Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The 44th Wadokai All Japan Karatedo Championships

Carl here;

This tournament was split over two days, with the eliminations held on the 23rd August in a large sports hall near Tokyo Disney world in Chiba and the event finals at the Nippon Budokan on the 24th.

Friday night
For me, the weekend started on the Friday night at the Shiramizu Dojo. I arrived towards the end of the training session (I usually train but the session was earlier than usual due to the tournament) and just in time to be handed a paper cup and a pen. I was asked to write down my thoughts about tomorrow’s tournament.

If you’re wondering, I wrote “I will get laughed at in Kata, and smoked (Ed-beaten) in kumite”. I realise that this isn’t particularly optimistic but at the time I felt as though I was climbing a mountain, I hadn’t competed since February, this would be my first competition in Japan AND it’s the middle of Japan’s summertime! I had already resigned myself to giving it my best shot and learning for the next tournament.

Then along with all the other competitors, I lined up to get my cup filled with one of the various drinks available. Once everyone had filled their cup, they lined up ready for the toast. Yamazaki and Yoshihara Sensei said a few things and there were various shouts of Kampai enthusiastically led by Tsubasa-san. Everyone downed their drink and then got into a big circle; Tsubasa then led a count to 3. On the count of 1 and 2 everyone in the huddle stamped their foot and shouted, then on the count of 3, everyone jumped and shouted together. This was a very simple but effective team build, and it put everyone into a positive mindset for tomorrow’s contest. I think I will be taking this particular tradition back to England with me.

Day 1
The next morning, we met at the dojo at 6.20am and we were all on our way by 6.30am. The coach journey was pretty uneventful and we got to Tokyo Disney world by 8.10am. We unloaded the coach and we waited, along with a few hundred other people at the entrance for the doors to be opened.

The doors were opened at 8.35 and 200 people tried to get through inside at once. I was very near the entrance, so I got swept inside by the masses. It turns out that everyone was in a rush to secure blocks of seats for their respective dojo. The first in were the scouts who would rush to a good area and hold the seats for the rest. Some of the Shiramizu cadets were given this mission.
Amy and I went off to get changed and then quickly joined the rest of Shiramizu, who had grouped together in the middle of the arena. Tsubasa put everyone through a warm up of basics and then we had a short time before the opening ceremony. I am pleased to say that this ceremony didn’t last very long.

Immediately after the ceremony, they announced the categories which would be starting. My kumite event would be starting at 10am in areas one and two. I must say that the organisation here is the best I’ve ever seen. Everyone has a printed program which is the size of a small telephone directory. It states your name and dojo, who you will fight, in what order and on which area. At the back of the program, there is an explanation of the referee flag and hand signals. And finally, it has a list of who has placed in the JKF Wadokai Worlds and the JKF Wadokai Nationals in previous years and a list of all the overseas JKF Wadokai branch dojo.

Kumite - Round 1
There were 76 entries in my category and I was in the ninth bout. I watched the first few bouts with interest, but I found I was quite relaxed but still nervous when it became my turn to fight. I was pleased that one of the officials was a friendly face; Shiramizu's Uehara Sensei who is a JKF Referee was on my area.

I was designated ao (blue), my opponent aka (red) and we would fight for 1 ½ minutes, and we would fight to 6 points clear (usually its 8 points). Aka moved forward immediately with a jodan tobikomizuki (lunge punch to the head) and got awarded ippon (1 point). This wasn’t a good start.

I countered with a jodan mawashigeri (round-house kick to the head) which knocked aka to the floor. Two out of three officials deemed it to be too excessive so I was given a warning. Undaunted, I came back with a jodan ura-mawashigeri (hook-kick to the head) and got sanbon (3 points).
We continued to trade for a while and I scored another 3 points, all with jodan tobikomizuki. The score was sitting at 6 (au) – 1 (aka), so I only needed one more point to win. I managed to score another jodan ura-mawashigeri and won the bout 8-1 with 30 seconds left to go.

Kumite - Round 2
I was more nervous for this one, though I was aware of my strengths and weaknesses from my last fight. I had decided to get my hands working and score with gyakuzuki (reverse punch), a technique particularly favoured by the Japanese fighters.

I tried to score 3 times with reverse punch but my opponent was faster off the mark on all 3 occasions. The score was sitting at 3 (au) – 0 (aka), I was losing and I had to catch up. I upped my game a little, and started attacking more.

I threw a jodan-geri (head kick) which didn’t score but in the scuffle my opponent lost a contact lens. The match was stopped whilst he replaced it. When the match resumed, I threw a jodan ura-mawashigeri to equalise the score. The rest of the match was very close, I scored ippon and then my opponent immediately equalised. I scored another ippon which put me ahead by one point. We traded for a few more seconds; ao through a gyakuzuki which I thought had landed just as the referee called yame (stop). The punch didn’t score and I won my second match 5-4.

Kumite - Round 3
I was fully aware that if I won this fight, I would be competing in the Budokan tomorrow. I tried to put that out of my mind as the fight started.

My opponent was very quick; he launched a chudan mawashigeri (round-house kick to the body). I blocked this with my arm, but it was awarded nihon (two points). Perhaps by block wasn’t obvious enough. We squared up and traded a few techniques then he threw another body kick but this time I was ready, I moved back out of range and the kick skimmed past, just missing its target. The referee stopped the fight and awarded another nihon. I felt victimised at this; the score was 4-0. I next launched a jodan mawashigeri which found its target but didn’t score; my opponent grabbed me and tried a throw which I stopped with a heavy punch to the face. The referee’s didn’t like that so they gave a contact warning.

When the fight resumed, my opponent threw a perfect mawashigeri which landed around the back. This was awarded nihon and the fight was over, I had lost round three 6 – 0. I was crushed, I felt like I almost had victory in my grasp but it was taken away from me.

I stepped away from the area to re-focus and get my head straight (very important after losing a fight). I analysed my fights and understood that my third opponent had watched me fight in the first two rounds, and he knew that I favoured head kicks. He countered this by throwing body kicks which are faster because they have a shorter distance to cover. This strategy closed me out of the fight with just three techniques. I figured that I need to work more on gyakuzuki’s, through all my bouts I was telling my body to throw them but it was unwilling to co-operate. There is a definite lack of conditioning that I will have to address before the next tournament. Overall, I was pleased with my performance and the fact that I finished in the top 16 out of 76 fighters.

I sat back down to watch the last fight. Uehara Sensei no doubt sensing my disappointment, said ‘maybe, he is a very good fighter, very fast’. It cheered my up a little, though I knew how I lost the fight. After the next bout, the area finished and we all bowed out. The top 8 fighters would finish the category in the Nippon Budokan tomorrow.

Mori in action

I was pleased to find out that Mori-san (from Shiramizu) had got through to the top 8 as he had been fighting on area 1 so I had missed most of his fights.

Chihiro in action

After my area finished, I caught the end of Chihiro’s category. She comfortably secured her place in the Budokan with two clean wins.

All areas stopped for 1 hour lunch at 12.30 and resumed again at 1.30pm. My next event wasn’t until 4pm, so I decided to have a sleep. This is something of a tradition for me at tournaments; I find it’s the best way to keep you fresh.

I was sat in the stands at about 3.30pm, looking at the program a little puzzled. My kata event was after the children’s events but I hadn’t seen any kata yet. At this point Yoshihara sensei finds me and explains that my kata category is next; I must have looked puzzled because sensei explained that kata was taking place in another hall on the second floor. I had been completely unaware of this and missed all kata events. Sensei led the way into the other hall, which had 4 kata areas set up. I was going to be up after the kids’ category on area 13.

Kata - Round 1
I was nervous, very nervous. It must have shown too because Yoshihara Sensei kept telling me to relax. This was the first time I had competed in kata since I was 12 years old and I had never competed in anything bigger than a club event! There were 44 people in my kata event, including Lawrence who had mistakenly been entered despite competing at the JKF Wadokai worlds in Canada. I was to perform second. I tried to get myself psyched up for it, practising a little. But I found I was particularly out of my depth with this. When I was called up I walked to the line, I didn’t even realise that no-one had lined up at the red position. I was called forward and given a bye.

Kata - Round 2
This made me even more nervous, I would surely have stood a better chance against the guys in the first round! The second round came, this time I was aka (red). I lined up and walked on, I announced my kata as Niseishi, this being the compulsory kata. I then gave the worst Kata performance of my life, everything was tense, the targets were off, it was just awful. The result obviously went to ao (blue) 5 flags to 0. The important thing is that I walked off smiling; knowing full well that I had given it my best shot, and was still awful!

It’s fair to say that I have a new found respect for kata competitors. I am relatively at ease from the moment I step on the mat as a fighter, but kata is different. I didn’t really have time to think about the performance because after the bow out I had to run back downstairs to watch Amy fighting. I picked up the camera en-route and just got to the side of the area as the referee signalled the end of the bout, I had missed all of Amy’s fights. Amy won her first fight 6-0 with solid reverse punches but lost her second 7-1.

Amy, Chihiro, Yoshihara Sensei and Kikuchi Sensei

Amy was the last Shiramizu competitor of the day so after her event, we all got changed and met outside for a group photo, then it was back home on the coach.


Day 2
Today was another early start; we met at Tobudobutsu-koen station for a 6.53am departure. We arrived at the Nippon Budokan at approximately 8.30am just as the doors were opened.

As with yesterday, there was a huge crowd waiting for the front doors of the sports centre to be opened. Shiramizu didn’t have to race inside though as we had officials who had already secured us the best seats in the house, they taped off a full section of the Budokan seating just for us.

The competitors who qualified for today’s events quickly got changed and started warming up in the middle of the Budokan. I think it’s great that some of the students who didn’t qualify still came to support their team mates.

The tournament started at 9.30am, as always with all areas bowing and starting together.

Chihiro, ready to go into battle

Men’s Individual Kumite
Mori-san was one of 8 competitors to get through the eliminations of the event. His fight was second. I watched all fights in this category with interest, the competitors were fast off the mark but they were all very cagey. No-one wanted to risk making a mistake when they were this close to the finals, so the majority of each bout was two guys stood still until the last 20 seconds when they would both try for a point and the fastest would win. Mori was fighting pretty well until he took a heavy blow which temporarily KO’d him. His opponent was disqualified putting Mori through but he was still unsettled for the next round where he never really engaged the fight. Mori finished in 3rd place.

Men's Final - exciting stuff?!

The final was not particularly inspiring, the two competitors bounced three minutes away and the fight went to extra time. In the whole fight, only three techniques were thrown including the one technique that scored.

Opening Ceremony
At 12.30, the tournament was put on hold and all but one area was cleared of tables and chairs. The area that was remaining hosted the senior kata finals. After this every competitor lined up in their respective dojo, this took a while because there were so many students.

At a rough count, I would say 500 students took part in a collective bow. Many important people (?) made speeches, most people wished the competitors luck and some mentioned the Wadokai World Cup and the Tokyo 2016 Olympic bid but apart from that, I have no idea what was said.

After the speaches all the students were put through a kneeling bow followed by Pinan Nidan, Pinan Shodan and a few kicking and punching techniques. On every count, there was a pounding of a huge drum, it made the whole exhibit that bit more impressive.

After this, a number of students presented large trophies to the officials and were given smaller ones in turn. I’m going to guess and say that these were team trophies which are returned annually.

Next came a small kata demonstration, 15 students came up in teams of 3 and performed a number of team kata. This was ok, but nothing special I think I may have been spoilt by watching so many Shiramizu demonstrations at the dojo.

Kata Events
A lot of the Shiramizu competitors were called up for their respective events shortly after the opening ceremony.

I watched most Shiramizu performances and I thought the standard was exceptional, quite often when I thought our students had performed well, the result would go to the other person.

Yamazaki Sensei showing us how it's done

I think that Japanese referee's must look for different things in kata than British referee's.

Or it could simply be that I am more conditioned (being from the UK) to the likes of the shotokan style with its strong stances than the wadokai style.

I'm not sure, but it's obvious that I've still got a lot to learn about kata.


A bit about the tournament structure

The closing date for all entries was a month beforehand. This meant that professional programs could be printed, with every competitor's name inside. These programs help ensure that the tournament runs like clockwork.

There were 2252 competitor entries in the day’s tournament, with 36 categories, the biggest event had a massive 196 entries; obviously a lot of people were entering both kata and kumite, and then team events. But this gives you an idea of the size of the event.

Each kumite area had 13 officials (1 referee/3 flag officials/1 adjudicator/8 table officials), and there were 8 areas. Each kata area had approximately 10 officials (5 flag officials/5 table officials), and there were 7 areas. That’s 174 officials, at a rough count because other officials were walking around all day too! I’ve never been to a tournament were there were so many officials, even at international events. But I believe this; along with the program is the main reasons why the event ran so well.


I think this tournament has opened my eyes to how organised and professional you can be with a little bit of planning and lots of volunteers. I was a little bit disapointed with some of the kumite I watched, but there were still some very good fighters around across all ages. The kata standard was exceptional, I don`t think I witnessed a poor performance all weekend (except maybe mine! :-) ). I'm planning on staying a little longer in Japan next year and competing in the 45th Wadokai All Japan Karatedo Championships, I`m sure it will be bigger and better than ever.


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