Monday, October 27, 2008

Sugito Taikai

Carl here...

...for a huge report on the 33rd Sugito Taikai (Sugito Championships) which was held on Sunday 26th October at the Takano-dai shogakko (Takanodai Elementary School) in Sugito.

Team Gaijin! Lawrence, Carl, Amy...

There are only two karate dojo in Sugito, Shiramizu (Wadokai) and Zenshinkan (Shotokan), so a number of dojo from the surrounding towns were also invited to bulk out the entries. This was still going to be the smallest competition that I had entered so far in Japan, so I was eager to see how it would work out. Size wise it will be closer to the ‘inter club’ events that I’m planning for my dojo in England.

Set up
Lawrence, Amy and I walked to the school (only 15 minutes from our apartment) and arrived for 7:15am to help Arakawa Sensei and his team of volunteers to set up the competition. The set up was pretty straight forward, 4 taped areas in the middle of the hall, chairs for spectators around three sides and the officials table at the top of the hall opposite the entrance.

The tournament had 14 kata and 13 kumite divisions with 411 individual entrants. This number of entrants can be halved because most competitors entered both kata and kumite.

Group Warm up

Warm up... Shiramizu style!

As is customary at Japanese competitions, the dan grade cadets put everyone through a standard warm-up of drills and stretching. The Shiramizu competitors took up most of the hall and at a guess, I would say that they accounted for 80% of the entrants.

Opening Ceremony
Again, this was pretty standard. There were a few short speeches and Takuya Iwasaki gave a very good roman salute to Matsuda Sensei from the Zenshinkan dojo, on behalf of all the competitors.

I must admit that after the opening ceremony, I found somewhere quiet to go to sleep. If it wasn’t for Lawrence waking me up I would have probably missed my event! I did watch a few events, and I thought the standard was very good.

Men’s Kata
There were only five entries in this category, 3 of whom were from Shiramizu, myself, Lawrence and Tsubasa and the other two were friends of Lawrence. My only goal in kata was to perform without being nervous; my last two attempts at kata have been very shaky performances. I was first up with an offering of Chinto, with a guy from the Shotokan dojo with Kankudai. Lawrence was up next against the guy who beat me. Lawrence also performed Chinto, which I don’t think he’ll mind me saying, was not up to his usual standard. The Shotokan guy went through to the final to face the winner of the next match between Tsubasa and the other guy from the Shotokan dojo. Tsubasa performed very well, and got all 5 flags and thus went onto the finals. The final match was no contest, Tsubasa easily won with a great performance of Chatanyara Kushanku kata and got all 5 flags.

Cadet & Ladies Kata - Amy’s Kata Debut...

Misaki in action

I watched Amy’s category with interest as it was her debut performance in a kata competition. Her ladies kata division was merged with the cadet’s because Amy was the only senior entry. The cadets are all very good, in particular Misaki and Kana from Shiramizu.

Amy, mid-Chinto

Amy gave a good performance of Chinto, she didn’t get through the first round but she enjoyed the experience and will definitely be entering the next kata event.

Kana, event final, Suparinpei

I was particularly impressed with Kana’s Suparinpei in the final, the kata is overly long and she performed it exceptionally well, winning with 3 flags to 2.

After the kata events, we all stopped for a 1 hour lunch break. During the break, most of Shiramizu donned their mitts for some kumite drills. I took the opportunity to beat up some of the kids who kidnapped my iPod earlier in the day...

I didn’t watch many events, I was too conscious of my need to medal. I’d come away from the last two competitions without a prize and was eager to put an end to the dry spell. To add to the pressure, there were only 3 people in my category (including Lawrence) and I’d been given a bye to the final. Also, this was only the second time that I’d used one of the Japanese head guards, my first outing with this didn’t go particularly well!

Amy’s kumite
Amy was again the only entry for the ladies kumite so her division was combined with the cadets. I had my fingers crossed that she wouldn’t get disqualified.

Misaki, Amy, Kana

Amy’s first fight was against Misaki, who is more of a kata perfectionist than a fighter. Despite this, it was a very close fight.

Amy vs Misaki

Both fighters traded very well, and the result could have gone either way. Amy however found her stride first and settled into delivering solid gyakuzuki’s as counter punches. Amy won the fight 6-4. Her next fight would be the final which would be held a little later on in a special ‘end of day’ event.

Men’s kumite
Lawrence was matched with the guy who beat us both in the kata.

Lawrence (blue) in action...

The fight was very good; Lawrence quickly took the fight to his opponent and found his stride.

Go Lawrence...

I was trying to coach from the sidelines but I’m not sure if he heard. Despite not being a fan of kumite, Lawrence is actually a very good counterpuncher. Whenever his opponent attacked, he was ready with a solid reverse punch to get the point. He easily outmatched his opponent to win the bout on the buzzer 7-1.

The Finals
After all the preliminary rounds had finished on the four areas, they were all dismantled and a central area was created for the 13 final matches. This was a really nice touch to the tournament as it let the crowd get closer to the action. The referee’s and the fighters were also introduced over the PA before each match which added to the excitement of each bout.

The final events ran in typical order, youngest to oldest. There were some very close matches but most of the juniors stuck with hand techniques to try and get the 4 points clear.

Yusuke (Arakawa Sensei’ oldest son) fought very well in his match, he was clinical and his opponent didn’t get close. An easy 4-0 win!

Yuki and Rikuto, Kumite final

Yuki and Rikuto (male cadets) from Shiramizu was a good match, with both guys throwing some great combinations including a few good sweeps and a well placed jodan-geri. Yuki won the match by a comfortable margin.

Amy and Kana, Kumite final

Amy and Kana’s fight was close, I thought Amy would have won easily but Kana, quickly found a weakness in Amy’s attack and used it to win the match.

Next up was the men’s kyu grade final between two Shiramizu fighters. I didn’t watch much of this bout as I was getting warmed up for my match. What I did see of the fight was a brawl, with a few warnings being handed out. I always find this category to be the same - heavy contact but lots of effort.

Carl Vs Lawrence
I’d just watched Lawrence fight the best I’ve ever seen him fight, with some great counter punching. So I was a little apprehensive when we were called up. I couldn’t let him get settled in the fight otherwise it would become a very close contest. I took the fight to him, measuring distance with my lead hand trying to throw him off, and launched with a tobikomizuki to get a point. Lawrence launched in with a jab, but I was faster with a gyakuzuki to get another point. I then set him up for a jodan-uramawashigeri (hook kick to the head) which the crowd liked. Next, Lawrence moved in with a gyakuzuki-chudan which landed and should have scored because I was a little slow to react, I side stepped with a jab to the head. The referee wanted to give Lawrence the point, but was overruled by the three flag officials who, blindsided only saw my technique land. The result was 6-0.

Closing ceremony and kumite awards
Once the area was cleared away, all the competitors lined up for the kumite presentations. After the awards were given out, there were a few final speeches including a funny ‘lost-property’ announcement by Arakawa Sensei. After the final ceremony everyone helped to clear up the tournament, which took a little more than ten minutes.

The Shiramizu entrants... (picture from Arakawa Sensei' blog)

The tournament was very well organised (I’ve put a few observations at the end of this post) and even finished early! It’s a shame that my kumite event was so small because it felt like an empty victory, despite being my first Japanese medal! Amy was quite pleased with her 2nd place medal too, which was also her first Japanese medal. Everyone had a great time and I think the way Arakawa Sensei arranged the kumite finals was fantastic and really added to the atmosphere.


About the tournament

Officials and Volunteers
I think it’s a testament to the character of Arakawa Sensei and Uehara Sensei (chief referee) that they got so many officials to help at the event. Kata had 5 flag officials, then an adjudicator and maybe 5 more people running the table. Kumite had 3 flag officials, the referee, adjudicator and maybe 10 people running the table. At a rough count I would say that there were 50 volunteers/officials for 4 areas.

Run like clock-work!
As soon as a category has begun, volunteers were getting the competitors for the next category ready in a separate location, with all relevant equipment. All ‘red’ competitors were put in one line, and all ‘blue’ in another. As soon as the final match has finished on the area, the new competitors were marched into the main hall. The red competitors go to the ‘red’ side and blue to theirs. The event is ready to go by the time the referee’s have bowed out. This organisation ensured that the competition could finish early.

Tournaments in the UK often over run because of either a lack of officials and volunteers or because competitors are not where they are supposed to be, with the right equipment when called for.

Points system
Kata was run as WKF standard, red and blue flags, 5 flag officials with both aka and ao performing their kata simultaneously except in the finals.

Kumite for the juniors was to 4 points clear, cadets and seniors to 6 points, including the final. This ensured that the event ran so quickly. If I was to adopt this system I would probably have all events run to 6 points clear, because it’s too easy to get 4 points, one lucky kick and a punch and it’s all over! Also, for the finals (if time allowed) I would probably go for the WKF standard 8 points clear as it gives the fighters more chance to take risks and is therefore much more interesting to watch.

What I think is a good idea is that the number of awards is dependent upon the number of competitors in that category. So, in large categories there were 8 awards – medals and certificates for 1st, 2nd and joint 3rd and certificates for next best 4. Some of the smaller categories (like my kumite one) only had 1 medal. I think this system is rather good, not only does it cut down on the cost of a tournament, BUT and perhaps more importantly, competitors have to earn the prize rather than just being awarded it for being there!

Along with the standard event program, all competitors were given a pen printed with the tournament name free of charge. A small and inexpensive way of having the event remembered!

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