忍耐 + 掌握人生
102nd Kyoto Taikai
I followed my curiosity and ended up in Kansai Airport on Saturday, 29th April - just a few days before the 102nd Kyoto Taikai.
I was so happy to see Michael when I stepped out of the custom exit after all the counting-down. We took a 1.5 hours train ride from the Airport to Kyoto station before changing for a 30 mins train ride on the local kintetsu line for the beautiful Ogura neighbourhood. Two hours later, we arrived to Alex Bennett's house, who so kindly allowed me to stay in his home during my Kyoto trip.
Being with the funny Kendo World team people, there were waaaaaay too many crazy and hilarious stories that would take forever to tell. But one thing that certainly kept us laughing for many nights was the remote-controlled Whoop whoop machines which created a lot of embarrassing and (en)light(ening) moments. The acting skills of these guys, especially Alex, were world class.
The joy of being around the KW people
The ever-so-energetic cutie Sparky
There were a couple of free days before the Kyoto Taikai. So during those days, I had the luxury to experience onsen in Yu-no-hana near Kameoka. That was a heavenly relaxing experience. And also went for a scenic 16km boat ride along the beautiful river flowing from Kameoka all the way down to the mountainous Araishiyama.
Bikuri. A floating '7-eleven'? This floating boat store drove next to the boat that I went on at the end of the 16km meandering scenic journey from Kameoka to Araishiyama.
The boat ride from Kameoka to Araishiyama
A 8th Dan grading examination was held in Kyoto on Tuesday, May 2nd. There was a total of 1300 participants in this grading and Alex later told me that there were 16 people passed. So 1.2% passed the 8th Dan grading! That's quite unusual when looking at other 8th dan grading results. 1.2% was high compared to average. Having said that, the Kendo 8th dan exam had to be the toughest grading examination on earth. 1% passing rate, you gotta be super kendo gods, and hopefully goddess too in the not-too-long future, to get the 8th Dan title. Actually, I spotted a lady doing warm-up for her 8th dan exam on the day. Will she be the first female Kendo 8th dan?
There were 9 examination courts in the stadium. Each court has a panel of 6 Hanshi 8th dan Kendo Gods examining the prospective 8th Dan holders. Looking at the grading panel, it was like looking at the Kendo version of Who's Who. Everyone of them was so famous for their strong kendo, and I wish I could keiko with every single one of them.
8th Dan grading exam
8th dan grading exam
Announcing 1st round passing result
While searching for a good place to sit down, I saw Eiji Sueno Sensei sleeping peacefully on the grand stand. Quite an interesting sight of a super 8th dan kendo sensei when he is not in kendo gears.
Finally we found a seat at the very top of the grand stand all the way into the far end of the stadium. Next to us was Osamu Asano Sensei whom I have met in this year's Hong Kong Kendo Taikai. We chatted for a little while and found out from there that Asano sensei got his 8th dan in one go when he was 46 years old. That's the earliest possible age for anyone to try for 8th dan. Passing the toughest test on earth in one go at the youngest possible age. That's just amazing.
May 3rd was the opening day of the three-day Kyoto Taikai. Kyoto Taikai is held in the beautiful Kyoto Butokuden every year. This year marked the 102nd anniversary of this event. As soon as we walked through the gate, we basically had to stop every single step because Michael just knew so many people who came from every part of Japan to attend the Kyoto Taikai. I know I have been introduced to the president of Mitsuboshi, some Sensei from Keischo Tokyo Police, many IKF Sensei who have flown all over the world to teach kendo, etc... there were so many Sensei I met over a short period of time I really couldn't remember who's who. But it was awesome to meet them all in person.
I also bumped into Marcus Clarke, who was originally from Syndey. He attended the bekkasei program at the International Budo University in 2002, and later got married and settled down in Japan.
Later that evening, Michael and I went to the International Goodwill Kendo Club (IGWKC)'s annual dinner not far from the Butokuden. About 80 people attended. Amongst them were a 9th dan sensei and a couple of 8th dan sensei from all over Japan. There were also some attendees from Italy, France, Taiwan and the United States. Some of them are national coaches of their respective country in the upcoming World Kendo Championships later this year. So I will surely meet them again. We went around to other tables, offered and poured a lot of sake for the many Sensei there (see, we were clever. We didn't bring our own cup with us) and had good chat.
After the IGWKC dinner, we moved on to our second party destination - a Japanese restaurant in Shijo - to meet Alex, Hamish, Yoshiyama Sensei, Uehara Sensei, Hiroshi Shinoda Sensei who recently returned from Beijing, Hatori Sensei and wife, and Igarashi Sensei and wife. It was a nice party as, besides me, they were all good friends and have been to many overseas kendo trips together. As a new joiner of the group, I was asked (or Alex's favourite line: 'they maaaaaade me do it') to do a self-introduction, and Alex would translate it into Japanese.
Anyway, after a lot of crazy fun chatting (all the sensei in this party have humourous personality). We decided to move on to the 3rd party place - an Irish pub a few street away which overlooked the Kamogawa river that flows along the middle of Kyoto. We returned home at midnight that night.
On May 4th, the Kendo World magazine team had a group keiko at the Heian Primary School between 10am and 12noon. It was good to see all the Kendo World team members again, though it would be much better if I wasn't injured. I was especially looking forward to keiko with Alan Cornell as we have been talking much about preparing for a duo leading up to the trip. Well, we will have to wait till next time when we meet again. Hopefully, that will be in the near future.
KW group keiko
KW Group photo
Kendo World and Heian Kendo Club after-keiko group photo
After the KW keiko, we went back to Alex's place to put the bogu bags down before making our way to the Butokuden to watch some kendo matches on that afternoon.
I watched both matches of Takahashi sensei (who has won the AJKC and came 2nd twice, and has been on the winning Japanese team at two WKCs.) He won both his matches on the day. I also met Miyazaki sensei (not Masahiro Miyazaki sensei) who, I later found out, was the founding member of the ANU Kendo Club. It was pretty cool when he said he knew Ron Bennett. For me, it's nice to find out that I was bumping into people who had great influence to the early development of Australian Kendo.
Yoko, Alex, Hamish, and me at the Kamogawa River
Michael and me
Later that afternoon, we walked to a second-hand book fair a few blocks away, had a few Kilkenny beers to at the nearby Hill o Tara Irish pub, before our Brazilian all-you-can-eat onslaught for dinner that night.
Friday, May 5th - the final day of the Kyoto Taikai - was the day when all the hanshi 8th dan sensei showcased their kendo. We arrived to the Butokuden at around 2pm after having soba from a very nice and cosy soba noodle shop nearby.
The soba shop near the Butokuden
Eating at the really nice and traditional soba shop near the Butokuden
As soon as I walked through the gate, I saw Eda Chen from Hong Kong and went straight to say hello to her. Her first reaction was 'where were you? Did you just arrive? The Taikai is almost finished.' She was right. The Taikai was running earlier than we thought, and so I missed many of the Hanshi matches that I'd love to see, such as Masashi Chiba sensei's match.
Announcing the Sensei names of the very last match of the Kyoto Taikai
Last match of the Kyoto Taikai
After the Taikai finished at around 3pm, Alex, Trevor, Michael and I walked to the Kyudo area adjacent to the Butokuden and watched Randy's Kyudo contest. After the two Kyudo shots, we went to Hill o Tara for another few glasses of Kilkenny before meeting with Alex's wife, Yoko, at Ogura station for some okonomi-yaki for dinner.
The Kyudo competitor stand at the Butokuden
Randy, the Kyudo master
I wish I could stay in Japan for a little longer. Just a blink of the eyes and it was time to go home - back to Australia.
Hopefully it won't be long till my next trip to Japan. And that this time, I will be looking forward to every keiko opportunity.
Nishin soba at a noodle shop in Kyoto station. (Sorry, I have already taken a bite of the fish as you might have noticed already)
One last time of soba-eating at the Kansai airport