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Martin’s Japan Trip 2008 – Part 5 >> Kakedameshi

I have been back in a Australia now for a bit over half a week and have been catching up on some much needed sleep.  Now it’s time to catch up on the last few days of my Japan trip.  The day after the grading, kakedameshi, as week ago today…

Like the day of the grading we got to have a bit of a sleep in, until about 6:30am.  Having packed my bag the night before as I do whenever I compete, this gave me enough time to slowly wake up, get dressed and head downstairs to the dinning room for breakfast.  Fortunately I got downstairs quite early as the hotel lobby was a hive of activity, as there were many other people there with the same idea.  By the look of things, a high school sporting team, baseball I think, and there were also a lot of people staying there for the Kumamoto Castle Festival that was cooinciding with our Chito-Ryu Budosai (Martial Arts Festival).  Fortunately I got towards the head of the line and got in early.  There were a few others who got down there at 7:00am, which was breakfast start time and didn’t even get into the dinning room until after I was completely finished my breakfast.

Breakfast done, I once again jumped in a taxi with a few others and headed towards the sohonbu dojo.  Because the venue for the Kakedameshi was a little out of the way, all of the international visitors and competitors had been asked to get to the sohonbu by 8:00am in order to get rides from some of the local instructors.  From memory it was only about 20 minutes drive from the sohonbu, but it would have been a nightmare to try to get there by public transport or even taxi, so I for one was very greatful for the ride.

There was still plenty of time when we got there before things were due to start, so we could take it easy.  Preliminary rounds were not due to start until 10:00am, so we could enjoy a bit of a rest while those who weren’t competing could take part in a trial jo lesson with Miyase Sensei.  When I had lived in Japan 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to do some training with Miyase Sensei, just myself and Tanaka Sensei.  I look back very fondly on that time and in some ways wish that I had been able to continue my training once I had returned to Australia.  Miyase Sensei lives in Fukuoka and  is 6th Dan and Shihan in Chito-Ryu, and also one of the top jodo instructors in Japan.  I am not actually sure what level he is, but he is exceptionally tallented.  As I was entered in the kakedameshi, I only really got the chance to watch a little bit of the jo lesson and did not participate.  But later, when I spoke to a few people who did participate, they re-affirmed what I had experienced preivously, an incredible sense of calmness and a feeling of being very centred.

I also caught up with Inazuka Sensei, who 10 years ago had arranged a summer job for me while I was in Japan at a pet cemetary.  Inazuka Sensei is one of only 2 living 9th Dans in Chito-Ryu.  I really wish that I had the Japanese skills to be able to talk to him as he seems to be an absoultely fascinating man.  Over the years, since I first met him he always takes the time to come and say hello.  He has got such a gentle nature and a lovely calm energy about him.  I have never seen him train, at most gatherings you’ll find him with a camera in his hand, and this is mostly what he did on the day of the kakedameshi.  In fact I must thank him for that, as that’s where these photos have come from.

Here is a photo of Inazuka Sensei and myself.

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During this time, competitors had been weighed in (light weights), entries finalised and waivers signed.  Hopefully it was just a standard waiver, as it was all in Japanese and I couldn’t really read it…  But then again, neither could any of the other foreign competitors.  Prior to the start of competition, all competitors marched in to the ring, one by one.  I was last to enter, as you can see in the photo below.

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The heavy weight division was only small, 6 competitors in total.  Two Japanese, two Canadians and two Australians.  The light weight division was much larger, but still only 13 competitors, all but one Australian were Japanese.  The preliminary rounds were to find the top 4 competitors in each division.  I had a bye as did one of the Candians, Mitchell German, so we had the morning off, which gave us the opportunity to get a feel for this style of competition and reflect on the meaning of kakedameshi.

First fight was Shane Ker, the lone Aussie in the light wweight division, versus a Japanese opponent.  Although we had all seen a short video clip of the previous year’s kakedameshi a few days earlier, we were all kind of going in blind, not really knowing what to expect.  Unfortunately Shane did not progress to the next round, but gained some valuable experience and is really keen to enter again another time.  After watchhing a few more matches it quickly became apparent that it was going to be very difficult to score a point.  Unlike other tournaments that I had entered before, this was going to be the closest thing to a real fight.  In order to score a point, techniques had to have the ability to stop your opponent.  Just hitting them with correct distance and timing was not enough, if it was not strong enough or technique was poor, you got instant feedback, your opponent would try to take your head off.

I had always heard stories that O Sensei was very famous in old style kakedameshi.  In fact he gained the nicname “Challenging Chinen” because it is said that he was prepared to take on anyone at anytime.  Back in the days before tournaments, this is how students of the martial arts would test their skills.  Fights would be fierce, anything goes, until someone submitted or was unconscious.  In an attempt to bring competition to the masses, WKF sports karate style competition evolved, rules became more and more refined, which encouraged competitors to be faster and more strategic.  Back in 1994 & 96 I was very fotunate to be selected on the Australian national team to compete at the WKF World Championships in Malaysia and South Africa.  At the time, I thought it doesn’t get much better than this.  Although I did not place, I got the fight the eventual winner in 1994 event and he was a hard man, very powerful and an incredible athlete.

As a student of Chito-Ryu I have also competed in many bogu tournaments over the years, including a number of Soke Cup events in both  junior and adult divisions.  The rules are a little different to the WKF and the contact can be a bit harder, but essentially it was still a game designed for the masses.  With bogu (body gear and head gear), competitors can feel what it was like to make solid contact, without any serious injury.  I have been fortunate over the years to compete at the highest level in the WKF and Chito-Ryu so I feel like I have enough experience to say that, while both WKF and Chito-Ryu bogu tournaments are great fun sports, they are still fall a long way short of a realistic test of fighting ability.

The kakedameshi was starting to shape up into something that I had been looking for, for quite some time.  As I got to watch more of the preliminary rounds of the I started to a completely different range of techniques being thrown that just don’t work in a game of speed, but are very practical in this style of fighting.  It became clear even before I fought, that the training I had been doing had only partially prepared me for what was to come.  There were a lot of leg kicks, and a lot of very solid punches to the head when people forgot about their distance.  One of the most creative to watch was what I can only describe as a jumping, spining, scissor take down.  I swear, it was like something you might expect to see in a movie.  In mid air, after spinning and jumping, the competitor wrapped one leg around his opponent’s head and the other around the other side of his body and took him down… Unbeleivable!  And the really cool thing was, he did it more than once!

In between all of the action, I slipped into the warm up area for a brief nap, to catch up on some sleep that I so desperately needed.  First up in the heavy weight preliminaries, was another of the Aussie hopefuls, Craig Cox.  Unfortunately Craig too did not progress to the finals, so I was left as the only Aussie to fly the flag.  The top 4 in the light weights were all Japanese, but when it came to time for the finals, one had to pull out due to injuries sustained in the preliminaries.  In the heavy weight division, it was myself, Justin Rybie Sensei (also from Canada), who I was due to fight, Mitchell German Sensei (from Canada), and Hirose Sensei (who trains at the Sohonbu dojo).

After lunch, Soke Sensei arrived at the venue and we had the official opening.  Once again all competitors were introduced and marched into the competition area one by one.  The perpetual trophy was handed back by the previous year’s winner of the light weight devision.  Following the opening ceremony we had a number of demonstrations:

  • Kusarigama techniques defending against a sword, demonstrated by Miyase Sensei and one of his students.  Kusarigama is a sickle with a ball and chain attached.  For demonstration puposes, it was a wooded version of the weapon with rope rather than chain.  This is the first time I have ever seen this and it is quite intesting how inventive the Okinawan and Japanese were with the use of everyday implements as weapons.
  • Shuriken demonstration – throwing knives.  Although made famous by ninja, shuriken I am told were also used by samurai, as was depicted in this demonstration, one hand held a sword, drawn and ready, while the other hand threw the knives.  In this case towards a target about 6-7m away.
  • A demonstration of Nitenitchi-ryu – the school or swordsmanship developed by Miyamoto Musashi.  The demonstration was performed by the 21st Soke of this style.  It was interesting to hear comments about the demonstration later.  Many people didn’t really seem to understand what it was all about.  For a style that emplys the use of both short and long sword simultaneously, it was surprisingly inactive.  I always had the impression that Musashi was wild and dynamic, but perhaps he was really a master of kamae and spirit, which in turn made him a master swordsman.  As a side note, Kumamoto carries a lot of signifigance in the story  of Miyamoto Musashi.  In his later years, Musashi wrote his famous book Go Rin no Sho, the Book of Five Rings in a cave where he lived for a period of about a year.  The cave is called reigando and is situated just outside of Kumamoto City on the other side of Mt Kimpo.  While I did not go there this trip, I have been a few times before.  It is a place with an incredible amount of energy and I can see why he chose to reside there while writing his life’s work.
  • Finally was the demonstration for Soke Sensei – performing a section of Ganfu no Kata.  This is the family kata which is said to be some 45 minutes long.  It was interesting to see him perform this kata again, as I have some footage of him performing the same section from the 1989 Soke Cup (my first Soke Cup).  It is incredible to see how much his karate has grown and developed over the last 19 years.  It just leaves me wondering how on earth it is possible to become so good at anything, let alone something as so incredibly complex as Chito-Ryu.

The demonstrations complete, the finals began.  I didn’t really watch the light weight finals as I wanted to focus on what I was doing.  Eventually I was up.  To be honest I can’t really remember very much of what I did except that there were some very solid punches at both ends.  I quickly learned that chudan mawashi geri is not a good idea, as it is very easy to catch even if you manage to make good  contact.  At the end of normal time, neither of us had scored.  So we went into extra time.  We were both getting tired, but still we fought on, there was some very heavy contact but neither of us would take a step back.  At the end of extra time, still no score.  Normally this would mean a decision would be made, but not in kakedameshi, 2nd extra time.  Somehow we were both still standing, just.  The fight continued, not quite as many techniques were being thrown, but we still had to be careful.  In the end, still no points scored, this time it went to hantei and the referees had to decide the winner.  I was fortunate to get through to the final.

Before the final, Justin Rybie  Sensei and Hirose Sensei fought for 3rd place.  After the epic battle with me, Justin did well to get back up again so quickly.  In the earlier rounds, Hirose Sensei let go some very powerful leg quicks, which I heard that he had been training by breaking baseball bats with his shin.  In his fight for 3rd place he didn’t let any of these go, not that I saw anyway.  In extra time he decided to change it up a bit and let one go to the head, which was one of the best techniques of the tournament.  With that, the fight was over and I was up against Mitchell German Sensei.

It’s kind of funny how we both ended up in the final, given that our competition history is so similar.  He too has competed at WKF world championships and several Soke Cups and now we meet in the kakedameshi, both of us for the first time competing in this style of competition.  At first we were both very hesitant to move, I found that he had a very good sense of distance and he moved very well, which made it difficult for me to line up a good attack.  After normal time, we again went into sudden death over time.  Early on in extra time I slipped in a head kick which seemed to rattle him a bit, but it wasn’t enough to score.  A little further along, we both punched, very solidly, almost simultaneously.  I thought I was in first and so did one of the referees, but the head referee saw differently.  Mitchell Sensei was awarded the point and the match was over. Hare are a few random photos.

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While it would have been nice to win, I had a ball.  Not having competed since the 2004 Soke Cup, it was great to get back into it, especially in a tournament like this.  Much like me, Justin Sensei was also grinning from ear to ear loving every moment.

This being the final match, all competitors once again marched out onto the mat for the presentations.  In the light weight division, last year’s winner had backed up to win again.  This was the first time in the 10 year history of the kakedameshi that the event had been one by the same person in back to back events.  First, second and third place were each awarded medals and huge trophies, and first place also received a huge cup.  Following presentations, were photos. I don’t have any copies of them yet, but here are a few photos from the presentations.

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Then it was all over, the tournament venue was packed up in record time and we were out the door.  We got a ride back to the hotel with a little bit of time to shower and change ready for the celebration dinner that evening.

With the festivities going on at Kumamoto Castle, the city was very lively, with people everywhere.  The venue for the dinner was on the 5th floor of a building, looking up towards the Castle.  It was quite a dark night, but the candles on the river bank and the moonlight on the castle made a beautiful backdrop.  Dinner was a very traditional Japanese meal, lots of fish and various other dishes brought out one ofter another.  Dinner was great, speaches were a little long winded, but everyone was recognised for the efforts including those who had organised the event, visiting intructors from overseas and everyone who had passed gradings the day before.

Throughout the night, I got the chance to speak with Keiichiro Oda Sensei.  A young man who had come to the Sunshine Coast 3 years earlier when our daughter Sam was born to help assist with teaching.  He had entered in the kakedameshi, but was knocked out in the first round.  His younger brother was the winner of the light weight division.  After the dinner a few of the Aussies went back to the Ten Gallon Izakaya, a Japanese style bar with a country and western theme, owned by Keiichiro’s uncle.  Fortunately it was a quite night at the bar, because we took over and enjoyed catch up with Keiichiro and his family.  I don’t normally drink but I relaxed with a few glasses of shochu.  After a bit more of a feed we wandedered back to the hotel for some much needed rest.

If I remember correctly, it was about 1:00am by the time I got back to the hotel but I switched the computer on, on the off chance that Sandra was still awake.  Fortunately she was, as I was really missing her along with Sam and Steven.  After about an hour or so of Skype, I eventually made it to bed.  Fortunately the next day had a later start, with the international clinic scheduled after lunch from 1:00-5:00pm.  Even though it was a late start, I still needed sleep.  Once I finally got to bed, it didn’t take long to crash.