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Posts Tagged ‘Taikai’

186220813GENXmp_phFor referees the initial rounds of a mixed ability shiai can often be extremely challenging. There is a degree of subjectivity in the way we judge what is and what is not ippon and the level of severity with which we apply the rules will vary according to the age and experience level of the competitors.

With competitions that are open to both kyu and dan ranked players, outcomes are often surprising. Junior kenshi  do not do what is expected of them, or they  react to attacks in a way that more experienced players would not, so you often see skilled shiaisha having a hard time because when they go for what should be an open target, the less experienced opponent’s men is protected by a raised shinai when an experienced player would still be in chudan.

The most challenging aspect is when the newbie is gamely slugging away and hitting the target, but without correct footwork or ki-ken-tai-itchi. None of these incorrect strikes can be counted within the rules of kendo shiai, but they cause frustration and confusion for the competitor and the audience.

It is difficult to create hard and fast rules on grade level. I have seen kyu grades produce highly skilled kendo and dan grades who have not quite got their basics right, but generally, more experienced players tend to have a more established level of basic kendo technique.

Whilst not necessarily guaranteeing the highest level of kendo, these mixed ability events can be highly enjoyable and offer all dojo members a great bonding opportunity. The standard of kendo invariably improves as each taikai runs its course and the players who make it to the last eight and upwards normally demonstrate that correct technique is the most effective.

There are of course competition options other than sanbon shiai. Comparing how well players demonstrate kiri-kaeshi and a range of basic techniques against a motodachi is one approach. This is frequently used for the younger competitors in children’s competitions and is a great way to encourage competitive spirit without building a defensive attitude that might limit kendo development.

As in all things, common sense is probably the way forward. For competitors who are still building their kendo skill set, if they can come away from a taikai with the inspiration to improve, it has been a valuable experience. The key point to remember is that shiai is the tip of the iceberg that we build in our regular keiko in the dojo.

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Presenting Fighting Spirit Prize to Mukhtar Hussain.

Presenting Fighting Spirit Prize to Mukhtar Hussain.

This year’s Sir Frank Bowden Taikai took place on Saturday. As shinpan-shunin  one of my duties was to work with the refereeing team to select candidates for the fighting spirit prizes.

Of course different referees have different opinions on who to choose, but this is not surprising as we all probably have different views as to what “fighting spirit” actually means. This is a subject that is seldom discussed and I can’t remember ever seeing objective guidelines as to what constitutes fighting spirit. Having asked colleagues the reasons for their choices over many years’ competitions, I get the feeling that definitions include the following.

  • Being one of the most aggressive fighters.
  • Overcoming the odds – small person beats much bigger person or low grade beats higher graded opponent or opponents.
  • Turning things around – being in situations where you come from being a point behind to evening the score and taking one more point to win, or pulling out the stops in the captain’s match to take an evenly drawn team score to victory.
  • Having the best technical kendo.
  • Keeping calm under pressure.
  • Not giving up.
  • Someone who in spite giving it their all in every fight still shows courtesy and fairness to their opponents.

I believe that all of these are valid in their way, but I feel, and this is as subjective as it sounds, that true fighting spirit is a combination of all of these.

Of course aggression is important, but it must be controlled and shown within a spirit of fair-play. The smaller or less experience player or the individual who overcomes the odds and snatches victory from the jaws of defeat will most likely, only be a contender if he or she uses correct technique.

On the other hand correct technique will probably be admired, but not if you do not have the strength of mind and will to win to overcome your opponent.

If you can do all this and at the same time show correct reiho and generosity of spirit to your opponents, it should do even more to enhance your chances of getting a fighting spirit prize.

On a practical level, it is unlikely that you will get the first place medal and a fighting spirit award. It is generally thought that being the winner or being in the winning team is reward enough in itself.

Despite the subjectivity, I was very confident that on Saturday we picked three worthy winners – Jenny Wilding, Mukhtar Hussain and Sarfraz Aziz.  All fought consistently well throughout the day and displayed the true spirit of kendo.

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Kendo for profit

With the exception of the occasional spot of friendly banter with my Iaidoka chums, I have resisted the temptation to use my blog to discuss kendo politics. Today however, I am going to break the mold. I apologise to readers outside the UK, but perhaps this subject may have resonance with the way kendo is run in your own country.

I have always been of the view that kendo events are for the benefit of the participants and are not about making a profit. As my professional life revolves around recruiting senior executives for venture backed companies, I am clearly not unaware of the need for organisations to pay their way, however my thoughts on kendo, are that as a minority sport in the west, we need to use whatever funds we generate to facilitate the development of kendo.

We have recently changed policy in the British Kendo Association and there is now an imperative that every kendo event should generate a profit. With that in mind, today we ran the Sir Frank Bowden Taikai, which is effectively the British open teams’ competition and one of the main events of year.  

In the past qualified referees were invited to attend and work throughout the day, ensuring the smooth running of the competition. In return their travel expenses were covered. We are not of course talking about payment for their time, but reimbursement of their bus fare or fuel costs.

The current regime decided that costs could be saved by asking competitors to referee in their spare moments and invited only two senior referees – Howell  sensei  7th dan kyoshi and me. Everyone involved in the taikai gave their all, but it did not work.

Competitors finished their own shiai and then pulled off their bogu to referee. Not an ideal scenario as the adrenalin was still pumping, with the further pressure of trying to objectively referee the shiai of the team that they might have to fight next.

Taikai never run to time. Encho and fighting order changes always add to the planned running order. In this case the unforgiveable happened. We ran out of time. Today’s semi finals and final have been postponed until tomorrow. Instead of presenting prizes, Howell sensei and I had to apologise and tell people that they had to come back tomorrow to complete the competition,

Fortunately tomorrow is earmarked for an individual completion, so we at least have the venue booked, but all of today’s semi finalists have been seriously inconvenienced for the cost of a few referee’s expenses.

Guys, you all have my sincerest apologies.

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