Two flights, three days in the office and two keiko sessions in the UK and I am clearly back to reality. Thanks to the generosity of Turkish Airlines and a flat-bed upgrade, the journey home was a breeze and gave me time to reflect on the experiences of the 16WKC.
The week before the Championships had been purely for pleasure, giving me a chance to meet with old friends and revisit some of my favourite places in Japan. It was also a chance to join in keiko sessions in Osaka and Yoshino. On reaching Tokyo the focus changed to the main business of the trip – refereeing the 16th WKC.
On the Wednesday before the event, the early morning bus took us to the Olympic village and the second referees’ seminar. As the first session in Narita in February, we had volunteer fighters from Japan’s top kendo universities to practice with.
We trained in the groups that we would be working with at the Budokan , so had the opportunity to align our approach. Whereas the first session had focused on improving our technique, this session gave us positive feedback, building our confidence in our refereeing abilities. In fact, throughout the competition, the Shinpan shunin, Sato Nariaki sensei , reassured us that we were “the best referees in the world”.
Unlike some other international events the referee groups were assigned throughout the competition, with some adjustments to avoid judging our own national groups. I worked mainly with Ralph Lehman of Germany, Kimura sensei from Canada and Shimano Taizan sensei from Japan. The only major changes to the running order were for the semifinals and finals.
I expected the experience to be more daunting than it actually was. The Nippon Budokan was full for the whole event and on the final day every seat was taken. From the quarter finals of the men’s team event the NHK cameras were constantly rolling and from my position on Court 1, I was staring out at an army of press photographers. Nevertheless when we stepped onto the court, the crowds faded into the background and we were able to concentrate on the fighters.
The only nerve wracking part of the event was at the day two prize-giving when at the end of a 12 hour day we felt the floor shake from side to side in a force 5 earth tremor. The waiting competitors had to be moved from the centre of the arena in case the lighting rig collapsed on them. The ZNKR seemed to take a fairly sanguine approach and the award ceremony continued and was followed by a referees’ meeting where the main topic was an overly long gogi that happened earlier in the day.
On day three, I was fortunate enough to be asked to referee the semi-final between the USA and Korea. This was a keenly fought match with some great points from both sides including an explosive tsuki from a Korean fighter. There was some expected jockeying for position from tsubazeriai and we awarded hansoku in the first match, but overall we saw good clean fights from both sides.
The final match between Korea and Japan had its share of controversy and the referees had to make some difficult judgement calls. I am glad that I was able to watch from the comfort of the resting referees seats at the edge of the shiai-jo. Thinking about it, the referees’ bonus is having a ring side seat and I saw some great kendo over the three days. As in previous years I was particularly impressed by the standard of some of the younger kendo countries, particularly Poland, China and Mexico.