hard practice. I picked up some new things to try for my own improvement, and after warm-ups and some basic drills we broke into open floor. I was able to practice with some of my long time friends before I was grabbed by one of the members and pulled over to own line. I relished the chance to practice with her, since I haven't had a chance throughout all of these years, and she did not disappoint. As we sparred, a line started queuing up behind her and for the rest of the night I played partner to just about everyone there that was 3 dan and below. It was fun, but very tiring and by the end of the night my arms felt like they were going to fall off. We ended the night and then joined a few of the members for pizza and beers after.
The next day came quickly and we showed up and suited up an hour before the taikai started. There were only four of us, and it took us a bit to get in and get registered and situated so we opted for a shorter warm-up. Since there were only four of us, though, we had to borrow a member for teams. Luckily there were plenty of people to fight on our team, and due to a new draw system this year we didn't have to worry about trying to find one on our own. We drew M. Rose, from Renfrew. I've personally fought against him and know that he's a fierce opponent (by the way, he beat me in our match at Vancouver Taikai!). Teams weren't until later in the day but I was glad to have such a solid player to round out our team.
I was fighting in the 4 Dan and Up division, which was fairly new to me. I've fought higher ranks before, but this would be a whole division of them. My match came up and I found myself facing T. Nakamura, from Youshinkan. Youshinkan is a solid dojo from Canada, and has many stellar players, including the Asaoka brothers of Team Canada fame. Our match started and I immediately knew I wasn't going to be able to relax. My opponent was quick and it felt like any time I moved he was ready to try and take my kote. I tried my best to set something up, to create or find openings, but it seemed to be to no avail. I think my first downfall in this match was that I was impatient and didn't take my time. I felt that if I didn't do anything he would point me, so I instead rushed myself a bit. At one point I came in to hit his men and he caught me with a perfectly timed kaeshi do for the first point. We restarted and not long after he caught my men as I moved in for kote-men on him. First match down, and I was out of the bracket.
Final Score: 2-0 (Nakamura)
I was a little disappointed with myself. I knew I'd messed up. I've been looking at how I did and trying to find areas of improvement, which isn't hard since I feel like there are a lot of them! Live and learn, though. I didn't have much time to watch the other matches as I immediately had to report to my court for shinpan duty, but from what I did see our other guys did well and did good, solid kendo. One of our guys ended up placing third in the 0-4 kyu division, as well. The day went on, though, and the afternoon saw the beginning of the senior team division. We were ready, as ready as we would be.
Our first opponent was Langara, a newer participant from Canada. Our lineup consisted of our two mudansha up first, our 3 dan, our borrowed player, Rose, and myself as taisho. After bowing in the matches started. Our first player fought well and ended up starting us off with a 2-0 win over Langara, which was matched by our second player. Our 3 dan, who fought from jodan, put on a good performance and although he didn't score any points he also didn't give any and forced the matches to continue. Rose was up next and he fought well, as I knew he would. He took a point and the win, securing our victory and moving us to the next round. My match was up and I bowed in with my opponent, J. Tang. It started and he came at me quickly, although I was confident since we already had the team victory under our belts. We traded attacks for a while, but I finally took the first point when I pressed in for ai-men and beat him to it. The flags went up and we reset. I followed soon after with a kote to take the win and finish out the team match.
Final Score: 2-0 (Ruiz)
Team Score: 4-0 (Spokane)
The next few matches played out as well as I called them, and our next opponents not only ended up being Youshinkan, but I found myself lined up to fight Nakamura again. This was not going to be an easy match for us. We had spirit and energy, but they had skill and experience on their side. Only one of their players was under the rank of 4 dan, and while rank doesn't always necessarily guarantee victory or defeat it was nonetheless daunting.
Our first player started us off well. He gave a high-energy performance and forced a tie. Second match was up and our 3 kyu player found himself fighting a 5 dan using jodan. He did a great job, only giving up one point within the entirety of the match. Our own jodan player was next and, again, did an amazing job but his opponent was able to take a point, putting Youshinkan two wins ahead. it was down to Rose and myself. Rose fought well and put us back in the game, taking a 2-0 win from his opponent.
It was up to me. I apologized in advance to my teammates for what was about to happen, as I had already lost to Nakamura earlier in the day. I was hoping for some redemption, though, and I had the team riding on my shoulders now. The match started and I came out swinging. This time I was ready for his quick kote attempts and answered them with my own, trying to negate and open him up for a possible counter or follow-up attack. I pressed him and a few times connected, but no flags went up. I felt like I fought him a lot better, but I was still a little impatient. He caught me about a minute in, landing an attack to my men and taking the first point. We reset and again I came after him. I had to win the match now in order to even tie it up for us and force a tiebreaker. Unfortunately it would not be this time around. I stepped in and....stopped. I stopped and he easily took my men again for the win. Looking back on the moment, I should have kept going and moved for his men, but hindsight is 20/20, right? The match ended and Youshinkan moved on. They ended up taking third place overall in teams.
The day was done for us but we go to witness some amazing kendo, and I'm sure everyone else picked up a lot of things to work on, as did I. I even asked the shinpan of our team match what I could do to improve for next time. I was told that a lot of my attacks had good timing and I connected with the target, but I wasn't extending properly into the strikes. I'll definitely be working on this for next time.
A brief view of the results that I can remember:
3rd - T. Elliott (Spokane)
1st - J. Jeon (Bellevue)
1st - T. Marsten (Kent)
1st - B. Park (Bellevue)
2nd - R. Ono (Hawaii)
3rd - M. Oya (Palouse)
4 Dan and up:
1st - S. Harris (Hawaii)
2nd - N. Tanimura (Seattle)
3rd - L. Hancock (Hawaii), G. Suzaka (Hawaii)
1st - Hawaii
2nd - Renbu
3rd - Youshinkan, Sno-King
Until next time!