Every year, the Japan Taido Association hosts four national tournaments, one each for children, students, and adults, and the all-Japan championship. The Shakaijin Taikai is a tournament for “members of society,” which can be taken to mean adults. Basically, it excludes children and undergrads, but anyone else is free to compete. This year’s event included men and women from their early twenties to late sixties.
The Other National Tournament
If the national championship is the most objectively important tournament, the shakaijin has taken on a subjective importance as an unofficial warm-up for the all-Japan. Until a few years ago, the Shakaijin was a pretty relaxed affair, with a relatively small number of participants. Recently, it has grown in popularity, and this year, over 150 people joined the competition. Black belt Men’s jissen was especially competitive, with almost seventy entrants.
One reason for this growth is that there are no limits on the number of competitors from each prefecture/dojo nor on the number of events in which any one competitor can enter. The all-Japan has a limited draw, and a lot of good people don’t manage to make the cut. The shakaijin is a good tourney for them, but in the past few years, people that usually compete in the all-Japan have started to enter the shakaijin as well. As a result, the overall level of competition has increased.
Even though the shakaijin is a lower profile event than the national championships, people have begun to take it much more seriously than before.
Here are the winners of the various events:
- Kazuyuki Sugimura
- Manabu Kitami
- Hiroaki Tanaka
Kyu-Level (Rainbow Belt) Hokei
- Satomi Shigeno
- Shiori Oi
- Jason Maher
Kyu-Level -Mei Hokei
- Yasuhiro Miyamoto
- Mineko Komazawa
- Tadashi Ichikawa
Men’s Black Belt Hokei
- Tetsuji Nakano
- Hiroyuki Miyashita
- Tomokazu Kaneko
Women’s Black Belt Hokei
- Yayoi Masaki
- Aiko Hirayama
- Akiko Sato
Black Belt -Mei Hokei
- Noriyoshi Tone
- Hiroshi Asaoka
- Andy Fossett
- Tomokazu Kaneko
- Kimio Tanno
- Ryota Horigome
- Hiromi Chiba
- Maho Yamagiwa
- Tomo Ichihara
Dantai (Team) Hokei
- Tanaka Taido School
- Kanagawa Power
- Oe, Mashima, Tsukanaka, Doi, Iwase, Tabata
- Horiuchi, Osaki, Brunet, Kaneko, Takahashi, Shimamiya
OK, so there actually weren’t that many surprises in the winners this time around. Kaneko won jissen; so what? Nakano won hokei; again, so what? Well, it proves that nobody else is going to win by trying to outdo them; e.g. nobody is going to feasibly do a Nakano-style hokei better than Nakano, and nobody is feasibly going to beat Kaneko at jissen without making a careful study of what he does well and where he is weak.
Looking over the results from the last 17 shakaijin taikai, one often sees the same names again and again. The same is true of the forty or so years of national championships. Kaneko won jissen at the all-Japan five times in a a row. That’s not a fluke. We get in ruts sometimes with out practice methods and forget to stop and analyze our training in light of our results and those of other competitors.
For example, everyone sees Nakano’s hokei and thinks the way to win is to do a really fast hokei with impressive flips. Well, that’s the way for Nakano to win, but he’s got an edge on anyone else who tries to use that tactic – he’s better at it because he’s been doing it longer. The way to beat Nakano is not by trying to be like Nakano.
Of course, these two guys are just the most obvious examples. There are lots of great competitors in similar positions. Every time I see the same people winning with the same tactics year after year, I get this feeling that things aren’t evolving the way they should. I guess my point is that simply practicing to “get better” isn’t going to take Taido to higher levels. We have to actively analyze our current results and apply creative thought to improving them.
Logistics and Statistics
On the whole, the tournament ran really smoothly. Due to the large number of competitors, the events had to be split up into two separate dojo. The elimination rounds for the hokei divisions were held upstairs on a hardwood floor. This didn’t turn out too badly, since the first two rounds of the -tai hokei required untai. The biggest disadvantage was that it made it impossible to see one event if you were competing in another. I didn’t get to see any of the women’s hokei eliminations because I was competing in jissen downstairs.
The judging in this tournament was pretty excellent. I’ve been pretty outspoken about the inconsistent and often clearly biased judging in some Japanese tournaments, but I was pleasantly surprised overall with this event. Abe and Watanabe especially showed clear judgment and excellent control of the matches. There were lots of warnings given for unsoku, kamae, and poor technique. Even better, I only saw a couple of points given without good contact or for crap (unbalanced, uncontrolled, weak, or generally stupid) techniques. Honestly, this is a big step in the right direction, and I hope the trend continues to the all-Japan and the World Championships next year.
This year was also the most international shakaijin to date, with competitors from France and Australia. And some American guy too. Between Jason and I, we managed to double the total number of foreigners to win medals in individual events in the shakaijin (Lars Larm and Alvar Hugosson have also taken bronzes home in the past). Someday, one of us is going to have to win an event outright.
Me, Me, Me
Since this is my website, yet get to read my totally biased account of the day’s events. Lucky you!
This was my first time to compete in the shakaijin tournament, and I’d be an ass if I claimed not to be pleased overall. There were things I could have done better (see below), but the results beat my expectations.
My first match started right at 9am, and I was a little nervous. I was the youngest competitor in the -mei (breathing) hokei division by a margin of probably twenty years. I fully expected that my age would preclude my winning any matches. I was wrong.
The thing with the -mei hokei is that they are designed for older people. Not necessarily really old people, but adults. I learned seimei no hokei (the required form for the first two rounds this year) when I was about eleven years old. I can’t say that I’ve plumbed its depths, but I have practiced it for twenty years and believe that I have a fair understanding of what it does and how it works. Practicing Yoga and T’ai Chi off and on through the years hasn’t hurt in that respect. Still, I’m a young guy with a healthy and fairly strong body, so I tend to move by exerting force. Properly performed, the movements in the -mei hokei are accomplished by directing natural energy – a fancy way to say that the internal process of the movement is more important than its external appearance. Anyway, older people have an advantage in learning to do this because, having less physical strength with which to push, they can allow themselves to flow.
So imagine my surprise when I won the first match. It was probably a fluke, since I’m pretty sure that Takahashi screwed something up (he’s been competing in the -mei hokei division for lots of years and has won it more than once). I got a little excited and that tension didn’t help me out in the second match. Still, I managed to find myself in the finals.
Since I had fully expected to lose, I hadn’t practiced enmei or katsumei at all in the few weeks leading up to the tournament. So I had no choice but to perform seimei again in the finals. For some reason, I decided to do both the front and back halves, which I hadn’t done for at least a year. Nishi is a veteran -mei hokei competitor, I didn’t give myself good odds for beating him, but I tried to clear my mind and do as good a hokei as possible. Despite a slight loss of balance at one point, I felt OK with my performance. After the final bow, I kind of zoned out while waiting for Nishi to finish up, so I was somewhat stunned when I noticed the flags going up in my favor. Third place.
Jissen didn’t work out quite so well. My first match was against an inexperienced opponent, and I took it as a opportunity to warm up. I scored the first wazaari and then just kind of hung out until time was called. The jissen style in Osaka is a lot more direct and aggressive than most dojo, so it took a while for me to get used to the flow of standard jissen again. I won, but I didn’t feel that I was flowing the way I wanted to.
When my turn came back around, my opponent was none other than Kimio Tanno. Tanno’s strong (he’s one of the few Japanese Taidoka with any appreciable muscle) and tricky – he changes his tactics in almost every match. The first time I ever saw him compete was when he beat Mitsuaki Uchida in the American 30th anniversary tournament. In this tournament, he beat me (and a bunch of other people).
I don’t really know what happened in this match. I’m not trying to make excuses, but for some reason, I just wasn’t able to keep my mind on what was going on around me – it was like I was somewhere else. At least I didn’t make it easy on Tanno – he couldn’t score on me, and I lost by a warning. We both landed a few glancing blows, but nothing solid. I felt that we were both struggling to figure out how to approach each other, and then time ran out. Tanno got his game together in subsequent matches and went on to take the silver medal.
The Osaka Team
Osaka doesn’t have the most distinguished tournament history. A couple of the guys have managed to place in one or two tournaments a number of years back, but they haven’t been able to repeat those performances since.
This time, only three of us advanced beyond the first jissen elimination, and one made it to the fourth round. As I alluded to earlier, I think the Osaka group has a much more linear style of Taido and a focus on strong single attacks rather than continuous combinations. This is unfortunate, since the judges rarely give points for that sort of Taido anymore. Part of the issue is that Osaka is so far removed from the mainstream of Taido competition. People practicing closer to Tokyo have a distinct advantage in access to a greater number of training partners and competitions.
All of our men lost during the first round of -tai hokei, and Tamura fell just short of the finals in the kyu-level hokei. On the whole, Osaka isn’t very strong at hokei – most of my dojo-mates are more interested in jissen. Tone Sensei is the exception, usually winning or placing in the -mei and sonen hokei divisions. He took first place in -mei this year, and I give him a good deal of the credit for helping me do as well as I did.
Apparently, this year was par for the course as far as my dojo-mates are concerned. Maybe I can convince them to try some different practices in the hopes of fairing better next time. As Einstein famously pointed out, doing the same thing and expecting a different result is insanity. I’m not suggesting that the Osaka dojo is doing anything necessarily wrong, but they’ve settled into a routine that doesn’t allow them to improve at the kind of pace that would make them competitive. I really enjoy a lot of the training we do currently, but maybe this is a good time to consider making a few changes.
I seriously think that I need to alter my approach too. One thing I realized a couple of days before the shakaijin is that I don’t take my participation in tournaments seriously enough. I want to work on changing that.
Lately, I’ve been struggling to reconcile my strong dislike of “martial sports” with my belief that martial arts practice requires competition to be of any real value besides simple PE. Being a relatively inexperienced competitor (considering how long I’ve been doing Taido), I think it’s important for me to enter as many tournaments as I can while I have the chance. However, the idea of Sport Taido without an equal emphasis on Taido as Budo is one I am very strongly against.
Perhaps I also have fear of failure /fear of success issues with tournaments that have prevented me from earnestly preparing and participating in the past. This isn’t the place for self-psychoanalysis. What I do know is that I want to take things more seriously when I compete in the future. In preparation for the shakaijin, I probably practiced seimei no hokei about fifteen times and did nothing special to practice jissen.
I’ve noticed that this is my pattern: to do the absolute minimum preparation for tournaments with the mindset that I won’t win anyway since tournament-style Taido isn’t my interest. That’s a really self-defeating attitude and a sure way to never win anything. It’s true that the Taido seen in tournaments resembles a game more so than it does anything else, but winning that game can only improve my Taido and wouldn’t appreciably weaken my martial instincts. I’ve decided to make an honest try against some stiff competition in the all-Japan.
So, this really was a warm-up.
Though tournament training will never be the main focus of my practice, I’m going to work harder on preparing for the all-Japan. I’ll be competing in the regular hokei division and probably something else.
The shakaijin tourney showed me what I need to work on between now and then. My untai is pretty good, but I’ll need to improve my tentai hokei to be competitive. I also have some ideas regarding training for dantai jissen that I hope to put into practice for our team. We have a little less than three months to apply what we learned in the shakaijin taikai.