(the reason why this recap’s late is because I was waiting for the pictures/videos to be uploaded, which are linked at the end of this post! again, clicking on pictures enlarges for better quality, and are credited to Juni-1st one & Evan Nava-sensei for rest)
This 2014 Harvard Shoryuhai marked NYU’s first 1st place victory in the history of the Shoryuhai tournament. This not only marks NYU A Team’s 3rd tournament first place this school year ’13-’14, but also the first time an East Coast school has secured first ever since the West Coast were invited (2004). Simply put, we had an amazing time and are extremely proud of our national champs!
This year it was the 18th year in the history of the tournament, and my 3rd time attending since I started in freshman year. It’s not only the largest tournament we attend each year, but is overall an integral part of the kendo club experience thanks to a great deal of kendo bonding on the 6 hour bus ride there, hotel nights, and collective cheering during competition.
*Again, if there’s any inaccuracies or clearing up required, feel free to correct me.
Also, I skipped over Rutgers tournament this year, which our A team won 3rd in. The track record so far as been Cornell (1st), Columbia (1st), Rutgers (3rd), Harvard (1st), and some members are also going to the GSK and BU tournaments in April.
NYU Kendo Club brought to the tournament 3 full teams (5 each), 3 graduate students, one shinpan, Nava-sensei, and a couple of beginners to help out. We were also joined by a non-competing alumni and previous co-captain/A-team jihou, Juni Fullon 🙂
After a fun night of Outback, having two GSK dojo members stranded on our hotel room floor for the night, and failing to prank a few friends by hiding people in our closet/cabinet (we’re a dorky team), we arrived at Harvard on the first day. Since we arrived early for registration, most of our members had fun lounging about or grabbing the pool table until it was time. We unfortunately didn’t have time to warm up with men on, but otherwise were prepared. The schedule this year had the Individual Competition first again (it was switched the last), and included Preliminary Matches so most of the mudansha could face off. Matches were 2 minutes with unlimited enchou, and single-elimination within the brackets on four individual courts. Most of the ranked competitors received by’s , although it varied by chance for some of the ikkyu.
Although my court got rearranged a little, I fought and won my first preliminary match (and my second tournament win)! We both didn’t score any points within the 2 minutes, until I managed to hit a men during enchou. The guy I fought told me it was his first tournament afterwards when thanking me, which surprised me. Usually our club beginners are much fresher and newer to actual shiai, but the opponent I faced didn’t display the bad habits of most beginner kendoka. Therefore, props to you for getting your basics down and probably diligently practicing a while before attending. You definitely did better than I did my first tournament! (The video we captured only got 38 seconds starting with enchou sadly.)
My next match was against John Yi of BU, who, let’s face it, is a supremely talented kendoka and a really cool guy. I barely started to reach for his men before his lightning fast one landed, so it was the obvious conclusion and seeing it firsthand was rather awe-inspiring. BU is on friendly terms with NYU as of late, which the club members are very happy to foster. Let’s continue collegiate inter-kendo relations!
After being done for the day already, I was content to take over videotaping the individual matches for those of us that did manage to make it farther. NYU had a lot of members advancing all over the place, and it was too bad that I had to stick with one or two courts at a time. From the ones I did get to watch, our captain Gene Li, Colin Smith (A team), and Tucker Whetten (B team) advanced pretty well in their court, so I caught their matches on video. Tucker lost to Colin, who ended up winning that court. From the others, I heard Sungha Park (A team) did well until he lost before quarterfinals.
Two of our members, Jaeshin Ryu (sandan) and my boyfriend Sung Hun Choi (A team) had a hilarious match for their court win at quarterfinals as well. Due to the unlucky difference in match lengths, the others matches were already concluded by the time theirs came up. Therefore, everyone had gathered around to watch as Sung Hun instantly beat our sandan in a match that was 30 seconds from seiza to seiza. Poor Jaeshin heard a lot about that match for the rest of the weekend.
In the semifinals, the trend of NYU knocking down other NYU members held as it pit together our star nidan freshman/sophomore from the past two years, Colin Smith and Sung Hun Choi respectively (apparently this was also a trend for schools in other courts). To be fair, they were fellow A team members that were pretty evenly matched in terms of wins, so their match was not as flashy and lasted into the 7 minute match with enchou. Colin came from a West Coast dojo training history, while Sung Hun is part of GSK in New Jersey. Of course I cheered for my boyfriend, but NYU was already excited and proud enough for our members to have gotten further than ever before.
In the end, Sung Hun landed an ippon after Colin missed gyaku-do. The match tired him out though, and he had already gotten further than he thought possible (he has a history of doing poorly in individuals), so NYU willingly conceded victory to the impressive Takahashi from UCSD. The finals may not have been all we were hoping for, but our club was already incredibly proud about Sung Hun’s 2nd place and Colin’s 3rd place medals.
That night was an amusing mix of realizing there were no vegetarian dishes at Applebee’s for Colin, discovering the Massachusetts law that only people with state IDS could purchase alcohol, and holding our annual Saturday night hotel room party anyway.
Next morning most of us were surprisingly in good shape to continue onto the Teams competition. Circumventing the time it takes to put on men, we broke our regular tournament warm up routine to line up and hit men and kote-men instead.
I was the NYU C team fukushou this year, and it one of the perks of Harvard is that team matches are organized into round robin rotations so that us less experienced C team members got the benefit of a guaranteed 5 matches, win or loss. No thanks to an issue unrelated to drinking, I ended up getting a queasy stomach from eating leftovers for breakfast, so my first few matches I was rather out of it. Considering we were against the two A teams of the bracket, it didn’t affect much other than my own discomfort. Our jihou, though, started out fine but had to sit out from a nasty hangover from the night before for the last two rounds.
Despite our underwhelming appearance (our line up was funnily enough the tallest guy in our team leading three girls, two of which were the shortest in the club including myself, and one shorter guy) and the fact that we were a C team, some of our members proved themselves formidable. Our chuken, Ying Zhu, got an unbelievable men point against the returning champions UCSD A much to our delight, and later won against another (Cornell B?). Our sempo Brendan Yue also won a kote off of SBU A.
As for myself, I finally got amped up after losing in a dissatisfying manner on the third match. After the two A teams, I thought I should be able to hold up much better versing teams more my level. However, the person I was matched up against was a guy that was overly forceful. My disadvantages as a 5’0″ girl once again made themselves painfully apparent as I was literally fighting to keep my ground against someone that ended up shoving me around rather easily, and often out of taetari. This completely threw me off and I lost all opportunity to fight back and score, so I was feeling quite down afterwards for not being able to fight a good match and using what I was taught. The female shinpan, Tina Kaku was a friend of my friend Juni’s, so she approached me following that match to instruct me on what I should have done. Nava-sensei definitely did teach me to turn and use the opponent’s forward force against them, but I had lost focus and forgotten this tactic, so after this second set of instructions from another shinpan, I better have it ingrained in my mind.
Coming into my fourth match with this fired up desire to redeem myself and win, I suddenly brought out my best kendo (for my 3 years of student practices). Instead of mentally being defeatist and shying away from initiating an attack as I did against the A team members, I looked at the opponent’s men and thought, I can just reach over and hit it now. I can definitely get it. Somehow, I gained this surge of confidence to take the openings that were there for me. Considering this was also against a franken-team of mixed clubs that couldn’t advance anyway, and our jihou had then left us with a deficit of 2 points, I was able to rush in and win my first 2-0 victory. From my previous wins and ippons, I always accounted for some lack of skill or attention in myself or the opponent that led to the outcome. However, this time I think I really hit the shiai-mindset and groove that every person needs in order to successfully play their best. I’m definitely proud that my kendo practice has finally been able to manifest in a match, and that I have this learning experience to look back on where things managed to click.
Court matches officially over, and C team knocked out from advancing, most of us ran out to down a quick lunch (it was the quickest pho we’ve ever eaten) before returning to cheer on our A team in the quarters. We all believed in their skills, and this proved the case as they began pairing up with higher and higher leveled teams. The semifinals against UC Riverside was incredibly close and had the ones on the sidelines stressing out almost as much as the team members themselves. Tied to the very last second, our Taisho Patrick Svcerk miraculously managed to beat the clock and score the two points we needed to advance safely. He was a real champ that day to carry the team onwards to finals against the returning winners and biggest competition, UCSD A!
Every single match was watched with bated breath, as our plucky Co-captain and sempo Gene Li won 2 points to get the momentum going. Colin had to fight hard against the more aggressive jihou in order to tie, and it was a similar vein throughout all of the matches against the solid UCSD team members. Sung Hun lost focus for the first few seconds and lost a men – quoting him, winning back two points was one of the hardest things he has had to do. After Sungha tied, we all breathed a lot easier and watched how the rest played out. Patrick predictably lost to first place individual’s finisher Takahashi. It’s better to watch the matches yourself with the link provided at the very bottom, or the various other recordings available online by other teams.
When we all burst into the flush of victory, the facts dawned on us slowly that not only had they secured the first trophy win in NYU club history, they had also became national collegiate champions over the longstanding West Coast placers. It was amazing to see the celebratory elation that spread through each of us as we beheld the trophies presented.
NYU A Team Members in order:
Sempo – Gene Li
Jihou – Colin Smith
Chuken – Sung Hun Choi
Fukusho – Sungha Park
Taisho – Patrick Svcerk
Taking the trophy back was a large administrative process, and I joined the e-board in signing off our contract to take care of the traveling trophy, which was promptly dismantled into a heavy-duty carrying case after pictures (while promising stictly not to drink alcohol out of it). The more decorated trophy was just for display purposes, so we took our photos with that as well. For once we have a legitimate trophy that has a display area in NYU Coles gym!
Nearly wrapping up our collegiate kendo year (with only BU left to go), it is still safe to preemptively say this was a golden year for NYU Kendo! Our year was sadly passed without both Takahashi-Sensei, our longstanding Kendo Coach, or Professor Fitch, our invaluable faculty adviser. However, we had gained the team-spirited and chummy Nava-sensei and a few promising new members. As for myself, I have one year left to enjoy the collegiate club atmosphere and practice as a group (although I am only ranked nikyu as of the last test.)
Our goals from now on will be to maintain our club dedication to kendo. No matter how hard it might be with many of our prized seniors leaving us, I trust our team to stick together and train hard as one while still being the same open and fun-loving group it is. Go team!