The annual Tama Taikai is a regional tournament held in Higashi-Kurume. Participants include much of West Tokyo and parts of Saitama, Kanagawa, and Yamanashi Prefectures. It’s one of the larger “local” events, and considered kind of a warm-up for more more serious events at the end of summer which determine the teams for the four national events held each fall. This year, the Tama took place on 25 June – one day after my birthday.

This was my second year representing the Yokohama dojo at the Tama Taikai, and I was determined to do better than I did my first time around.

Why I wasn’t so happy about my first Tama

Because I did the wrong damn hokei. In Japanese tournaments, there is usually a stipulation in individual hokei that competitors must perform a specific form for the first round or two. Last year I had bad information. I was told that the first and second rounds were going to be sentai. My sentai is pretty good, and I won the first round easily. I also got to see the guy I would perform against in the second round – a guy named Mori who happens to be very good, but his sentai was mediocre. I was pretty confident that I would advance to the next round and lose tentai for lack of nenchu.

But it didn’t turn out that way. Mori and I started our hokei, and it wasn’t long before everyone was looking around wondering what was going on. Actually, we were the first match of the second round, so nobody could be sure who was right and who was going to lose, but I was doing sentai, and mori was doing tentai. Mori’s tentai is damn good (good enough to place in last year’s all-Japan). At that point, I just relaxed, knowing that performance would not be a factor in victory or loss – it would simply be a matter of who was doing the right hokei.

As it turns out, the tourney committee and judges had decided earlier in the day to make sentai compulsory for only the first round. They had not bothered to tell but a few of the competitors. I lost because sentai just does not look too impressive next to a clean tentai. I was a little bummed about it.

My other event that day was team jissen. I won my match, but was alas the only person on my team to win a match. We lost, and so I finished the Tama Taikai slightly disappointed with my outcome. What can I say? It’s more fun to place highly than to lose in the early rounds.

This Year

When we arrived at the venue, one of the first people I saw was a very disoriented Sakamoto Takumi, whose girlfriend I accidently hit on in Australia (well, it wasn’t an accident, but I didn’t know they were together… Anyway, he and I made up, and now we’re friends). He had come with the team from Yamanashi, which means that he had probably been in a car for three or four hours. We made the rounds, playing stupid pranks on everyone until it was time for the first events.

Yokohama had a larger team than we did last year, and I haven’t been practicing much, so I decided that I would just compete in the team jissen since each dojo only gets a certain number of openings. My team this year was looking much stronger than the year before, and I got tagged with sengi (probably my strongest technique) rather than hengi (probably my weakest technique). I was feeling much more confident this time, though I knew we faced some stiff competition from the Yamanashi and Higashi-Murayama teams.

My team won our first game against one of the teams form Takushoku Uni. I probably could have done a little better – my match was a draw. I had some ideas I wanted to try, and as a result I ended up missing a few opportunities to win. Knowing that we had more points gave me the chance to play a bit.

We lost our second game to the team that went on to win first place. We actually had even points, but the judges gave the game to Yamanashi based on “contents,” which means that Yamanashi showed “better” Taido even though they couldn’t score. I lost my own match to a pretty strong opponent, but it was a lot of fun. We were both trying some creative things and basically throwing our bodies around in every direction.

At that point our team was out of the running, but the Yokohama dojo still did all right in the individual events. Daikuhara took second in men’s hokei. Sano won women’s hokei (despite a bit of screw up in the final match, she was obviously better than her opponent). Kota won the children’s hokei. Nakajo and Takatsuna started out strong in jissen, but ended up injuring themselves in their second round matches. Oe played around with using sokuchu and gainers as unshin and looked really cool losing his jissen matches.

Finding Your Strengths

I realized at this event that our dojo just does not perform our best in competition. I think this is somewhat psychological, but I’m sure that the fact that we are a shakaijin dojo (meaning the majority of our students and instructors are adults with jobs and practice an average of once a week or less) is also a contributing factor. Most of the competitors in this event (and indeed most of the Taido students in Japan) are college students who practice an average of ten to fifteen hours a week or more.

So what can you do? You have to figure out what you’re good at. We at Yokohama Taido are good at drinking, so after the tournament ended, we headed to Shinjuku for some eats and bev (emphasis on the latter).

Watanabe Sensei (who taught Chiba and Oe when they were students at Takushoku Uni) joined us as well. I always enjoy hanging and talking about Taido with Watanabe because he and I have a lot in common in our approaches to Taido, even though the results we get are usually quite different. We were also joined by several of our dojomates who haven’t been able to come to practices lately, but came to watch the tournament. I used to have a bit of a crush on one of them, so it was nice getting to hang out…

… And then, as always, the long, lonely train ride back to the armpit of Japan, which I’m sure I will miss severely when I leave.

Anyway, this wasn’t the kind of event that sparked a new perspective on Taido, the universe, and everything, but it was still fun. Our dojo didn’t win very many medals, but we did have a nice time and managed to look pretty good in the process. Even though I did better jissen on the practice courts than I did during my matches, I gave two national team members a good run for their money. Best of all, I got to see a lot of people whom I really like end even share a few drinks with some of them.