When I first came to live in Japan in the 70s, I was taken to see the Kyoto Taikai by the late Sugo Sensei of Chuo Daigaku. I was completely blown away by the experience. The opportunity to see so many great sensei demonstrate their very best kendo in the same place was hard to comprehend by someone, who had until then, experienced all their kendo in Europe.
In those days morning practice was held in the Butokuden and was less structured than the current godo geiko in the Budo Centre. Although only nidan at the time, I was able to join in. One of my strongest memories is the smell of sake wafting from so many people at 6.00 a.m.
From that time on, I have wanted to take part in the Taikai itself. You need Renshi rokudan to register so three months after receiving my shogo certificate, I did my first Kyoto Taikai embu. To date I have competed three times as rokudan and once as nanadan. Many of the matches result in a no score draw, because they are so short. However on my second attempt, I had a one all draw, and my opponent and I were featured in Kendo Jidai. This year I actually won, increasing my drinks bill by a few thousand yen.
The Taikai has now become increasingly international, although non Japanese players still form only a small part of the total number of entrants. This year I spotted a number of sensei from the USA and Canada, some from France, a group from Hong Kong including my friend K.C.Yung and of course Lorenzo Zago from Italy, whos has become a permanent feature.
So why do people think it is worth the big air fare and hotel costs. Kyoto itself is a beautiful city. There are some great keiko opportunities, the chance to meet old Kendo friends from around the World and some great kendo equipment shopping. For me, most importantly; it is the chance to do my very best kendo in a shiai with a Japanese sensei of the same age and grade, in front of a supportive but critical audience. George McCall turned up to take a shot of my winning men, so of course I posted the pic above.
And this year my vote for the bravest man in Kyoto goes to K.C. Yung of Hong Kong, who had the courage to buy both a new dou and a shinken in front of his wife.