This past weekend, I participated in the first ever Tokaido Regional Meet, and I had a great time (but I’m almost always having a great time). This tournament very much resembled the 2nd Kanagawa Meet I wrote about in February in a number of ways. First, it was held in the same location – the Tokai University Budokan. Second, the competitors, judges, staff, and spectators looked suspiciously similar. In fact, it was almost the same competition all over again.
To explain how this happens, I should mention a few things to which I alluded in my report on the Kanagawa meet. Specifically, it comes down to the fact that Honshu (the largest island in Japan, and coincidentally the one on which all but a handful of Taido clubs are located) is small and mountainous. The result of Honshu’s geography is that there are several distinct regions (each with its own subculture) in close proximity. Tohoku, Kanto, Kansai, etc each have their own Japanese dialects and ways of thinking. However, they are all crammed together on a piece of land about the size of California.
People who do Taido for longer than a few years are bound to run into the same folks again and again. They develop bonds through shared Taido experience as well as their unique geographical quirks of Japaneseness. In Taido’s short forty years, families have developed, and since most Japanese people don’t stray very far from their hometowns, these families remain extremely integral. This is very apparent in the group of Taido associations around Shizuoka and Kanagawa.
The godfather of this Taido-mob is Norio Akiyama, whom I first met when I was a tike in 1986. Akiyama Sensei is one of Uchida Sensei’s best Taido friends, and he’s the reason that Negishi came to live with us in Atlanta for five years. In my travels to Japan, I have spent a lot of time with Akiyama, staying at his house for almost a month one time. He’s a great Taido geek. I was telling someone last week that, if I were able to choose someone to be my uncle, Akiyama Sensei would be my top pick.
Anyway, in addition to owning the dojo in Fuji (where I visit to play and teach on a pretty regular basis), Akiyama Sensei is responsible for teaching lots of really cool Taido instructors. His Taido family includes Negishi and our whole Yokohama crew, Kato Sensei’s group in Shimizu, and Tokai University (where Negishi, Kato, and Fukunaga went to school), as well as his own dojo, which has produced a number of really strong Taidoka.
It was Kato Sensei who managed the operations of the Tokaido taikai, though Akiyama was “tournament president,” which basically means that he authorized decisions and signed the certificates. This event was a little bigger than the Kanagawa meet turned out, possibly because everyone is getting geared up now that tournament season has started, but everything ran very smoothly and I think we all had fun.
I felt like crap Sunday morning, so I decided to skip the hokei division. You just can’t fake a good hokei performance by doing some things better than others or favoring one side of some techniques over others. Actually, this is a large part of the genius of Taido’s hokei as a training tool as revealed by the high point deduction for failing to return to gentai.
Since Nakano has pretty much maxed out the technical level of the -tai hokei as they stand, it’s hard to be blown away by most of the hokei one sees at local competitions. Though I couldn’t have done any better, I was hoping to be more excited about the hokei part of this event than I was. The women’s hokei division was a lot better, with Yokohama dojo members taking first and third place.
Yokohama also did really well in tenkai (2nd and 3rd) and won the team jissen. Chiba and Takatsuna took 2nd and 3rd in men’s jissen, and Takatsuna also got 3rd in hokei, despite an injury which forced him to compete only with hentai.
I also did pretty well myself, though I narrowly missed getting a heavy thing placed around my neck at the end of the day. I won my first two rounds of jissen, despite my back and ankle feeling all out-of-whack. My first opponent was pretty strong, but I saw everything he threw coming from a mile away. Despite his size and power advantage, I didn’t have too much trouble strategizing my way into his weak points. Essentially, I fronted an aggressive game, then trapped him by appearing to go on the defensive. Big guys in Japan love the chance to attack, so he fell for it easily.
In my second round, my opponent was faster, but small and not very confident. I gave up a yuko for some really wimpy kick, but totally dominated the rest of the match. At one point I forced him out of bounds by sheer intimidation. After that, I just kept hitting him with better timing than he was fast enough to work around. He tried to get in some quick counters, but a half-assed shuto just doesn’t hold up when you are taking a hangetsu straight to the chest, so I won. But damn, was I worn out.
My third match was against Takatsuna from Yokohama. We were both tired and nursing injuries, so we agreed beforehand to have fun and let whoever found the cleanest openings win. I think Kato Sensei wanted to give me a warning for laughing a couple of times, but he could see that it was useless in a match where two friends are just playing with each other. In the end, I lost, but I wasn’t disappointed.
Perhaps I would have tried a little harder had I known that I was one match away from the finals. Takatsuna’s next match was against Chiba, who was also injured and worn down by that point. Chiba and I tend to stalemate, with one of us sometimes catching a lucky shot for the win. I’ve also sparred a lot with Fujita from Fuji, who took first. All of the judges were telling me that, based on the level and type of jissen I was playing that day, there was a very good chance for me to win if I hadn’t run out of energy. Oh well. I don’t enter tourney’s to win; I play for fun, so I was happy either way.
While I was changing into my dogi prior to the competitions, some woman I’ve never met before came up to me, very excited to introduce me to somebody – a Taido student from England. When I got a closer look at him, I realized, we had met before. It was Josh Macabaugh. Though he had shaved off the dreads I remembered from his visit to our dojo last year, we recognized each other and chatted a bit. It was nice to see him again. He’ s (I think) interning in Shimizu for a few months and practicing with Kato Sensei while he’s there.
I was also happy to get to hang out with Okawa Sensei a bit too. Okawa is a crazy guy, and I first met him during American Taido’s 30th anniversary celebration last year, when Chad and I taught him how to do the robot. He was pretty excited to see me, and gave me some (really excellent) advice about my jissen. He had been the assistant judge for my matches and gave me the low-down on ways I can work on actually getting points for all the strikes and kicks I land on my opponents (which is always incredibly disproportionate to the score I receive). Then he made his wife take pictures of me with his students.
At the end of the tournament, we all lined up for awards. Our team had a good number of certificates, medals, and trophies sitting around, and we were pretty stoked. Akiyama Sensei likes to innovate, so the judges decided awards for the best sen, un, hen, nen, and ten. Much to my surprise, I was picked to share the nengi-sho with Sano (whose nenin hokei is really, really good). I think I was chosen because I took all of my scores for nentai attacks (hitting one guy with at least 5 hangestu in one match). It may have also had something to do with the fact that I think Okawa Sensei really wanted me to win something at my last tournament in Japan.
At any rate, I was surprised with a fancy certificate for “best nengi,” which is really funny to me, since I’ve always considered nengi my weakest technique.
My Last Tourney in Japan
This was it. Last chance. I think that was a good note on which to end my Japanese tournament experience. Not having many tournaments in America (and being one of the only qualified judges when we do), it was really cool getting to compete with so many different people. I’ve enjoyed making friends and sharing ideas with all of them. This being a “family” event, it was a super-friendly time to participate in my final competition of my stay in Japan.
The Official Party
After the clean-up, we had the official toasting and pouring-drinks-fo-each-other celebratory “party”. Everyone met everyone they didn’t already know, and we ate like pigs. Fumi (the head instructor at Fuji and one of my long-time friends) was getting pictures with everyone, just in case they became famous. Oe got sloppy and then emotional. After a while, he was crying and giving everyone especially heartfelt handshakes and hugs. I swear, I thought he would never let go of my hand, but he’s a really great guy, so you can’t help but share the sentiment, even when he goes a little overboard. Each dojo made speeches, and Josh and I (the foreigners) also had to make some comments. And then we ate like pigs again.
Now this is a first: I don’t know how it happened – especially at a Taido function, where such things are usually well provided-for, but we somehow managed to drink all the beer. It may not sound like such a big deal, but we were less than half of the way through the scheduled roster and suddenly, there was no more. We asked the staff for more, and they told us that it was gone. We had finished it all. Oe and I were trying to convince the hall manager to go to the store and buy more, but it just was not to be. We spent the next hour scavenging abandoned glasses and bottles and selfishly guarding anything alcoholic we could find. How can you pour a drink for the guy who kicked you in the face if there are no drinks to pour? It was a serious deficit.
Logistical issues aside, we all got so have some really good talks about the day’s events and our plans for the future (even if we were a little more lucid than usual). It probably sounds a little silly that I make such a big deal out of the post-event drinking parties, but you would be absolutely stunned how many important decisions get made at such affairs. Invitations are granted, friendships are begun, advice is received (and quite often acted on later), questions are answered candidly, teams are formed, and whole other tournaments are planned (I’ll tell you more about that one later…). The get-together is every bit as important a part of the tournament than the actual competitive games are.
Now, let’s all go drink more!
So after drinking the entire house, the Yokohama dojo made a collective decision that we needed more. Wait, I don’t want to make it sound like we’re a bunch of alcoholics. Isn’t it only alcoholics that need a drink? Well, in that case, we decided that there was beer and sake remaining in the Tokai Uni area, and that was it waiting to be drunk by someone. In other words, there were drinks that needed us. That’s better, isn’t it?
We toasted our first-time champion, Tanaka, and tried to get Miho and Nakajo to hook up . We talked and laughed (and Oe got a ride home early, so nobody was crying) and ate greasy izakaya food. It was pretty-damn fun, and we all managed to get home at a semi-resonable hour.
Best of all, I was able to take Monday off of work, so instead of making the long ride back to Gunma, I spent the night at Negishi’s house and slept in.