May 18, 2005

UW Taikai 2005

Congratulations to Sunrise Kendo Club in Vancouver! Besting Bellevue and Highline this year in the Team Competition, kudos to our friends to the north.

In a new format this year, the 0-4 Kyu, 1-3 Kyu, and 1-3 Dan Divisions all started first off on the day, each on their own court. The idea was good in that there were more courts running this year, but it didn't lead to a dramtically shorter tournament, however, as the 1-3 Dan group lasted for four hours plus. Overall, however, the tournament seemed to run very well. Good job by the UW Kendo Club.

Even though the Bellevue team was unable to defend last year's victory, we still finished with one of the third place spots. After besting the teams from Tacoma and Steveston, we lost a close match to the Sunrise side.

As I only finished in the top eight again this year, the only trophy of the day was a very dramatically destroyed shinai that was smashed in my team match against Bill Jung of Steveston. It was definitely a keeper, with a twist and rosette-like break that started at the mid-point of the shinai and stopped at the nakayui, illustrating nicely the safety aspects of the shinai's design, and providing a good reason why one should keep this part of the shinai wrapped with sufficent tightness.

I replaced it with a twin from the nice people at Aoi Budogu, from whom I purchased it back at the Vancouver tournament in January. They came down to sell equipment at the taikai, and gratiously donated shinais to the individual winners in each division.

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April 12, 2004

UW Taikai 2004

Wow. Everyone else on the Bellevue Team was just great this past week at the 29th Annual University of Washington Invitational Kendo Tournament. What an outing. Naoaki Tanimura, Eric Dycus, Ryoko Barr Sensei, and especially Masumi Rinaldi were simply "on" last Saturday.
I was exceptionally lucky to be in the taisho spot with them. The fact that Masumi Rinaldi held D. Ara-Sensei, C. Marsten-Sensei, and T. Masukawa-Sensei to a combined total of two points was phenomenal. (Way to go Masumi!)
It was with relief, and not without surprise actually that I managed not to drop the ball in the final tie-breaker. Together with a respectable top-8 finish in the 1-3 Dan division, I will enjoy remembering such a lucky day for quite some time.

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March 2, 2004

Kendo Shinkyu Shinsa

The Pacific Northwest Kendo Federation Shinkyu Shinsa for all ranks was this past Saturday, February 28. I was eligible for promotion to Sandan, or 3rd Degree Blackbelt if you prefer.

For those unfamiliar with the process in Kendo, the test for this rank consists of three parts. The first is a written essay exam requiring a response to one of two questions posed, to be handed in prior to the close of the day's examination process. Alloted time for testing all 93 Kenshi present: 150 minutes.

Even though I was told by someone that the questions are the same year to year, I will refrain from posting the questions here. This does not represent much of a difficulty, in that everyone present had the option of using the study guide on which the questions are based.

The second portion of the test consisted of a short Keiko, lasting a minute or two, with two other Kenshi testing for the same rank. I had entered the test expecting to be most comfortable with this portion of the exam. I thought that I managed this part very poorly, however, without much attacking pressure (Seme) to speak of, and with techniques (waza) that were very stiff.

As I started the first keiko, I found my initial strikes blocked. Trying harder to pressure my opponent and overpower them, I probably looked like I had fallen into the anvil chorus instead, with my partner's tempo matching my own. My attacks failed to amount to much, and instead of growing confidence, I found I was trying not to show my state of near-panic. I do not remember making a single clean strike in the first keiko.

As the one of the pair to stay for the very next match, I could not force myself to relax before I plowed into the second match. This too was against someone I was familiar with. Just as poorly as before though, it took most of a two minutes before I thought I connected cleanly and with some semblance of authority and confidence. Just as I was making what I thought would be a second good strike, it was over. The head examiner motioned to stop the match. "Sore made..." Well, I was pretty sore and mad with myself coming off the floor.

I though I had done so poorly that I stood there hoping that they would call me back, as sometimes happens when the panel in not entirely sure about passing someone on the keiko portion of the test or not. No such luck. The next group was called and mine was dismissed.

To say that I approached the final section of the test somewhat fatalistically would be accurate, but given the subject matter, perhaps not entirely an inappropriate demeanor for the Kata section of the test. This is where we show the examiners our mastery of the preset forms of attack and counter-attack with another of the kenshi in our examination group.

As I was the Uchitachi, who leads each of the ten kata forms, I would be the one to "lose" each encounter. That said, many of the students would opt for Uchitachi side over the Shitachi side, as the Shitachi is required to change over to the short sword, or kotachi, for the final three kata forms. Since the last three kata are only required once one reaches the Sandan test, most of the students were not as proficient at them as they were with the first seven. I had been preparing for months, watching my videos almost every week, pantomiming the actions for each side of kata 8 through 10 over and over.

Even though I though I had them down fairly well, even I was a bit relieved at this point to have slightly fewer things to mess up after my keiko outings. I managed to surprise myself by getting through the kata nicely. I made many small mistakes in the kata forms, I am sure (even a couple that I myself noticed), but nothing major.

Several people who tested took advantage of the opportunity to repeat one of the kata, if one or other felt they had made a major mistake. There was even some gasping from the spectators when one of the testing kenshi requested a repeat, only to begin completely wrongfooted. He caught himself and started over again, to the relief of all of us watching. Even two of those testing for Yondan (4th Degree), the highest ranks being tested at this particular exam, miscued or had to repeat one or more of the kata.

As we assembled to bow out, I still felt pretty depressed about the keiko, and was mumbling about there always being "next year". Passing the both the keiko and the kata are necessary elements to passing the annual exam. Without any time left on the rented hall, there was no open practice afterward to look forward to, so I went to change clothes. I waited to see to results posted along with everyone else, solely to find out how badly I had done. All of the lower ranks had been posted already, so it wasn't long before the list went up.

Imagine my shock to find that I had not only passed the exam, but that I had been passed by all seven examiners in both the keiko and the kata. I was speechless. I listened to some of the teachers discuss who passed or didn't pass and perhaps why. (The examiners do write comments for the students benefit, though there was not time for any formal discussion at the exam.) I just stared for a minute, and then sat down to fold my hakama with a stupid grin on my face. After a few high fives with others who passed, we left for some food and beer.

I am curious what our next practice will be like. Up until now, everyone with the rank of Sandan and above has sat on the teacher's side of the dojo. With the new Sandans, it is actually going to be crowded over there. It will take while to get used to the new view, but I know one thing. I have three years to practice and prepare for my Yondan test...

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