Saturday, November 8, 2008

Northern Tokyo Taikai

Being the Intern, I was kindly invited by Richard Sensei to compete in the 42nd Northern Tokyo Taikai which was held at the Takinogawa Community Center on Monday 3rd November 3. I would be competing as the third fighter in the men's kumite team made up of graduates from Seiritsu High School, of which Richard Sensei is the head coach. The competition is reputed to be one of the oldest karate contest in Japan, so it’s great to be able to compete in it!

Early start
The plan was to meet Richard Sensei at Omiya station for 7:30am so that we could catch the train to the venue. This meant that I had to depart from Wado (my nearest station) at 6:42am – a challenge in itself as the last few times I’ve tried to get such an early train I've failed miserably!

I arrived at Kuki station with about 10 minutes to spare until me train to Omiya would arrive; I bought my ticket and went through the barrier. My iPod at first stopped me from noticing the huge crowd of people gathering around the station staff. Once I’d noticed the crowd, it didn’t take me long to realise that all the trains were delayed due to some sort of accident. The electronic notice board was showing that Kuki was still waiting for the 6.22am train to Omiya; this meant that my line was already delayed by about 30 minutes. No trains were running in or out of the station on any of the lines so I was effectively stuck at Kuki. I buried my head into my Harry Potter book and turned my iPod back on, the 6.22am train eventually turned up at 7.26am, needless to say that I was going to be late!.

I emailed Richard and got directions; I was to take the Keihin Tohoku line from Akabane station a few stops to Kaminakazato station, which is right next to the community center where the competition was being held. I arrived at about 8.20am. It had taken me nearly two hours to take a 40 minute train ride! Lawrence kindly walked back to the station to collect me and we made our way to the venue. We met Kikuchi Sensei from Shiramizu on route who was one of the many officials at today's tournament, we had a quick chat and then Lawrence and I sneaked in a side entrance to the competition before the masses were allowed in.

Set up
Had I been on time, I would have helped to set up the competition. However it was almost completed by the time I got there. I was introduced to some of the Seirtsu students and graduates by Richard Sensei and I got a feel for the hall. There were six areas marked out on the floor with tape and the front of the hall was lined with tables for the many officials.

Opening Ceremony
This was pretty standard, the usual bows, oaths and speeches were made. I was pleased to see that they didn't individually introduce all 60 officials because we'd have been there all day!

With kumite taking place in the afternoon and only one student from Seiritsu competing in kata, we had a chilled out morning trying to decide who's kata was the best on each area before the officials decided. Shun Tanaka from Seiritsu ended up in the final of men's kata and narrowly missed winning by 1 flag.

(Richard here: Shun Tanaka is a Seiritsu graduate who has won the All-Japan Handicap Karate Championships for kata 4x and for kumite 3x! Shun has a truncated right arm, but he is so dynamic one quickly doesn't notice, and he is more than capable of competing in regular competitions.)

Lunch break
During the lunch break, I got changed and practised a few drills with Richard Sensei. I was informed that Lawrence was the back-up fighter for our team, in case I got injured and couldn't continue! I wasn’t really sure how to take this news, was I likely to get injured?

Kumite Opening Ceremony and Demo
Again, this was pretty standard. One thing that stood out was that the Japanese national anthem was sung by one of the officials, rather than just playing it from a CD player.

After the ceremony, we watched a demonstration from the famous Sadaharu Fujimoto Sensei, of the Kokusai KarateDo Shoubukai association (shotokan). Who after a performance of Seishan kata, was demonstrating various breaking techniques against wooden boards and bottles. Maybe the skill and conditioning behind the techniques was lost on me, but I wasn't particularly impressed by the demonstration.

(Richard here: Fujimoto Sensei became famous outside of Japan when he was included in the 1973 groundbreaking documentary Budo, the Art of Killing. And I, in comparison to Carl, was very impressed with the break skills of this 78 year old(!) because he based them on movements directly from different kata. For example, breaking off the top of a small bottle cap with a reverse downward and backward finger strike while not looking, aka testicle popper as per some kata, made me squishmishly (ooh, that's gotta hurt!) impressed.

The men's team kumite would be starting straight after the opening ceremony and demonstration, and our team was first up. I was reminded by Richard Sensei that Seiritsu's grads were the defending champions so we had to win, so no pressure!

Team Kumite
Our team was Ryota, Shun and I. Ryota was up first for us and he won convincingly 6-0. I was the second fighter, I traded for a while throwing punches which landed but none scored, my opponent scored with two punches. I threw a mawashigeri jodan but my opponent leaned back out of range, so I immediately threw the same kick again, this time it landed perfectly and I felt as though I had broken my foot on his head guard! I won the bout 3-2. Shun, our third fighter didn’t have to fight as the other team only had two fighters.

Round 2, I was third fighter this time. The first two fighters from my team had already won their fights, both with 6-0 wins! So my fight was just a formality. Richard Sensei suggested I worked on getting my hands going and not to use kicks. My opponent didn’t put up much of a fight so I won the round 4-0.

Round 3, This round was for a place in the finals. Shun was up first, he fought hard and managed to secure a 3-3 draw. Next up was Ryota, unfortunately his opponent was faster and ended up winning the bout 0-6. This meant that I would have to win my fight 6-0 to draw the team match. My hands still weren’t doing what I would have liked them to do, I kept letting my opponent come too close, even though I had a reach advantage. This meant that he was able to get a few punches in to get 3 points. I managed two points in response, with another just on the buzzer that was disallowed. I lost 3-5. We would have to settle for the reparcharge.

Before this fight started, Kikuchi Sensei (who had finished on his area) came over and told me what I was doing wrong in my previous fights. I made sure to take the feedback onboard and not make the same mistakes in my last fight.

I was particularly annoyed at myself for not fighting the way I should in the last three rounds. With this in mind, I was going to make sure I redeemed myself in my last fight. My two teammates were up first and won their bouts. I scored three times with counter punches to my oponents head. With a few seconds to go my opponent scored a point. I retaliated with another scoring body punch and closed the fight on the buzzer with a well placed mawashigeri jodan (round house kick to the head). The final score was 7-1. We had got a respectable 3rd place.

After the team matches, I watched the remainder of the Individual kumite. Shun got to the finals of his division and the match went to sudden death, his opponent got a body kick just before Shun countered with a head punch so he ended up with 2nd place.

I also watched the Seiritsu high school girl's kumite with interest but I didn't see all the fights because I was hitching a ride home with Kikuchi Sensei, so I left the competition half way through the division.

Overall I thought the tournament was good, the standard of the competitors was mixed as a lot of dojo entered beginners. I wasn't happy with the way I fought but I've picked up on loads of bad habits that I was doing in my fighting that I didn't realise. This is mostly because of the on the spot feedback from Richard and Kikuchi Sensei and the sharp camera work of Lawrence.


About the competition
Like most Japanese tournaments that I've entered, there were more than enough officials, I counted 60 during the opening ceremony. On top of that there were approximately 50 volunteers too.

There were 6 areas in the hall and a separate warm-up area. I would only have two criticisms, all the areas should have mats laid down and the even shouldn’t have two ‘opening ceremonies’. I think the second point in particular would have shortened the day somewhat, especially since the tournament overran its schedule.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just for you interest Sensei Fujimoto is Itosu Ryu ,Shito Ryu style. Though he has learnt both Shotokan and Goju-Ryu in the past.