No let up from Hungary, France, Italy and Germany with Serbia, Switzerland, Holland and Russia closely following, pretty much sums up the 24th European Kendo Championship in Gdynia. The Polish hosts did a great job. We had three days of excellent competition; a riotous sayonara party and the sun even shone. Rather than report on the Championship, which I am sure has been done already, I am posting this as a referee’s impression of the event.
This year’s event clashed with the Kyoto Taikai, so we had the smallest Zenkenren delegation ever; just Kurihara and Uehara sensei. Unfortunately Kurihara sensei was unwell, so most of the responsibility for refereeing standards fell on the shoulders of Uehara sensei and the senior European referees acting as shinpan shunin. Whilst I personally did not see examples of foul play or time wasting, Uehara sensei’s instruction was to focus on ensuring that matches were played in the “true spirit of kendo”. In effect to ensure that we paid attention to incorrect tsubazeriai and any reluctance to engage, particularly if a competitor was seen to be playing for time. In these cases we were urged to use hansoku to encourage fair play.
My overall impression, unlike last year, was that there was a clear difference between the successful competitors whom I have already mentioned; and those that disappeared in the pool and early tournament rounds. To me this was not necessarily a reflection of the players ability, more their own confidence and self belief. With the exception of some of the newer European kendo countries, most players had a similar level of kendo technique. There were some physical differences, some countries adopted more power; others went for lighter, quicker waza and more distance. Most shiai however were won on guts and determination; and the ability to score when a point behind and then do it again, separated the winners from the pack.
My favourite part of the three days was the goodwill keiko. Unfortunately the first day’s shiai over ran, so we only had one opportunity to practise with everyone, but it was well worth taking my bogu. It felt more like a World Championship at this stage. I had a great keiko with Taro Ariga of E-bogu and enjoyed practising with my kohai Stuart Gibson who dropped in from his normal practice schedule in Japan looking faster, better and bigger than ever; or maybe I am just getting slower and shrinking. I saw Chris Yang in my peripheral vision, so it looks like a trip to check out the Europeans pre the next WKC. Hopefully we all learned a lot from the experience.