Monday, July 14, 2008

Saitama Wadokai Championships - Sunday 6th July

Welcome to my first official post as the Shirimizu ‘Intern’. I've tried to wait until I had something of interest to write about rather than simply writing about how my first two weeks in Japan have been (if you are interested in that, then please visit my personal blog (HERE) .

A short intro on me and Amy...
My name is Carl Jorgeson, I'm 25 years old and I'm from Hartlepool, which lies on the north east coast of England. Back home I'm a Line manager for Tesco (the leading supermarket which is slowly taking over the world!), and I also run my own Karate Dojo - Hartlepool Wadokai ( which has approximately 70 students and a pretty good track record on the tournament circuit. In my spare time I enjoy training for Karate competitions, to maintain my place on the England Wadokai National Team. I also enjoy climbing mountains, Sea Kayaking and Scuba Diving.

I brought my fiancé Amy along with me to Japan, Amy is also from Hartlepool and she is also 25 years old. Amy's an active competitor and a member of the England Wadokai National Team. Back home, Amy is a Police Community Support Officer and also a professional photographer. Amy is also an instructor at my dojo. Amy volunteered to be Shirimizu's official photographer for the Saitama Wadokai Championships.

Tournament report – Saitama Wadokai Championships Sunday 6th July

The Asuharu community centre was the venue for the Saitama Wadokai Championships on a very hot and humid Sunday 6th July 2008. The day was going to prove difficult for me because as an active competitor, I’m not used to watching tournaments, I normally compete in them!

(Richard here - the deadline for participants was over a month in advance so we were unable to get a spot for Carl and Amy not knowing what their schedule would be in the first week. But they are registed for the Wadokai nationals in August!)

Amy on the other hand was kept very busy taking photos all day.

What struck me straight away, before we even got into the sports centre was the punctuality of the Japanese! The majority of athletes and their parents were waiting outside the sport's centre before it even opened for business. When we turned up, there was already a buzz in the air, despite already being 25 degrees at 8:30am, the kids were messing around whilst the parents looked on, no doubt jealous of their youthful energy!

6 clubs attended the tournament, with approximately 300 total competitors; by far the biggest turnout was Arakawa Sensei's Shirimizu dojo with an impressive 160 students, most of who competed in both Kata AND Kumite. From what I could ascertain, the next big turnout was from KICK Karate and then a number of other clubs (sorry I can't read Japanese yet so I don't know their names).

The tournament was setup very well, there were 5 mat areas set up in the hall, with all spectators kept out of the way in stadium seats overlooking all the areas. It gave the event a very ‘clean’ look throughout the day. Usually, at UK tournaments, you can't see past the first area due to huge crowds of parents standing around the mat. Not so in Japan. The hall with its grand marble pillars and stadium seating also gave the tournament a feeling similar to the coliseum in Rome; the students would be going into combat like the gladiators of the past.

There was the usual sort of expectant buzz in the air, as you get at all good tournaments. What stood out were the ‘team’ warm-ups, which lasted for well over an hour. All the different dojo got their students together and the students were put through their paces. I always find that this sort of warm up serves two purposes. Firstly, it gets all the students fired up for the day ahead, their bodies become more agile and the techniques become that bit more sharper, the younger students feeding off the more experienced person stood next to them, it’s a great way to build team spirit. Secondly, it is a great way to psych out all the competitors from the other dojo! Shirimizu filled half the hall with its competitors, surely an intimidating sight for everyone else. The effect of all 300 students warming up together was an impressive sight to see and hear, it was as though the competition had already started, with each group trying to ‘out-Kiai’ the next.

The Shirimizu warm-up was split up in two (due to the large numbers of competitors). Yoshihara Sensei and Yamazaki Sensei took the young yellow and blue belt kids whilst the older and higher grade kids and adults were led by Mori-san, with the other Shirimizu instructors walking between the two groups correcting and encouraging as necessary. Both warm-ups consisted of a lot of bouncing, stretching and Kihon moves, with a lot of synchronised counting. They then moved onto punches with Kiai, and finally onto Kata. I must say that this part was very good, watching 70+ 6-9 year olds perform the different Pinan Kata in near perfect unison – an awesome sight.

It was during his warm-up that Amy donned her Gi so that she could pretend to be a competitor, and therefore get closer to the action for better photos.

At 9:30am, the students were marshalled into lines by dojo.

What followed was a standard opening ceremony, with a lot of speeches by various people. Arakawa Sensei, who happened to be running the tournament, gave a short speech which drew out 5 students (4 of whom were from Shirimizu), they were all presented with a certificate and a small envelope, these kids had been selected to the Japan National Wadokai Team for the forthcoming Wadokai World Championships in August.

After the final bow, it was onto the day’s business. Each mat area was announced and the students were organised into the correct ring. With Japanese efficiency, all 5 Kata rings were ready to go in a matter of minutes. All of the rings ‘bowed in’ together and at 10:00am the tournament begun.

The Kata sections involved both Aka (red) and Ao (blue) competitors perform their chosen Kata simultaneously in front of 5 officials, with the winner getting the majority of the official’s flags. It was Shirimizu up first on all five areas, and impressively, all got through to the next round. This would turn out to be a sign of what the day had in store. What followed was 2 hours of great Kata, no matter which area you watched, there was some very good Kata on display. The main thing that caught my attention was the difference in the Kime points (points of focus) and the general pace of the kata, particularly with the more experienced competitors.

After each round, the area would stop and the officials would have all the students bow out, those competitors that hadn’t made it through the first round were then dismissed.

Round 2 on all areas led to a lot of exciting Shirimizu vs. Shirimizu matches. Next up was the Seniors Dan Grade Kata division, I paid particular attention to this category as it would have been my division had I been competing and Lawrence, my predecessor was also entered. Lawrence was first up, and he got a bye because the other guy didn't turn up. Second round, Lawrence gave a good performance of Pinan Godan (the compulsory Kata), he won this round 5-0. Third round, and a Shirimizu final was between Lawrence (with Seishan) and Tsubasa Oshima (with Chinto). Tsubasa won the final 5-0 with an excellent performance and a well deserved result. Lawrence was thrilled with his second place finish.

At 12 o’clock, when all the Kata areas had finished, everyone broke for 1 hour lunch.

Kumite begun promptly at 1:00pm with everyone bowing in together and each mat area starting at the same time. The main difference between Japan and UK Kumite competition is the extra compulsory safety equipment that is required here in Japan for juniors and ladies. This consists of a huge helmet, with face guard and body armour. The end result is 200 cute little storm troopers lined up at the side of the areas minus the laser-guns of course!

The competitors were all fearless, if a little predictable. From what I could see, everyone's strategy seemed to rely on being the fastest off the mark, with very little in the way off ring-craft. The fighters attack constantly with punches until the referee stops the fight. A lot of the fighters had killer gyakuzuki’s (reverse punches) and were particularly good at stealing the distance from each other, getting in range and then striking to get the point. The downside to the fighting was that most people fought in the same way, most, if not all held a left stance throughout the tournament.

I was particularly impressed whilst watching Yuki Okamura (sorry, no photo), from Shirimizu in the cadets Kumite division, he was, in my humble opinion, the best fighter of the day, showing great skill in picking off his opponents. I think at times he was too confident; losing a few points, but that didn’t stop him from taking gold.

I was a little disappointed with the senior divisions, the categories were quite small (compared to the kid's categories) and the standard wasn't the best I've seen. I still watched the Seniors Dan grade category with interest because again, this would have been my division. This category had a few good bouts, but none had the flair that had been shown in the previous divisions. Mori-san from Shirimizu put on a good display and he was very confident in a few of his bouts, having no guard and simply dodging the opponent's strikes.

All in all, the competition was very well organised and very well run. The Kata standard was very good and there was some good Kumite on display too. I can't wait until the Wadokai Nationals to see how Amy and I perform.

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