Monday, October 29, 2007

Sugito City tournament.

It was a slightly chilly Oct 12st morning when dojos from Sugito and its surrounding cities of Miyashiro and Satte all met at the Sugito Takanodai Elementary School for the Sugito Taikai. The gym wasn't very big, but it still held four rings and seating for families and friends. The holding ring, though, had to be put in the hall and that's where most people stayed to warm up.

But with around 400 competitors, 4 rings were quite enough. The morning started off with kata, and in my division my Chinto faced off with Zenshinkan Dojo's Sawai-san's Kankudai. I was beaten and I sort of regret not watching his kata while I waited since the kata he did in his matches afterward were all rather good.

Owing to the smoothness of the matches, lunch time hit well before 12 and it was decided that we would reconvene anyway at 1, giving us nearly an hour and a half to eat, practice, and generally make friends.

The afternoon was all kumite where my adult division's original 5 entrants was down to 4 because one hadn't shown up. I felt a bit more nervousness this time around compared to the Tobu taikai and though I was aware of how I was moving, I really couldn't help myself. I didn't win that match either so more practice is it then.

But results aside, it really was a great tournament because of the fact that it's people from near where Shiramizu is. More families (as well as more Shiramizu competitors) meant more time to meet people. And this closeness means there are people I'm likely to run into during my time here. Indeed, I ran into Sawai-san again just two days ago in a bookstore. So fun all around, but it's back to the grind stone as I only have one week left until the Tokyo Kita-ku (North Area) Taikai on November 3rd.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Karate, their life.

Recently I had the chance to read both Tatsuo Suzuki (WIKF Wado founder) and Hirokazu Kanazawa's (SKIF Shotokan founder) autobiographies. For all their similarities (both had studied under their respective style's founder, both played a role in the global spread of karate, and there is even a subtle reference to each other in both books), these personal stories are very different.

Suzuki Sensei's book reads more like a conversation with him at a coffee shop. It starts rather autobiographically with some details of when and where he was born and about his family, but within 10 pages, he's reached the age of 19 and delves head first into a discussion of karate, including an anecdote of how Ohtsuka Sensei had once forgotten Superimpei.

The book continues as such, following a rough and occasionally chronologically challenged progression of Suzuki Sensei's life. It is also rather short, at just over 150 pages of text and photos, so the action builds rapidly; indeed, exciting run-ins with the yakuza, arrests, and fights at a young age abound before even the first half of the book is over.

But it is also an intriguing look into the life of someone who has experienced Wado-Ryu almost since its inception. His years of international Wado experience also means that anyone within the style will likely be able to tie themselves in with one aspect or another that Suzuki Sensei discusses. Though at times a little difficult to follow, for instance when he is discussing his life in England and then switches to another thought that occurred to him or even when events are only given vague dates, it is still interesting to follow Wado's expansion.

In stark contrast, Kanazawa Sensei's book is a properly structured biography. He accounts very linearly (and with great detail) his life from the earliest point he can remember and spends as much time discussing his childhood experiences as he does his adult life. He relates stories and memories that have shaped his outlook on life and I really began to see how Kanazawa Sensei approached everything he does.

The book is funny too, with many incidents of hilarity. Such as when Kanazawa was given a package of lotus roots as a present and, upon seeing them filled with holes, threw them all out not knowing they are naturally as such. His friend never let him near another lotus flower afterwards without bringing that up. Or his quest for vengeance against an evil "sumo geezer".

Of course, since it has more pages, Kanazawa Sensei also manages to talk more about his training, from the people he met to the hours or techniques he practiced, there is simple more to read about. One difference I noticed was that Suzuki Sensei, though he discusses his training, often seemed to train alone or with one or two students in tow. Kanazawa Sensei, on the other hand, had rather more social training recollections.

It is easy to greatly respect both gentlemen for dedicating their lives to karate and for also having been trained somewhat by their style's founder. Both talk freely about their joys and hardships (such as Suzuki Sensei's one-time damaged reputation or Kanazawa Sensei's expulsion from the JKA Shotokan), and how they faced helping promote karate around the world. Although, in the end, I found Kanazawa Sensei's longer, more linear book to provide more depth.

Suzuki's Book: Fullness of Life in Karate (website states out of stock)

My Life, Hirokazu Kanazawa


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Tournment Progress Begins...

Shiramizu's Mikiya Kikuchi (aka) scoring a point in the junior high school boys team kumite

This Tobu Taikai (Tobu meaning East, as in Eastern Saitama) was my first Japanese competition and indeed, first competition in a long time. The heavy rain couldn't keep dojos all over from coming out and there was lots of very good competition. It was a pretty great experience although that's not what I could say about my results.

In kata, my Chinto was trumped by my opponent's Kururunfa and it was, sadly, an early end to that division for me. Oddly, I had envisioned myself being a puddle of nervous sweat, but the nervousness didn't hit til after I had finished.

In kumite, I scored the first two points against my opponent, Takashima-san (who attended the kata classes with me at the camp the week prior; we've since become passing acquaintances), which he responded to with by scoring the next 3 (a jodan tsuki and a chudan geri). We each scored one more point after and at precisely when the buzzer rang, we both tried for that last point. He got the point and the victory (5-3) and went on to win the division. But I was happy with the result, nonetheless, and came away rather excited.

Regardless of result, I was pretty happy with my performance, especially in kumite where final score was close enough that I thought I did better than I expected. I won't go as far as to say I could have won, but I think I could have won, perhaps not the division, but the match. Although results are the only things that count.

The best part was that losing is by no means discouraging. I walked away from the ring unscathed, aside from a really sore left side of my jaw where I took a good punch, and eager to train more and improve my standings next time (on the 21st, for the Sugito City competition). I don't have such grandiose images of winning everything though, as progress is my only goal. There will be lots more opportunities to test my mettle and the results will come on its own.

The dojo on a whole, however, did very well- Shiramizu students placed or won their category often. Particularly exciting were the elementary and high school boys team kumite matches, which Shiramizu took top honours in both.

At night, there was a party to celebrate both the good work done at the competition (Shiramizu Sensei and staff all contributed is some form either as refs, volunteers, managers, competitor support staff, etc.) and, more important, to celebrate Hachizuka Sensei, Iwazaki Sensei, Yamazaki Sensei, and Yoshiwara Sensei's recently attained 3rd degree black belt standing. The night was full of speeches and good times, no doubt partly due to the "all you can drink" feature at the restaurant.

All in all though an excellent first time out I thought, and I can only hope I have better things to say about the results next time, haha.......


Monday, October 8, 2007

Tobu Taikai!

The Tobu Taikai held on Sep 30 went very smoothly. Lawrence competed and I officiated, while some 450 karate athletes did their thing. The venue was the relatively new Kuki City Public Gymnasium, which is a rectangular arena with seats and the floor area for easily 6 courts plus warm-up space.

The tournament is organized by Shiramizu dojo and I thought it was for Tobu City which is just beside Sugito City where the dojo is, which is beside Kuki.

There were 27 divisions, and it was a regular local city event for beginners to advanced students, but with everyone divided up by age and sex, not by rank. So from kindergarten to over 40, for example, divisions were simply listed as 'elementary school grade 4 boys invidual kata'. There were team kumite divisions as well, for boys 5 members and for girls 3 members.

Here are the Shiramizu winners! From kindergarten to high school level, the best 8 for each division received a certificate of achievement and the best 4 received medals. For the adult divisions, just the top 2 got a medal and certificate.

Awards were handed out in typical Japanese tournament fashion, when as soon as a division was done and the certificates were ready, the winners were called over the PA to line up in front of the head table where a line of VIPS holding the medals and certificates would get up from their seats and wait for them. Arakawa Sensei would read out the division name and then the winner's name for the division over the PA, and then all at the same time, Sensei and the VIPs would present the awards to the athlete in front of them, lined up from first to last in a best 8, or for adults top 2.

At every tournament in Japan there is a room reserved off to the side where 2 or even 3 people labor away with filling out all the date, divisions and winners names on the pre-printed form certificates using artful Japanese calligraphy. Each event has hundreds of certificates pre-printed just for that event, so they can be used every year. Only the date, division and winner's names need to be added, but also the current president of whatever organization running the tournament must be added with their big tournament hanko, or stamp.

These shodo people are normally from a shodo club if not shodo teachers, and they may also do karate. One person runs to and from the head table to drop off finished division certificates and get another division's winner's names.

At the high school where I coach, when junior high school students come to take part in club practices, register for school entrance exams or come to the actual exams, parents bring along big folders of all of these tournament certificates their child has collected from their good results at every single tournament they've attended since 1st year elementary school. This is to help impress myself and the club director in the hope we will a) want to have such a dedicated and talented new karate club member next year and b) put in a good word for them to the school's entrance selection department who reviews exam results with each student's school application.

Sometimes parents just bring one certificate if it is something very impressive like winning the junior high school National Championships. If your a national champion, like in other countries, enough said...

The registration deadline for tournaments tends to be one month prior, which different for us from Canada where the standard is one week prior or same day registration. But the reason for this early registration requirement is that big programs are printed listing everyone's name and all the draws for each division, plus sometimes there are a few pages in the back to list prevuous year's winners and many pages of dojo ads and karate equipment supplier ads. No same day registration is allowed because a deadline is a deadline.

The other thing everyone does, me too, is keep every single tournament program we ever get. When I'm coaching, I or one of my students copies down all the results for every division, especially our club's results. Most tournaments have large blown-up poster size division sheets taped to a wall and someone from the head table updates the division results all day along. A small crowd of people almost constantly forms around these posters.

Everyone normally records at least the kata performed by their dojo members and the kumite scores respectively for each round. At the very moment a division is finished with one's dojo members in it, many people at the event send text messages from the cell phones to non-attending dojo members and parents to let them know how the tournament is going. Knowing how the 'drama' of the tournament is progressing is followed closely here, not just for one's own club, but for other clubs, especially the one's with top reputations for producing winners.

The other thing that is common for example is last Saturday when I ran a multi-high school club practice at my school, another club coach brought the program for an important tournament she and her top athlete attended way up north so that I could see the results and reflect on the current quality of the current athletes, plus see how her student did of course. Several times older retired coaches visiting my school have asked to see some of the recent tournament programs, and then off they go to drink a coffee (and have a smoke, some of them) while they ponder on how each club is doing, which are still producing top athletes, which clubs are getting weaker or stronger, etc.

Being a fun city event, this event was no yosen, or eliminations to a higher event. But for sure an enjoyable day for all, and it was finished by 4:30pm!