kendo journal

Soy; in an after Cornell Kendo Ta(i)kai-High

NYU Kendo at Cornell '13
NYU Kendo at Cornell ’13

(click image for full size)

NYU returns victorious from Cornell!! Spoiler alert: the photo above. Other than that, I will do my best to give a personal, chronological account of the event. (There is no reason why this is a month late, except that once you procrastinate, the moment passes to write it so it snowballs…finishing this draft just to document it, so it’s skimpy on the writing.)

Bad Japanese pun in the title explained: “takai” = high, play on “taikai” = tournament

A brief overview on how the tournament works! Cornell Kendo Club hosts the largest annual East Coast collegiate kendo tournament in the Fall. This year was the 13th Cornell Taikai on 10/12-10/13/13 at a gym in Ithaca. There was 4 divisions to participate in: Mudansha (unranked/below shodan), Women’s, Yudansha (ranked at or above shodan), and Teams on the second day. NYU brought exactly enough for the 3 teams allowed each school  (plus one faculty advisor, one spectator, and one alum we don’t speak of). We were mostly mudansha to nidan ranked, with one graduate student and one alumni sandan. Neither played on our A team.
By the way, if anyone ever gets lost on some terminology, or if I used/spelled it incorrectly…please notify me! Google is a useful tool.

PS. Links provided to what videos we managed to tape (pretty much all of the A team ones are there), as well as my typed-up Google Doc of the results at the end of this post!

After a long bus ride on Friday and a Friendly’s dinner with chicken tenders that poisoned two of our members,  I got a full hotel bed to myself (it just worked out that way with the girls). We watched some…ridiculously silly and staged WWE (never forget Gold Dust). Waking up to leave at 7am was a pain, but we managed to warm up and uphold our notoriety as one of the louder and bigger university kendo teams that buy their own tasuki, as it should be! Being that this was my first Cornell, I was surprised that the gym was rather small (figures, it is a neighboring middle school) and only supported 2 courts, but the courts themselves were thankfully wide. What was more, there was a severe lack of shinpans, so our two sandans got to shinpan for the first time at an official tournament. Otherwise, the turnout included a good variety of schools.

I was signed up in 3 segments: Mudansha, Women’s, and Teams (on NYU C).

So on the first day, I was up pretty fast…and subsequently went down pretty fast against a taller, forceful guy from Harvard. He managed to push me out once (hansoku ikkai) and men’d me twice pretty fast. Oh well, bad matchups happen. I realized I couldn’t have helped that, but I was still stung from how unlucky I usually was with my draw of past tournament opponents. Mudansha wasn’t a great division for many of us, although some people advanced surprisingly far given the amount of time they have been with the club as well. Two of our members actually ended up versing each other (this happened again in yudansha), which always gets a laugh and a “Go NYU!” from us.

For me, my shining moment was during my first Women’s match. In a miraculous merciful match up, I was facing another girl of relative height and skill. Both of us lacked the experience to really make an opening and land a good, clean hit, so we continued that way for a while. I tried a kote, which although it may have landed in the general area, was far too weak and only received one flag. However, the girl saw this and thought I had received the ippon. Hearing no “yame” and turning, I saw the other two judges with their flags down and the other girl backing away dejectedly to return to starting position. This was my chance, the one opening I could not miss. On instinct, my body surged forward and landed a men point with a great connection sound to triumphant cheers from my teammates, the first and only one I would be awarded in a tournament to date.


Screencap of the exact moment because I can be proud of it. As the 5 foot, white gi and hakama wearer of my team, I surprised even myself with how easily my practice kicked in and properly performed. Given it was a completely open target, it wasn’t completely thanks to any skill of mine, but my basics and form still manifested itself from the past 3 semesters of practice. After that, I lost to a yudansha female in the second match, which was to be expected.

For Yudansha, one of the funnier moments was when our Captain ended up facing another teammate (what’s with the matchups?). But like previous times, he consistently cannot take his own friends seriously and loses pretty quickly. Yup, that’s our Captain for you.

As for other individual results, well, the scores and matches rather speak for themselves. It’s too much to track all of their progresses, since the main event would have to be Teams on the second day!

On the second day, Kato-sensei arrived and regaled us with a humorous metaphor comparing kendo to baseball. He wanted all of us to put forth the effort into every detail, especially the focus on “going through all of  the bases, even if you hit a home-run”, which is the same as following through with zanshin after hitting an ippon. Otherwise in both cases, the point is not awarded. Then with him, thankfully, came more higher-ranked senseis to judge the matches, which was increasingly high level performance as the brackets narrowed.

NYU C first, because we may be a randomly thrown together collection of members, it was still really cool to actually be on a team for once (no matter how much I complained of the opposite sentiment, in a rather tsundere-esque way of hiding my fear of disappointment.)

NYU C Team

Wow who in this picture could I be a mystery.

First up was Harvard B team, which was rather unexpectedly mostly girls. My teammates were inspiringly awesome and brought out the momentum. I was Jiho position, and the worst one. I went and lost the two points our Senpo had won sadly, but it was a nail-biting position in which we were up one point. Our Taisho lost and then won a point to a last-match draw, leaving us advancing with one more point. It was a great victory for even our C team to have achieved that much! I’m sorry they had to fight so hard to make up for my loss to a more aggressive girl, but I was proud to be up there next to them. My fighting spirit was very much present as I kiai’d loudly with the best of them, trying to bring out that hair-raising, high-pitched shriek that girls can pull off so well.

Our next match up didn’t leave us standing much of a chance, since it was Syracuse’s A Team. My person seemed to be saving strength for their next match immediately after, so he didn’t engage and held me carefully at bay, so that I would inevitably feel pressured and initiate, but be too obvious and too slow to land anything. He easily fended off my poor strikes and let things drag out before finally managing to land a men on me, then letting time run out.

While we were at the end of the rope as far as a C team might go, I felt pretty fulfilled from playing two more matches than I originally thought from those two victories, one by my design and the other caused by riding along with my team. One match won out of five, with a first, indisputable ippon…I couldn’t say I had any regrets.

NYU B team were even more impressive. After beating GW A, they fought – and ironically, nearly defeated NYU A’s biggest rival – BU A.
The senpo match pit our teammate against the Mudansha winner, whom he had fought and lost to every tournament. At this point, he was so determined to reverse the trend that he went all out and played his best, finally besting his rival in a flashy 2 point win. His personal satisfaction, which was immense, was somewhat dampened when the matches ended in a tie and was forced into daihyousen. In the end, B team’s best fell to the BU taisho, and BU A advanced one point ahead of our B team, which was a great motivation factor if a real shame.

Finally, for NYU A team, it was our golden year with one of our best team line ups in club history. With all of our hopes riding with them, they went the whole mile and did not disappoint.
Easily moving through the brackets with quick, finished victories, they made it to the semis and then finals amidst applause from us purple-jacket wearers. Then it was BU A again, with their scarily impressive Taisho. All of them played smart, getting the points in the positions where they could and then mostly denying the harder matches. We had two points courtesy of our Senpo (our captain), but it was ties after that, and the Taisho match was looming closer. While our other co-captain is still good, none of us thought there was a good chance in putting him in such a pressured situation against their best. So we watched with our hearts in our mouths as the Fukusho fought hard and brought out his best kendo. At the critical moment, he came through and hit a winning men, the one point needed to cinch the win. After that, even if their Taisho played their best two win with two points, which he surely would have attempted and had the skill to do, it would not tie up the score.

I literally jumped up and down after carefully stopping the recording, and could not keep the smile off my face for the rest of the day. Our tremendous cheers, therefore, were the preemptive cheers for victory. Everyone pulled their weight and displayed amazing kendo, with a special highlight on A team’s Fukusho for getting that winning point  (and just on a side note, he is my boyfriend.)

I am still so proud of them, as both teammates and friends! All of their efforts up to this point were rewarded, and I can say with full conviction that they deserved this victory.

NYU Kendo Club’s first 1st place win, and our now fingerprint-covered glass trophy.

In conclusion, it was by far the best tournament for all of us, and we are looking forward to repeating this in the Spring tournaments!
To me, being a part of the NYU Kendo club and participating alongside them is an irreplaceable experience.




(some of the later matches were taken by me, so excuse the scream-cheering and watch your ears!)


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