a MMB! Kendo Blog: 30th Australian National Kendo Championships

MMB! Kendo Blog

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

忍耐 + 掌握人生
30th Australian National Kendo Championships

I had a really enjoyable and successful time in the weekend at the 30th Australian National Kendo Championships held in Canberra. The best kendo players from all around Australia gathered in the ANU Sports & Recreational Centre to fight for the ultimate Individuals and Teams Championship titles over two days.

Friday, 25th March 2005
Andrew van Hamond and his family picked me up at Chatswood station at 8am and we drove all the way to Canberra. Half way through the trip, Andrew spotted Michael Jackson walking alongside the freeway. We were concerned that something might have happened to their car so we made a U-turn to meet them, and indeed, Sussan Deng's car, which Michael Jackson were in, had broken down. They had been waiting there for 4 hours already for NRMA assistance. There were nothing much Andrew and me could do to help, so we drove on. About 2 km further up the highway, there was an NRMA car assisting another broken down car. We notified them about the location of Sussan's car so that they could more easily track where Sussan's car were to assist. I later found out that Sussan's car was towed to Goulburn for repair and she had to trek out to Goulburn another day to pick up the car. Aiyor...

We arrived at the ANU Sports & Recreational Centre at 12noon. We instantly got the good news that Yoshiyuki Usami and Shoko Bunder of NSW have both passed their yondan exam. What a fine effort and result!

The rest of the afternoon was involved in AKR delegate meeting. In the evening, I took a ride on Johnny's car to the Civic Pubs, where the AKR AGM was held. We then went downstairs for dinner. I think about 100 people attended, including the visiting IKF hachidan sensei, Kichio Uehara sensei and Michael Komoto sensei. I only had green salad and two butter roll that evening, because I did not feel like having a whole slab of BBQ meat. I did, however, get some action on the BBQ stove. Yoshiyuki the Iron Chef taught me a few tricks on how to cook steak. Depending how thick the meat was, I had to BBQ the meat for about 5 minutes, then put it into the oven for another 5 minutes. That way, the meat will be cooked inside and crispy outside. The way to test how cooked the meat was to put a finger and test how 'bouncy' it was. I guess that part came down to experience. Yoshi said if the meat texture was like pinching the ear lobe feel, then the meat would be nice and juicy.

That night was a lot of fun. We had a fun time with the Western Australian - Stephen, Angie, Anthony, the Michael Jackson and the rest of the Sydney and UNSW gangs. The highlight of the night had to be the "Be the Man" conversation between Jackson and Takashi Itakura sensei, and also the stand-up comedy between Ron Bennett and Kirby Smith. I got them on my tape. It's absolutely funny to watch them full on acting. It added so much fun and atmosphere to the night.

When we returned to out backpacker hostel, I took a shower, played a bit of table tennis with those crappy bats and went to sleep at 10.30pm.

Saturday, 26th March 2005 - Womens Individuals
I arrived at the competition venue at 8:30am and did shinai check and competitor registration. Then I changed into my kendo gear ready for the opening ceremony. It was my first year to have the early morning free as I moved up from the Kyu ranks to shodan. The womens individuals competition did not start until 11:30am. I spent the early morning watching the NSW Kyu players played, going in and out of the warm-up court to keep myself warm and mentally prepared and ready.

The highlight of the Kyu Individuals competition was about Kai. Despite playing with a fractured toe and undergoing painful shiai, Kai showed tremendous amount of determination and fighting spirit. He deterred all the obstacles to reach the semi-finals, and came 3rd in the end. It was an amazing feat.

Everyone had their own special way of warming up before their kendo match. The best warm-up for me personally was to have a thorough stretching routine followed by a light physical work-out. That means doing a few suburi and executing the waza that I would be confident to execute in the match. The workout was very light, enough to keep myself warm and my muscle ready. I personally don't like to put my men on during the warm-up and doing sparring leading up to my match. I could save the energy for on-court shiai. What I preferred to do as my warm-up routine was to visualize my opponent executing cuts and waza she might use during the shiai and I would practice reacting to this imaginery opponent with the waza that I was confident enough to use. My goal was to get my breathing smooth so that I won't be puffed out too soon on-court, to practice going through the movements until I felt fluent and comfortable, and to apply seme during my warm-up routine against imaginery opponents.

I finished my warm-up just before lunch time. I was so glad that they served the sushi bento before the womens individuals. I knew it was unusual for kendo players to play in full stomach. But I was those strange people that could eat a lot before playing kendo. I need rice to keep my energy up in the match. I guess this strange biological behaviour was probably contributed by the fact that my mum was an excellent cook. When I got home from work and before evening kendo training, I could never resist the tempting smell and taste of the delicious food my mum cooked for the family. So I have trained to play kendo in full stomach since the very beginning.

The pool I was in was the last to be on Court One. I was in and out of watching the pool matches before me, but not intently. I felt I could get 'pumped up' for my matches through having some actions in front of my eyes before I went on court.

I had Hayami Aboutaleb (VIC) and Evangeline Than (WA) in my pool. My 1st pool match was against Hayami. It's strange how I could still remember the things that was going through my mind standing on the courtside. In front of me was my opponent who has won the past 4 years womens title. My brain was asking myself if I was really ready. But once I stood up from sonkyu and had my first loud kiai. I felt really alive and energised. Hayami has a strong men and she would occassionally execute some winning do cuts on her opponent. So I tried not to give her chances to cut those area. I tried to keep calm and steady, only attacking when the opportunity was opened to minimise wasted movements, which was the advice given to me from Master Kim. I remembered Hayami had executed a kote cut and a doh cut that almost scored a point on me. With only 15 seconds left on the clock, I landed a debana kote cut on Hayami. I could hear everyone cheering my name. It was great, but I don't think I was feeling excited at that time. I think I was thinking more about trying to keep calm and not letting my mind slipped. As that was often the case that my opponent equalised soon after I took the 1st point in my other tournaments. Actually, I did not know there was only about 15 seconds left on the court. When the match resumed, we were back into applying seme on each other. Then Hayami came in for the men cut, and I blocked it. That was the last cut of my match against Hayami. The timekeeper blew the whistle and the match was over. I could not believe that I could really win that match. It was really good and certainly gave me a lot of confidence.

My next pool match was against Evangeline Than (WA). Angie, as we called her, has played kendo for only 1.5 years. But her kendo was really strong for someone who had only played for such a short period. Anyway, I was the person who executed the first cut in that match. It was a men cut. Angie blocked it. However, my forward momentum carried on after the cut and Angie fell backwards. Subconsciously, I rushed forward hoping to help Angie up. So I extended my right open palm preparing to help her up. In contrast, Angie was thinking that I was going to take the opportunity to launch an attack while she was down. So she was on the floor, fighting to get the shinai in front of her to block any cuts that I might execute on her. I could hear the roar amongst the spectators. I didn't have the slightest intention to take advantage of this attacking opportunity. I think, back in our dojo, everyone was really nice to each other and it just didn't occur to me that I could go to attack a person who was down on the floor. Then came the 'yame' call. I was actually feeling glad that Angie was able to stand up again fine and well. The match continued. In the end, I scored a hiki-men and a kote to win my 2nd pool match.

Because of the number of women competitors and the way the draw was structured, Kate Sylvester and I advanced straight into semi-finals after winning our pool matches. The other four pool winners had to fight another match to determine who would advance to the semi-final. In the end, Claire Chen, Susan Bonar, Kate Sylvester and me were the 4 semin-finalists.

My semi-final match was against Claire Chen. I played her last year in the womens individuals pool. I lost last year's match against Claire by stepping out the shiaijo twice during encho. I could not let this silly mistake happen again. I was feeling very excited when I stepped in to the shiaijo, probably way too excited. Someone told me after the match that he could see I was too excited and not as calm as my match against Hayami. I think that might be true. Claire had very strong debana kote cut and she scored two strong debana kote on me to snatch the womens individuals spot away from me.

It would be nice to go all the way to the finals, but I felt very happy even though I lost my semi-final match. That's because Claire did score two undeniably good kote cuts on me and I had finally broken through the ranks to advance to the knockout rounds in the womens individuals competition.

Kate Sylvester scored a brilliant do cut in the finals to take the womens individuals crown.

I promised Becki that I would shout her lunch if I won my pool matches. I kept my word and we went to Sammy's Kitchen on Bunda Street to have take-away Asian lunch dishes. I had "gong bo" stredded chicken while Johnny and Becki had Szechuan lamb and Szechuan beef respectively.

We carried our lunch boxes back to the competition venue and had probably scented the whole place with our delicious chinese food. We watched the Dan Individuals match for the rest of the afternoon.

Kirby Smith won his 3rd consecutive Dan Indivduals title. Stuart Burke and Master Kim came 2nd and 3rd respectively. It was a very good result for the NSW dan players.

The 30AKC Official Dinner was held at the Deck-Regatta Point, a lakeside restaurant in the middle of Canberra City with beautiful view. We had some finger foods and drinks to begin with in the early evening. It was about 8pm when we were allowed in for the sit-down dinner. I sat with the Burwood guys, The Rixon Sensei's, Master Kim, Stuart Burke and Kirby Smith. During the dinner, Jonathan Cross also joined our table. We had some interesting discussions about training in Japan and in the good old days around Australia. Stuart Burke told us that the dojo he trained in Japan would encourage the players to attend training by showing each member's attendance rate on a board. Members who surpassed 80 training per year would receive a gift, e.g. tsuba with your name engraved, etc. The gift would be different every year. It's an interesting idea and certainly would help encourage members to attend more training. If only we had a purpose-built dojo for kendo only.

We had roast beef, chicken drum stick, roast lamb, a variety of salad, rice cake, anti pasto for dinner. The highlight, however, had to be the creme brulee. Although it would be nice if it was warmer, it tasted very nice. Hmm....Yummy...

We had raffle ticket draw during the dinner. $2 for a ticket. Although most of us believed that draw was rigged, everyone enjoyed it very much. Brett Smith's tickets got pulled out twice. We all chanted 'rigged'. However, it seemed that Brett was enjoying himself too much, and he danced along the 'rigged' chanting rhythms. Quite a funny sight. Jimmy Kim told me that Brett got the dancing moves because he owns a pub.

We went back to the backpackers hostel at 10pm. Becki was waiting for me to give her a back massage, which I had promised her before we went out for dinner. I happily applied what I learnt from my recent Swedish Massage lessons for about 45 minutes. It was great to hear Becki's feedback and that she enjoyed the back massage.

Afterwards, I fell straight into sleep after getting into my bed.

Sunday, 27th March 2005 - Teams Event
The womens team competition was held on Sunday. Shoko, Mel and I discussed the team order in the morning. Mel was comfortable with playing the Taisho position and I felt the chuken position was my favourite position after experimenting playing as the second person in team match in the Hong Kong Asian Tournament. I personally felt that I need to watch one match of kendo action to help ignite my kendo 'fire' before my match. Then I would be all fired up and ready for action. However, if I watched too many matches, the nerves might creep in. So chuken was the best and most comfortable position for me.

I had been in and out of the warm-up hall during the whole morning. Each time, I did a full stretching routine, a few warm-up suburi, and practiced the execution of cuts against imaginery opponent.

At 10.40am, the women team competition began. In our pool, we had ACT and WA. Our first pool match was against the ACT team. I played Lyma Balderama in the chuken match and scored a men and a kote cuts. Shoko won her senpo match against Linfang Wu 2-1 and Mel drew her match against Sharyn Wragg. So we won 2-0 gainst ACT.

Next, we played the WA team. The WA team only had two players, so I didn't have to play to win my match. Shoko won her match against Evangeline 2-0, while Mel drew her match against Susan Bonar, who came equal 3rd in the womens individuals in the previous day. Again, we won 2-0 against WA to advance to the womens team finals.

The long rivalry between NSW and VIC continued this year in the womens team finals. The VIC team's line-up was Kate Sylvester as senpo, Claire Chen as chuken, and Hayami Aboutaleb as taisho. I was really excited about the prospect of a re-match against Claire, who took two debana kote points off me the previous day.

Shoko played brilliantly against Kate Sylvester, who won the womens individuals the previous day. It was unfortunate that Shoko lost 2-1 to Kate at the end. However, the excitment of the senpo match rubbed off on me and I was really fired up to play my chuken match.

I tried to stay calm and focus, determined to play a controlled game. Things didn't quite turn out to the way I would like to though. Claire scored yet another debana kote off me in the first 20 seconds of the match. At that time, I was thinking how did I not learn from the same mistakes I had against Claire in yesterday's match. She scored 3 kote cuts in 2 matches in 2 days. I was really afraid that the spectators who had watched my match against Claire the previous day to think 'Geez, Vivian didn't learn anything from her other match'.

From there on, I was more careful about not exposing my kote during my men cut. I was really seeking my attacking opportunity. I did my best to try to break Claire's centre to create attacking opportunities. Fortunately, my effort paid off and I scored a men cut on Claire while she was resettling into chudan no kamae after avoiding my previous men cut. I felt that it was a good men cut too. I could hear the 'pop' sound landed on Claire's men. One white flag went up, then I saw another, then I could hear all the NSW supporters cheering. It felt absolutely sensational. I must thank all the people who cheered on for me in that match. My match was levelled at 1-1 and we had to play shobu. I felt I had more power than ever after scoring that men cut and I just kept looking for attacking opportunities. From what I felt, it seemed that Claire didn't make many attacking attempts after the second re-start. I was not sure if Claire ran out of puff or something, but I remembered I made a lot of attacking attempts. How I wish I could take one more point! In the end, the whistle blew and everyone in the stadium was clapping and cheering really loudly. I drew that match against Claire. I had to say it was absolutely the most enjoyable shiai match I have ever had. When you had so many supporters cheering on for you, you just had all the strength in the world to play on forever. That was the feeling I had in that match.

Mel also played outstandingly in her match against against Hayami. Although Hayami took one point off Mel early in the match, Mel fought really hard and scored a hiki men off Hayami. The match ended in a draw.

While the taisho match was on, I had a lot of troubles sitting in seiza. My lower legs felt really numb and sore as all the blood was sitting in the lower leg area. I had to adjust and re-adjust my seiza while watching Mel throughout the taisho match.

We lost 1-0 in the womens team event to settle in the runner-up position. However, even though we lost, I felt really happy because all of us fought really hard during the match. I could really see and sense that we played our best kendo against the Victorians.

With no more shiai to play, I spent the rest of the day watching shiai and taking photos.

While taking the NSW womens team photos at the Championships flags at the centre of the stadium, the hachidan sensei also took out their own camera and took pictures of us. tehehe. That was funny. The IKF sensei then chatted with us. How I wish I could converse in Japanese. Apparently, Miyagawa sensei commented that I could leap a very long distance from what he saw in the womens team matches. He said that's a very good thing. I was just glad that the sensei noticed me during my shiai matches.

During the lunch break, I had a chance to replay the match I played against Claire in the womens team final on my video camcorder. While watching, Michael Komoto came over and he showed me some of the photos he took of me during that team final match. They were really nice pictures. One of them was a really clear shot of Claire landed the first kote cut point. I wish it was the other way round. =P

He also gave me some good comments on what he noticed about me during my match. My foot stance was too wide, which might waste a bit of cutting distance when I lunged into a cut. I agreed with him and I certainly need to work on my stance to make my kendo more efficient.

I also asked Michael about shin splint in kendo for Becki. Michael then told me a range of medical scans and diagnosis for lower leg injuries. Unfortunately I could not remember all the technical terms. However, it was always enjoyable to look at kendo in a medical point of view.

The Championships ended very successfully from a personal point of view. I was glad to get out of my pool in the womens individuals and the womens team finals match was the highlight of my Canberra trip. I was also very honoured to receive one of the four Fighting Spirit Awards voted by the shinpan at the conclusion of the championships.

Andrew van Hamond's family was very kind indeed to give me a lift back to Sydney. Unfortunately, I had to miss out on the free jigeiko session against the visiting Japanese sensei. I wish I could at least play Michael Komoto sensei as I didn't have a proper chance to play him last time in Hong Kong and I was really looking forward to jigeiko with him at the nationals. Looks like I have to either go to Japan for a visit or meet him in the 2006 Hong Kong Asian tournament for the next jigeiko opportunity.

Monday, 28th March 2005 - Sightseeing with 3 IKF hachidan sensei
On Easter Monday, the 3 IKF sensei flew up to Sydney. Yoshiki, Yvonne (both from UNSW), Leon Withrington and me took them around Sydney to eat kanagaroo, emu and crocodile pizzas! We also went to the Taronga Zoo to visit the animals we ate. =P hahaha. that was really funny. The sensei were very intrigued that we would eat the animals on our national emblem. And of course, we also visited other animals that we didn't eat during lunch. Sano sensei and Cath joined us in the evening to have dinner with the IKF sensei and we had great opportunity to see how a 8th Dan sensei think. It was really inspiring.

I was really interested to know what an 8th Dan sensei strived to achieve and improve in his kendo. So out of curiosity, I asked Miyagawa sensei that question. He said that he has won a lot of tournaments when he was young. He was fast and full of energy, but as time passed by, it was not possible to play as fast as the young people now. Many people asked Miyagawa sensei about when he considered himself to play the best kendo. They asked him if he thought that his best kendo days were during his younger days when he won a lot of tournaments. Miyagawa sensei said it was impossible to play as fast as he used to be, but he could see his kendo better now than ever before. It became more of a mind game now for him in kendo. Instead of matching his younger opponents with speed and power, he strived to improve the way he looked at his kendo and his opponent's kendo. So even though he was slower now, he considered his kendo to be stronger than any time before.

I think that's the beauty of kendo. Kendo is not a purely physical game. It encompasses the mind, body and spirit and it's about self-discovery and self-improvement. Kendo never dies. Many play to their 80s and still possess very strong kendo. We should always strive to improve ourselves and ready to take in fresh insights like the beginners as there are endless things to learn in kendo.

As Michael Komoto sensei wrote:

'I think that all of us, in the progress of our careers must become more serious, fastidious even, to discipline and polish ourselves. Looking at the 8 dan sensei we can see good examples. However, I keep the words of Zeami close to heart: In his "Fushikaden" along the extensive technical and theoretical instruction about Noh theatre, Zeami also admonishes the Noh artist to "keep the heart of the beginner," to keep fresh insight, and the enthusiasm we had when we first started our study. Befittingly, the title Fushikaden means "the flower" and in this, I infer Zeami likened the effortless perfection of the flower that blooms with the flawless performance of accomplished artist.'

I am so grateful to be blessed with so many good sensei in my kendo career. They all selflessly passed on their precious experience to me and ecnouraged me to improve my kendo. I feel that there is nothing but to train harder in each kendo training session, so that I won't disappoint them. Now I am more eager than ever before to strive to improve my kendo and become stronger.

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  • Hey Vivian,

    Great write-up! I'm glad I lost to you in the individuals - that was a great match and you scored a really nice men! But I'm pretty sure I got a point on Shoko in the women's - debana kote. One of my happiest moments :)


    By Blogger an9ie, at Monday, April 11, 2005 8:10:00 PM  

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