The 31st annual Australian Kendo Championships - the largest national kendo event on the Australian calendar - was held in the Easter long weekend in Perth, Western Australia.Friday, 14th April 2006QANTAS - My Flight
I flew in on Friday with QANTAS alone. How I wish I was on the afternoon Virgin Blue flight with Kirby, Mike, Dino and Elaine. They had so much fun on their flight, while mine was a total stuff-up. The worst flight experience I have ever had and hopefully the last time. I couldn't believe the quality of our national carrier quality could be so embarrassingly low. My flight had a 40mins delay in departure. Then there was the on-flight entertainment system stuff-up. Never mind that, coz I was trying to sleep all the way to Perth. But the hustling and bustling of the staff just kept me awake. Serving a simple breakfast turned out to be a monumental task. I looked at my watch and I can surely tell you that it took them 1.5 hours to serve my cabin section. Some passengers were really annoyed about the delay and obviously getting very hungry that they walked to the cabin staff and requested them to serve their breakfast pack immediately. I was hungry too, so I was glad that those passengers spoke out. Then, there was the poor handling of the food: spilling of coffee all over the guy sitting next to me, food spillage everywhere. And the staff, most of them were quite young, were very unprofessional. They were chatting among themselves about their next holiday trip while serving food to the passengers. Ah, definitely my worst flight experience, and I was glad to get out of that plane 5 hours later.Virgin Blue - The Hippy Flight
On the other hand, the afternoon Virgin Blue flight was a complete opposite of my flight experience.
With 10mins to departure, there was no sign of boarding and the guys were getting thirsty (everything on the Virgin Blue flight must be paid for). So they went off to buy drinks. It must have taken them a while to get the drinks, because the next thing they could remember was the P.A. system announcing "Final boarding call for Kirby Smith, Michael Henstock, Kostadino Zafirakos, and Elaine Chan". I couldn't believe those guys almost missed their plane.
With the hyper-energy level running in those guys' blood, they got really bored 60mins into their 5 hours flight. The flight stewardess noticed that and gave them 'The Incredibles' colouring book and hosted a colouring competition. I was fortunate enough to see the drawings that night. I must say that there is a wealth of artistic talents in our NSW kendo community.
The colouring book
Mike's - my favourite
Anyway, back to my own story. I arrived to Perth at 12:30pm and caught a cab to the LeisureLife Centre. When I arrived, the morning grading session has just finished and I was happy to hear that Brett Smith - our national team coach - achieved 6th Dan in his first go. I also found out that my first shiai in this championships was with Brett. Great! Shiai with the national team coach and a newly graded 6Dan. That gotta be exciting. Besides Brett, Dave Bunder was also drawn to be in the same pool as mine.
In the ladies individuals, Chiaki Kobayashi and Elaine Chan were in my pool. Chiaki and I have never been drawn to play each other in the past 4 national championships, so I had a strong feeling that Chiaki would be in my pool this year. And it turned out to be true. The only official match we had was during this January's national squad training team shiai. She won that with 2-1. That previous loss only made me more determined to fight her again. I was glad I was presented with the opportunity in this championships. CHIAAAAAAKI!!!
Not long after I arrived to the Centre, bento lunchbox and miso soup were being served. I gotta say that the WA got the lunch really well-organised. There were so many bento. Even those who didn't attend the morning grading session (aka. me) got served. The teriyaki chicken, sushi and salad bento with hot miso soup were great! Just what I needed after a long flight.Shimpan Seminar
A short shimpan seminar was held in the afternoon, led by the visiting AJKF sensei including Hitoshi Murakami Sensei Hanshi 8 Dan, Yuji Umemiya, Hanshi 8 Dan and Hiroshi Nobayashi, Kyoshi 8 Dan. After explaining the basics of shimpaning, we formed groups of 3 and practiced shimpaning.
Afterwards, the Aust. Kendo Board meeting was held between 3:30pm and 5pm. The Board officially announced that the 2007 Asian Zone Shimpan Seminar will be held in Sydney in either the 1st weekend or 2nd weekend of March. And because of that, the 2007 Australian Championships will most likely be pushed back to June. Woohooo!!! It will be so exciting to have all the high grade kendoka from all over Asia to be in one place. It will be a lot of hard-work and organising but definitely tonnes of fun.
After the meeting, Brian Brestovac sensei drove Brett Gazzaninga sensei, Michael Payne sensei and Alan Stephenson (New Zealand) who achieved 6th Dan in the morning shinza, and I back to our accommodation in Riverview. For the next 3 nights, I shared the same apartment flat with Andrew van Hamond, the Michael Jackson pair and Dino the Zaf.
I bought dinner (beef cassorole on rice, fruit salad) and stocked up on sports drinks from a Vietnamese family owned convenient store at the East Gate Shopping Centre just across the road. I am so in luck to find this Vietnamese convenient store which prepared rice dishes. For the next 3 days, they have become my official breakfast provider.
Mike, Dino, Jackson, Ceciljia and Elaine decided to went out to the City at 9:30pm as soon as Jackson arrived to the apartment. I was a bit tired and so decided to have an early night and a good rest before the big days ahead.Saturday, 15th April 2006
I slept a good 8.5 hours and woke up at 6am the next morning. Breakfast was omelette on fried rice. We left the apartment at 8am and arrived to the Sports Centre at 8:30am.
The opening ceremony started at 9:30am and went on for about 30mins. During the ceremony, the new AKR Executives were introduced with Richard Ward taking the President role. Renshi shogo awards were also presented to Yoichi Yano sensei, Yokov Macak sensei, Peter Szwarcbord sensei - the first 3 Australian to receive shogo titles. The ladies individuals and laides team champion flags were also revealed for the first time.Kyu Individuals
The Kyu Individuals competition was held straight after the opening ceremony. Nathan Huisman, Chris Barbe, Dino Zafirakos, Ceciljia Vasalek and Elaine Chan represented NSW in this event. Anthony Tilbury from WA put on a strong fight all the way to the end to clinch the 2006 national Kyu individuals title.Dan Individuals
There was a 1.5-hour lunch break before the Dan Individuals competition commenced. I was in the last pool on Court 1. I watched most of the pool matches with NSW players. Michael Henstock did very well in his pool, especially his fight against Nick Bartlett. Both put on a strong fight. Nick took the first point with his explosive men. Then Michael came back with 2 men cuts to snatch the pool winning point and move on to the next round. Jackson was drawn to play against Arpad Maksay. Considering that Arpad was a seasoned strong player, Jackson did very well on-court and was very strong and active throughout his match.
Jackson and Alvin
With one pool (3 matches) to go on my court, I went on to put on my men and kote, grabbed my shinai and get ready to go on-court for my first match in this Taikai. Nishimoto-san who played nito was one pool before me and all his matches went into long encho. So it was really good to utilise that time to really psyche myself up with my men on while nobody could really see my face.
I really wanted to show my best kendo to everyone, especially in the presence of Shizawa sensei and Yano sensei, who have been really supportive of my kendo even though we were distance apart. I really wanted to show them that I have improved since we last met and thanked for their support by doing my best.
My first pool match was with Brett Smith. I felt strong and really positive the whole match. I could feel that my jumps were explosive and I was really reaching out for the cuts. I really enjoyed my match with Brett, even though Brett took the match 2-0, both with debana kote. Fighting against a top player really pulled my kendo level up.
Following straight after my match with Brett was the pool match with Dave Bunder. Dave was well over 6-foot tall, and it was my first time to fight against such a tall player in a Taikai. So I tried to keep my explosive energy level up and be active on court. I think our attack and defence were 50:50. Dave took the first point with a kote. After the restart, I kept up the attack, but I could feel that Dave's attack slowed down a bit. There were a few cuts that almost went my way but I just couldn't get the final flick simply because of Dave's height. It took a while, but I finally got it - with debana kote. I was so happy for that point, because it landed clear and crisp on his kote and I could hear that lovely 'pop' sound. What music to ear! Now at 1-1, we went back to our starting-line. 'Shobu!' I had no idea what I should do next, but as soon as I saw Dave came in, I went for debana kote again. 'Kote-ari!' All the flags went up. Oh wow, I won the match. I won my first ever National Dan grade match. It was probably nothing to other people, but for me, it was a milestone, and I was very happy for it.
My match against Dave Bunder in the Dan Individuals
There were a lot of exciting Dan matches to watch, but the final was most surreal. It was a re-match of Kirby Smith and Stuart Burke - both finalists in last year's nationals.
(Kirby went up to jodan-no-kaemae)
(Stuart went up to chudan-no-kamae)
(From jodan, Kirby went for a fake-men then kote)
(From jodan, Kirby went for a fake-men then kote)
The final lasted for 10 seconds. It was all over in lightning speed. Kirby the 4 consecutive Australian National Dan Champion. It was amazing!
There was a 10 minutes break before the start of the womens individuals competition.Womens Individuals
I won my first pool match against Elaine Chan from UNSW with 2 men cuts. Then I was able to have a break while Chiaki Kobayashi and Elaine fought the other pool match.
It's the re-match I have been waiting for. Last time, I rushed my game too much and didn't plan well. This time, I told myself that it would never happen again. I played a much controlled game this time and didn't rush in for cuts. Chiaki was very good at men-kaeshi-do, so I tried a variation of men and kote cuts to keep her guessing and more difficult for her to get a nice kaeshi-do on me. I think she was only able to execute one kaeshi-do on me in this match.
Not long after, the 5mins time-up whistle blew. Seriously, I didn't think time would be up so quickly. It felt more like a 3mins match than a 5mins match. With 0-0, we went on to encho, I told myself not to rush and just be patient. It paid off in the end when Chiaki came in for kote, and I lifted up my shinai and did a kote-nuki-men on her. BAMMM!!! I got through to the next round by an ippon.
I didn't watch the other pool matches and was surprised to find out that my next opponent wasn't Claire Chan. Akemi Drohan from Fudoshin was the winner of pool 1 and I had to play her in the Semi-finals.
I have seen Akemi played before, but not much. All I knew was that she has really proper and effective kendo. I won the first point with a tobikomi-men. Then, Akemi equalised not long after with a hiki-men that faked like a hiki-do. We were 1-1 when the whistle blew and the match went into encho. Akemi was certainly a very smart player and her game kept changing. She had loads of ammunition in her game and certainly very strong in hiki-waza. It certainly kept me thinking all the time. But I couldn't anticipate that she would pull off a hiki-gyaku-do from her bag of tricks. It certainly surprised me and scored a difficult but perfectly executed ippon on me. As much as I wanted to win the match, I think that was a beautiful way to end the match. And I am glad that she went on to win the final against Susan Bonar to become the new Australian womens champion.
After the match, Yano Sensei gave me feedbacks about my Semi-final match. He said that both Shizawa Sensei and himself thought that I did too many men-cuts and needed some more varieties in my game. I absolutely agree with both Sensei's comments. As crazy as it might sound, I was so pumped up on-court that I really felt that, even if my opponent had her shinai up blocking the men, I would have the energy force to smash my opponent's blocking shinai down with mine and land a perfect ippon men cut.
I think to increase the waza repertoire, I need to do a lot of specific waza practice, and kakari-geiko and jigeiko to make them a natural part of my game.The Little Boy with a Gun
After the 1st day of competition, we went back to the apartment to have a rest and get ready for the Welcoming Party. At 7pm, we went downstairs to wait for our Maxi-Taxi. While waiting, there was this little middle-eastern kid, probably around 6 yrs old. He was running around with his toy gun, and pointed his gun towards us when he saw us. Andrew and Jackson said this apartment blocks were full of refugees, so this little kid must be from a refugee family living close by too. He was a cute little kid if he wasn't holding a gun. He came towards us, still with his gun pointing towards us. Well, to be honest, I was a little scared because I had no idea if that thing was real or not, even though the chances of it being a real one would be very very remote. Andrew and I started talking to this kid, but this little kid was speaking in a foreign language and none of us could understand. He kept saying a few words over and over again, and all we could pick up was 'Polici' which I think would probably mean police. Looking at this innocent and cute little kid, I felt so sad that he had to experience such tough life at such an early age. And it honestly made me feel that I was so fortunate to be borned into a good family and brought up in a perfect environment and be able to choose and do what I wanted to do in life.Welcoming Dinner
The official welcoming party was held in Ramon's Restaurant in Willowpond - about 30mins drive from our accommoation. It was a nice big restaurant owned by Ramon Lawrence (WAKR President) with a few function rooms spanned across 2 floors. The kendo function and another wedding party were held on the first floor, and one more wedding party was going on on the second floor.
With Shizawa Sensei and wife at the welcoming party
We spent the night chatting and enjoying the food. Entree was grilled fish with mash; Mains came in buffet style with roasted beef and potato, chicken, salad and bread; Dessert was sweet crepe with vanilla ice-cream and a slice of strawberry.
During the dinner, Ron Bennett told us the story of Australian Kendo from some 30+ years ago to where it is now. Very inspiring story. I wish I had the video camcorder with me at that time to record the history of Australian kendo.
The night finished off with auction and we left at around 11pm.
There was a funny drunkard incident while we were leaving the restaurant. It was my first time to see how drunk people could really get. It certainly opened my eyes up. Anyway, I would jump straight to the ending because it would take up too much space to unfold the story here. Both of them ended up smashing into a parked car in the carpark and just laid there flat on the road.
When we got back to our apartment, it was about 11:30pm. I took a shower, and then just lie on my bed, relaxing and watching my shiai matches earlier in the day from my video camcorder. While watching the video, Jackson walked into the room and we started talking. Mike also came in too later on. And us three chatted about many many things that were happening in our lives. It was great to have such a relaxing moment chatting with my friends who knew what's going with my life and talked with them just about everything I wanted. The next time I looked at my mobile phone clock, it was 2am. We could have just talked till sunrise, but because there was still one day of competition, we decided that it was time to go to bed.Sunday, 16th April 2006
I woke up at 6:45am and walked to the Vietnamese convenient store to buy my hot breakfast. Today, the owner decided to cook me creamy chicken rice. It's so nice of them to cook me different dishes each morning and kept my energy level up throughout the tournament.Kyu Team
The Kyu Team event was scheduled at 9am. Following straight after that was the ladies team event.Womens Team
The NSW ladies team was drawn to play Western Australia in the first round. I won my taisho match 2-0 with men and kote-men. However, WA won that team event with an overall team score of 2-1 to advance to the finals. I was really hoping to shiai with Susan Bonar and thought she would also play the taisho role. Unfortunately, the WA had other ideas and placed Susan in chuken position. So I just missed the chance to keiko with Susan in a shiai situation.
With all my matches out of the way, I spent the rest of the day watching the veteran individuals event, kata team competition and the Dan Team competition.
With the Victorian kendo players Veterans Individuals
Dennis Hong-Soo Kim won the finals with 2 kote. Go! Kote Kim!Kata Team
Jackson and Dino paired up to represent NSW in the kata team competition. They won their first match against WA, and lost to a very strong Queensland team. It was a very good effort for Jackson and Dino, considering that they were just shodan and ikkyu.Dan Team
Straight after the kata competition was the Dan Team event. The NSW Dan Team consists of Stuart Burke, Takashi Itakura, Dennis Kim, Yuji Sano, Kirby Smith with Michael Henstock as reserved. The NSW team won their way to the finals where they met the past 2 years' Dan winning team from Queensland. It was a nail-biting finals and the match had to be decided at the very last taisho match. Dennis Kim did his kote magic and grabbed the final winning point to reclaim the National Dan Team title for NSW.
One match that was worth-mentioning was the match between Kirby and Nick Bartlett. What an explosive and exciting match. Fast and furious. Nick grabbed that match 2-0. With the way he played throughout the tournament, no wonder the shimpans voted as one of the four fighting spirit award recipients.
The NSW Team Closing Ceremony & Free Jigeiko
The closing ceremony was held straight after the Dan Team finals, and then it was 30mins of free jigeiko.
I was happy to have a chance to keiko with Anthony Tilbury - the newly-crowned kyu individuals winner who also achieved shodan in the Friday Shinza. Ace, Congratulations Mate!
I also had keiko with Nobayashi sensei from the AJKF and Enho sensei from the AJSKF. I really enjoyed the keiko with the Sensei coming from Japan. The format they keiko'ed with me reminded me the Nittaidai way of keiko with Sensei, albeit a condensed version. Jigeiko, then uchikomi-geiko, and wrapped up with kirikaeshi.
With about 10mins to the end of the jigeiko session, Kate Sylvester and I had a keiko. It's always nice to keiko with Kate as she always offered pin-point and constructive feedbacks on my kendo, and she understood my style and how I played. Her comment this time was that I should try to minimise the unnecessary moves before making a cut. Make my cuts strong, sharp and straight.
With Shizawa Sensei
We left the venue at around 6pm. Well, we tried to... However, the number and size of trophies to carry back from Perth to Sydney was a real problem. There were so many trophies that it was really impossible to take it on-board without incurring a massive amount of over-weight luggage surcharges. So in the end, we decided to take as many trophies and winning flags as we could handle and ship the rest back to Sydney.
After going back to the apartment, we took turns to have shower. While Dino was in the shower, Mike, Jackson and I were sitting in the lounge room chatting and relaxing. Jackson had this habit of crossing his humongous leg while sitting down. It's so hard not to miss his enormous calf. 'Jackson, your calf is huuuuge!' Mike then commented that it's probably larger than my head. So Jackson dared Mike to check it out to proof it. So Mike, using his stretched out palms circled Jackson's calf and then circled mine. It turned out that my head was slightly larger than Jackson's calf, but only just... Hey Jackson, just do a few more hayasuburi, and your calf will definitely be bigger than more head.Korean BBQ and Vietnamese Pho
That night, Mike, Jackson, Dino, Ceciljia, Elaine and I went to Northbridge to have dinner. Jackson decided that we should go and try Korean BBQ. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a mis-understanding with our order. So after one hour of waiting. We only had half the dishes we ordered. So we went off another Vietnamese restaurant to fill the rest of our stomach. I had one beef pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup), while Jackson had two beef pho. While Mike and Dino had their dishes swapped around without knowing. It was only when Mike almost finished Dino's order and started getting suspicious about what he was having and what ingredients were on Dino's plate that they realised they were eating each other's dish. Certainly didn't seem a whole lot of difference between beef and lamb. It was quite funny.Monday, 17th April 2006
Last day in Perth, I woke up at 7am to pack my luggage and had creamy beef with rice for breakfast.Aust. Squad Training
This morning we had the last Aust. Squad Training at Kent Street High School Gym (a few hundreds metres from the Taikai venue) before the team selection trial on 1st and 2nd July in 10 weeks time. 21 squad members, including Stuart Burke and Arpad Maksay who now lived in Japan and usually wouldn't be able to train with us also joined the training session.
We did stretching and suburi together, put on our men and kote for final 2 hours of squad training together.
We started off with the Australian Squad warm-up. Then we formed groups of 4 and did kirikaeshi, men-uchi, kote-uchi, men-oji-waza, kote-oji-waza and a few shiai-geiko. Training with such a high-energy group of kendo players and the format of this training reminded me the Nittaidai way of training, and I enjoyed it very much. The intensity, the eagerness, the atmostphere and the quality of kendo surrounded me during this two hours of training were absolutely exhilirating. I love this kind of training.
We then went back to 2 lines and did 3 mawari-shiai-geiko, followed by 3 sets of kirikaeshi.
And that was the final 2 hours of the Aust. Squad Training.
From now on, it is the 10 weeks countdown to the Aust. Team Selection in Sydney on 1st and 2nd July.Aust. Kendo Seminar
After the squad training, Mike and I decided to go to the LeisureLife Centre where the 2-day national kendo seminar was held. Sano sensei drove us to the centre and we managed to join in the last 30mins of the morning kihon / basics seminar. We practiced men and men-oji-waza, kote and kote-oji-waza, and a combination of men and kote oji-waza.
I had a shower at the Sports Centre and had a bento lunch box before heading off to the airport with Kirby. Kirby had to stop by his friend's house to return the car and cleaned the house, while I helped packed Kirby's many winning trophies into a cricket equipment bag. The number of trophies and prizes he won in one tournament just amazed me.
After all the cleaning and packing, we caught a cab to the Perth airport. On our way, the taxi driver who was a super keen surfer just told us all his big wave surfing stories. Pretty interesting stuff to hear that those dare-devil surfers can ride some 70ft wave. Anyway, when we arrived to the airport, the taxi driver helped us unload our luggages. He was curious with all the long thin luggages we had and asked what they were. haha, thanks to Kirby. I am now the national flying-fish champion! (Don't know what that is, but it sounded cool. So I will take that. hehe)
So here you go - my Easter long weekend in Perth.
(Btw, the service was so much better and enjoyable on the return QANTAS flight back to Sydney)Photos taken by Nathan Huismanhttp://www.cawdellsmith.com/pix/main.php