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2010 EUSKF Goodwill Tournament

Yesterday, nine of us from the Baltimore-Annapolis Kendo club went up to West Chester, PA to participate in the 2010 Eastern US Kendo Federation Goodwill Invitational Kendo Tournament (quite the mouthful, ne?). Well, my alarm went off at 0545 and I jumped out of bed, (wishweaver claims it was more I was pushed out of bed), and got ready. Finished packing my gear, double-checked to see that I hadn't forgotten anything and had just finished reading the Saturday web comics when my sempai, Chris showed up.

We got on the road on time and cruised up I-95 toward Eastern MD to Delaware before shifting to regular highways to get to S.E. Pennsylvania. We covered a ton of stuff on the drive (kendo, anime, work, etc.) and managed not to get ourselves lost en route. We were at Westtown School, which appeared to be a very nice private school just outside of Philly. Really, really nice gym. Reminded me more of a college than a HS. The rest of our group showed up just as we got to the doors and we went inside and staked a claim for some bleacher space to put our gear in.

A quick change into the keikogi and hakama later, we were ready to get started. All the competitors had to get their shinais checked and that took a bit longer than expected but soon enough we were lined up for the opening ceremonies. The host sensei had a few words for us, the head judge came out and explained the ground rules and then we were treated to an iaido demonstration. It was different than the iaido demonstration at the Cherry Blossom Festival in D.C. because the participants weren't doing things in unison. In fact, two were doing one set of the kata and the other two were doing a different set. They all wound up doing the kata, but it was unusual to have to people doing completely different moves right next to each other. Still, they were very good from what I could tell and the crowd enjoyed it.

(A quick note - while this was a tournament, it was really geared toward the mudansha (people below dan rank). This was the first tournament for a large portion of the competitors, so the judges spent a lot of time working with them, showing them how to enter the match properly, when to go back to center, how to bow out, etc. Senior people, like me, helped with the scoring, tying the ribbons on to designate who was the red or the white fighter.

In Kendo, when a competitor scores a point, a judge will raise the flag that corresponds to the ribbon the competitor is wearing. It takes two judges agreeing on a point for the point to count - normally. I did see a couple of the senior judges (6th dan or higher) wave off a point that two of the 3-dans had called. I found out later that for many of the 3rd dans, this was the first tournament they had judged, so they deferred to the senior sensei. I suspect that's not normal behavior at other tournaments.

Also, in a tournament, matches are two minutes long and it takes either two points OR being ahead on points when time expires. If there is a tie, in the lower ranks, the judges will award the match to the competitor who showed the most spirit. In the upper divisions, they go to "enchou", which is untimed sudden death. More on this later.)

They ran the women's tournament first and one of my dojo-mates got to participate in her first matches. She was a bit nervous since she's only been in bogu a few months and has never stayed for the advanced practices. Still, she held her own and even though she lost both of her matches (the tournament was a round-robin set up), she still seemed to have had a lot of fun.

Since the upper divisions weren't going to run until after lunch, I took the opportunity to visit with a number of the competitors from other clubs. I visited with one of the players from the Rochester Institute of Technology club who was a nito player. I knew he was in my round-robin group, but I've done some nito and I was curious why he picked it up and how long he'd been doing it.

Like me, he was coming off a knee injury, and he was re-injuring himself trying to do itto. So, his sensei had suggested he try nito and he was really enjoying the technique. He was a little disappointed that I wasn't going to be doing nito also, but we agreed that if they had time for some jigeiko (free sparring) later, we'd do it then.

I probably should have spent more time watching my team's matches in the mudansha part, but I think it was part nerves and part just getting re-acclimatized to the whole kendo feeling. I did watch one of our guys and was able to give him a couple of tips between his matches. (You can't call out advice to a competitor once they're in the ring. Very bad form.) He was tentative in his first match . . . which was his actual first match ever. I told him to just relax and do the same kendo he did in the dojo back home here. He just needed to bring a little more fire and speed to his game. He's normally blazing fast at home. I think he just got nervous with the crowd and the "idea" of competition. While he didn't win his second match, it was more energetic and he gave his opponent a good match. I think I caught two other matches or at least the tail-end of them. It's hard to keep track of who's doing what where when we're all in the same uniform and there were four courts going simultaneously.

It was fun though watching the matches that I did, especially when it came down to the last three or four in a division. Some of these kids are going to be terrors when they get a little more seasoning. They're already pretty good and their internal motors move faster than mine ever did, even when I was their age. Speed, accuracy and endurance - if I want to keep up, I can see I'm going to have to get more and more precise with my kendo as well as develop a deeper understanding of it. If I can't out hustle them, I'm going to have to outsmart them.

(Yeah, good luck there.)

After lunch, it was the Shodan/Nidan division. I fought two younger competitors and wound up losing my matches 0-2 and 0-2. However, unlike my last tournament I didn't get eliminated in the first 30 seconds - then again, I wasn't facing a 4th Dan the same day I'd been awarded 1st Dan.

In the first match, I was too slow disengaging from my opponent and he was able to score a couple of hiki-waza (striking as you're moving backwards) points on me. Even though my mind is way ahead of my body and I'm just not moving the way I know I could (and hopefully will again), I was surprised to get pointed like that. Greater North East US Kendo Federation judges don't normally award points for hiki-waza, but apparently the Eastern U.S. Kendo Federation is more aggressive like that. However, I have to learn to defend myself better to not allow a judge to have to make that decision. I need to hold center stronger and dominate my opponent so that he knows if he tries something like that, I will retaliate and make him pay for not breaking cleanly.

The second match was against the nito player from RIT. I did everything I knew to do to try and create openings in his defense but just couldn't figure out a way to penetrate. I've seen people on writer's boards say that fighting with two weapons is inferior to fighting with one. All I can say is, they've obviously never done it. About the only things I didn't do that I might have done a few years ago was go after his off-kote (when you hold your left arm above the level of your eyes, that makes it an eligible target, otherwise, it doesn't count when you hit it). The only other thing I could think of to do was to try and tsuki him but I haven't practiced that at ALL since I've been back and it's too easy to do it wrong and hurt your opponent if you don't practice.

One of the things I love about kendo is the camaraderie. I visited with both of the guys I fought and we discussed the matches, going over things I could have done better and things I did well against them. The guy I fought in the first match sought me out to discuss what we could have done better against the nito player. This is what kendo is all about. While it's nice to "win", that's not the important thing. It's taking the opportunity to test yourself and discover areas you need to concentrate on to get better.

I know some people have "tournament kendo" that's different from their regular kendo and we saw a lot of it this weekend. Lots of ducking the head to the side, blocking with the shinai, blocking with the shinai handle, lots of fighting in taiatare (where you're up close with your opponent, kote to kote and shinai upright), and other stuff that they'd never do if it was coming time for a test.

Maybe that's why I don't "win", because I'm trying to make my tournament and testing kendo the same. I just think it's too easy to teach yourself bad habits in order to "win" that would come back to haunt me when I wanted to test for my next rank. Given the choice of winning "a" tournament or "being promoted", I know which one I want more.

I watched the rest of the shodan/nidan division and then the sandan and up division. Some very strong kendo, but again a lot of tournament kendo. Not what I was really expecting from the senior dans. Not saying they were wrong (Hell, I'm only a shodan and one who's been away for a while), but it just wasn't what I was expecting. Maybe I was spoiled after watching the hachidan tournament they just completed in Japan.

As I mentioned, we only brought nine members with us, so we knew we were going to have one full team and one short one. (Team matches are best three out of five and if you have a short team, the other team wins that specific match by forfeit.) One of our dojo mates had to leave early, so now we're sporting a three-person team. That means, if we want to advance, we HAVE to win all three of our matches. So, we're trying to find some people who're not on a team. None to be found.

There's another team that's short-handed, so they ask if two of us could fight for them. I tell my two teammates to go (it's their first tournament, so I didn't want them to miss the teams). I set up to film our "A" team's match when one of the judges comes over and asks if I want to be on a team. I wind up on another three-person team, only now, none of us have ever fought together. I put the guy in slot one, the young lady in slot two and then I have to fight in position five since that's the team captain slot.

I'm figuring there's no pressure because the teams normally put their best players at positions 1, 3 and 5, so that means I'm probably going to be fighting a sandan at minimum and probably a yondan (4dan) or a godan (5dan). Since I can't win, what can go wrong. I tell my team to go out and just have fun with their matches.

There's some confusion over which team is fighting whom since we're a late entry, but eventually we wind up facing an all-female team. My first player, Perez, goes out and wins his match 2-0. Then Park goes out and beats her opponent 2-0. Now, I'm really sweating. I've put myself at the 5 spot because I'm the senior player on our team and if I lose, we've wasted a golden opportunity for an upset. Match 3 and 4 are awarded to the other team and then it's my turn.

To my surprise, I score a men against my opponent and then a few moments later, I score another men and take the match 2-0. I can NOT believe it. We actually advanced to the next round with a three-person team!

Unfortunately, our win gave us the opportunity to face a team of all sensei. Perez loses to a sandan, Park fights a sandan to a tie and then I lose to a yondan 0-2. Still, all in all, it was a great deal of fun and the crowd was pulling for us. I received a compliment from my opponent and he says he'd like to fight me again if we come back to this tournament next year. I'm going to hopefully take him up on that. *grin*

Actually, the team that beat us winds up taking 2nd place in the team competition, so I don't feel bad about our match with them at all. After our match, I find out Perez has been doing Kendo for about six month and he's only a rokkyu (6th kyu). In fact, he's only been in bogu a few weeks. Yikes. But, he's also 6'4" and takes advantage of his extra reach and speed to try and get to his opponent before they can react. If he stays with it, he's really going to be good. I also find out that Park tied for 3rd in the ikkyu division, so she was a bit of a ringer.

Visited with the members of the first team we fought. They had actually put their strongest player in the third slot and she was a bit aggravated that she didn't fight me. We're talking about going up to visit their dojo sometime this summer and she's already said I have to fight her when we come up there. (This was the fifth challenge I've received at the tournament. I'm trying to figure out who put the bulls-eye on my back while I wasn't looking.)

After teams, we had the closing ceremony, some picture taking, a quick change of clothes and then we headed home. We stopped for dinner before we got too far down the road and had second dojo. We reviewed some of the day's events, enjoyed a meal, swapped some war stories and then got on the road for real. Got home around 1130 that evening and crashed as soon as I got upstairs.

My sempai, Chris took pictures and video of some of the matches. If you want to see his still photographs, they're here.

So, all in all, it was pretty fun, I didn't hurt my knee worse than it was when I went up there and I've learned some things to concentrate on at practice. I consider that a damn fine day of kendo.

And that's how I spent my Saturday. I've spent most of today recovering and cursing the wet weather which is really bugging my knee today. I don't think I'll be going to practice tomorrow since I have the orthopedist appointment on Tuesday. I'm hoping he can figure out what's going on with my knee and recommend a treatment, a good brace or something.

Now, I just have to survive tomorrow.


( 2 howls — Howl with the Pack )
Apr. 26th, 2010 08:23 am (UTC)
"Unfortunately, our win gave us the opportunity to face a team of all sensei. "
Apr. 26th, 2010 09:27 pm (UTC)
Re: "Unfortunately, our win gave us the opportunity to face a team of all sensei. "
Well, never let it be said that any good deed goes unpunished. *grin*
( 2 howls — Howl with the Pack )

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